Editorial: Carbon Offsets Are Stupid

I am waiting for someone to convince me that carbon offsets aren’t stupid.

I’ve just returned from the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, the world’s biggest outdoor industry tradeshow, where companies are trying to go green with a vengeance. Which is great, that’s something I love about the outdoor industry. Outdoor companies are beating the heck out of each other to try to come up with the coolest recycled, sustainable, lightly treading products they can. But because selling outdoor goods, like selling all goods, requires a lot of manufacturing and shipping-two energy intensive pursuits-carbon offsets are a big buzzword.

For those unfamiliar with the term, carbon offsets refers to purchasing carbon credits from companies who promise to plant a tree or invest in renewable energy to balance out whatever carbon you generate from your fossil fuel use.

It’s a bulimic approach to environmentalism. Go ahead and buy the Hummer, just pay some unregulated, unproven company ten grand to offset your fuel emissions and drive guilt-free.

I visited a bunch of travel publishers at Outdoor Retailer for our book review column. One company, which prints English language travel guides to everywhere from Sri Lanka to Tunisia, exhorts readers to travel closer to home to reduce their carbon footprint from air travel. Another one claimed to be “The World’s First Carbon Neutral Publisher.”

You’ve published this beautiful guide to the Trans-Siberian Railway and how do you expect me to get there? Swim?

Enough already. You can’t have it both ways. You’re either cutting down trees and burning fossil fuel or you aren’t.

Green commerce today is too often based on the idea that if you just pay out some more money you won’t have to worry about your impact on the earth. Instead of purchasing a bunch of phantom credits to become carbon neutral why not change the way you live? Consume a little less. Grow some of your own food. Plant a tree. Drive the car less. Walk and bike more. Turn the thermostat down. Switch to compact fluorescents. Support open space and wilderness.

People concerned about climate change and environmental destruction have other options than carbon offsets that only the wealthy may be able to afford. Become self-offsetting instead of paying someone to do it for you.

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