The carbon trading fraud

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I was recently purchasing an airline ticket (there goes my carbon quota for the year, huh?) when I noticed that for an extra $12, I could buy an "offset" to the carbon emissions incurred for my flight.

Really? For twelve bucks I can buy off my own guilt? Wow, sweet deal!

The problem with this scheme is that even if I pay the $12, the plane on which I'm flying still produces carbon dioxide as part of its jet fuel combustion process. My paying of the fee, in other words, doesn't actually reduce any carbon being dumped into the atmosphere.

In fact, I have no idea where the fee goes. And probably no one else does either. Reportedly, this money goes to various non-profits that plant trees to offset the carbon. At perhaps a dollar a tree, you're buying the planting of 12 trees which, over a lifetime, might theoretically offset the amount of carbon from your plane ride. But are these trees really getting planted? If so, where? And how do I know they wouldn't be planted anyway? How do I know they'll live out their full tree lives and actually offset all the carbon that was claimed?

Recently at my farm in Ecuador, we planted over 500 trees as part of a hillside reclamation effort. Does that then mean I have earned enough "carbon Karma" to take 45 plane trips, knowing that I've already offset all those jet fumes with the hillside trees now growing on my farm? Can I sprout a few dozen acorns, stick them in the dirt, and use that as permission to jet set around the world?

Carbon trading is a slippery issue. It's hard to know whether the money actually makes any real difference in reducing carbon emissions. That's why carbon trading for the business sector is also a complex issue. The intention seems good: Allow free-market principles to arrive at a price on carbon emissions, then require companies to engage in the trading of credits so that a fixed upper limit of emissions is not exceeded.

But underneath the whole trading scheme, are carbon emissions really being reduced in any sort of meaningful way? To me, it all seems that carbon trading is just a clever way for polluters to buy their way out of environmental responsibility. With enough cash, they can legally keep on polluting the skies and driving us ever closer to CO2 tipping points.

The real issue with cap-and-trade solutions is that someone in Indonesia, for example, could theoretically plant a hundred thousand trees and use that act as carbon credit currency to sell into the system that allows U.S. polluters to simply buy more pollution credits. So the pollution continues under the illusion of environmental responsibility. But underneath it all, it's really just a shell game. A climate con, if you will.

I agree that we need to reduce our energy consumption on planet Earth. We need to greatly scale back the pollution of our skies, our rivers, oceans and lands. Businesses that pollute need to radically scale back their emissions, and some sort of pollution-tracking system is obviously required to accomplish all this, but I'm skeptical that "carbon trading" is going to accomplish any meaningful reduction in emissions.

More likely, it will simply allow the first world's biggest polluters to claim they are "green polluters" who have been certified by a dysfunctional cap-and-trade system.

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