Dr. John Hollins, past CACOR Chair shares his opinion on Carbon Offsets.
A carbon offset is a credit for greenhouse gas reduction achieved by one party that can be purchased and used to compensate (offset) the emissions of another party. (David Suzuki Foundation)
At first glance, carbon offsets appear to be a good idea, the type of win-win proposition so beloved by orthodox economists.
The most common use of carbon offsets is for travel by airplane. I discovered some 20 years ago that Air Canada is happy to sell them. My first experience as a passenger was when my client sent me from Ottawa to Sydney, Australia, a 3 T CO2 journey. Air Canada included the cost of an offset in the price of a business class fare. The amount was trivial in relation to the fare — about $60 in a fare of $10,000 —, which gave me pause.
I contrast that with David Wasdell, who made a compelling presentation on global warming to the 2013 CoR conference, hosted in Ottawa by CACOR. David Wasdell resides in England and declined to travel to Ottawa for the conference. He practiced what he preached. CACOR set up a transatlantic video link and a projector in Ottawa at a cost vastly higher than the price of a carbon offset for LHR-YOW-LHR.
As an immigrant to Canada, I find myself on a dilemma when I balance obligations to family with the emissions involved in a journey to visit them. Many Canadians routinely face the same issue without leaving the vast territory of Canada.
My blunt opinion is that non-governmental and private organisations like the flow of cash from carbon offsets and airlines like making their passengers feel good. It is not clear to me just how effective carbon offsets actually are — I see what Graham Steele called political bullshit when I visit a vendor. Carbon offsets for me are a charade. I have served on the advisory committee of a philanthropic fund for a decade and I do not need carbon offsets to help me decide where to make donations.
Avoiding the question
David Wasdell asked the right question: do I really have to make this journey? Carbon offsets provide a neat, but superficial way of avoiding this question for travel by plane. It should be asked for all journeys that involve the emission of greenhouse gases.
2019 February 7
1 Graham Steele, The Effective Citizen — How to Make Politicians Work for You.