June 16th, 2010


Acting Locally in a Closed System

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. Please leave any comments there.

So I’ve been thinking and thinking about this, and I finally figured out what bothers me about carbon offsets. It’s a great idea in theory – one group agrees not to pollute and sells their right to do so to someone else. That’s wonderful, locally. Unfortunately, it fails to address the fact that the earth is a closed system – we’re all on the same blue marble, and it doesn’t actually reduce the total problem.

The other thing that bothers me about it is that it reminds me of the old Catholic practice of selling indulgences, whereby you could buy your way out of purgatory if you provided enough wampum to the local sin-fixers. We can eat, drink, and have Mary as long as we want – just be sure to throw in a few extra bucks in the offering next week to cover some gluttony and the hey-hey. My fears of fire and brimstone vanish in a flourish of cold cash. And again, it didn’t actually reduce the total amount of sin in a closed system.

The selling of indulgences went out of vogue hundreds of years ago, and hasn’t really come back – Lindsay Lohan notwithstanding. So how many carbon offset credits will BP have to put in the collection plate to buy itself out of purgatory? I’m not sure there are enough third world countries to go around at the moment.

I hope it’s hot.