Are the misnamed “carbon offsets” still around? Just to be clear, they weren’t meant to offset carbon, rather carbon dioxide. When the phrase and the program were new you heard about them all the time. Each time some ecoSaint drove a car or took a plane ride it was advertised that “carbon offsets” were bought to cover his sin, i.e., balance the global warming books. It was the old, discredited notion of “buying indulgences” updated from the grasping papacy of the Middle Ages, and applied to the current theosophy of the Earth Savers, the Goreites and the ever-jetting Magi of the IPCC.
Hollywood stars flying their stylists in to Cannes would note they “offset” the jet ride. David Suzuki drove a bus around Canada on vain green tour and made it very clear that offsets were offsetting the inevitable fumes of the hapless pilgrimage. Somewhere in Guatemala or Morocco, trees were being planted so that the bus could drive the Trans Canada and he could hector Canadians, guilt free. Air Canada was in on the act offering customers the “opportunity” to pay an extra fee to “offset” the planetary harm of choosing their airline. Feel guilty about flying to Whistler for a ski weekend? Be of good cheer — for as little as 30 or 40 bucks the airline would swab your conscience by watering a shrub somewhere far distant as an offset.
Then there was also the “one tonne challenge,” another bundle of green froth unloaded by what used to be Environment Canada. It’s best explicated by a report that came out after that Kyoto-induced, Chrétien-government program ran its course in 2005. The first two sentences of its findings are classic: “The good news for Environment Canada is that people seem to remember seeing ads featuring a rant from comedian Rick Mercer about the one-tonne challenge. The bad news is they have no idea what he is talking about.” Noel Coward-grade stuff, this. The coup de grâce came a few sentences later: “(People) had no understanding of why they would want to participate or even what a tonne is.”