Some rules of the road for carbon offsets

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Joseph Romm has been running an ongoing series of “rules of the road for carbon offsets” on the Grist blog. This is a worthwhile endeavor, and I’ve been adding my own commentary to flesh out and in some cases provide some balance to the proposed rules.

My intent is not to rebut. I mostly agree with all of the guidelines posted so far. And more generally, I strongly support efforts to arm individuals with more information about offset quality.

But some of the rules are framed a bit oddly, offered up as a sort of counterpoint to a lawless industry peddling easy environmental solutions to polluters run amok. The first post announces an “aim to pick a fight with those overhyping offsets.” This framing is no doubt rousing for some, but it’s not very helpful to the ostensible audience for such rules: real people and real companies looking to reduce and mitigate their environmental impact.

We know our customers at TerraPass, and so we know that people who buy offsets are far more likely than the general population to take a wide variety of actions on climate change, from bicycle commuting to directly lobbying their political representatives. These are the types of people who buy offsets, and these are the people who can most benefit from good guidelines.

Romm’s opening post also states: “No rules of the road exist for offsets. Until now.” Of course, this isn’t really true. A number of offset standards are in varying stages of development; several credible industry surveys have already been published; and the extensive and frequently questioning media coverage of offsets has included any number of consumer guidelines.

But that’s OK. The more, the merrier. Unlike a standard newspaper blurb, blogs provide room for a lot more nuance. That’s what I aim to provide.

Incidentally, in one of those odd coincidences, shortly after Romm and I began our respective series of posts on this topic, TerraPass’ own Erik Blachford appeared with Romm on a Congressional panel on the topic of the voluntary offset market. The hearing gave me the pleasant opportunity to talk to Romm in person. If you haven’t checked out his blog at Climate Progress, you should.

Photo provided under Creative Commons license by Flickr user melalouise.

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