Forcing the Voluntary to be Compulsory
System recalls how the Catholic Church sold indulgences - Times Online
The MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee believe that forcing airlines and other businesses to offer carbon offsets will make customers think more about their impact on the environment. So the businessman will still fly to New York, but the £10 he pays voluntarily may make him think twice about his other activities – while also paying for solar cooking stoves in Bolivia or forest protection in Brazil.
The danger is that human nature could turn out to work in precisely the opposite way. The very cheapness of offsets could make people underestimate climate change. And by paying an extra £10 for our flight or cab ride or gas-guzzling patio heater, we may simply feel free to keep on sinning.
I fear that the second is more likely. HSBC and Barclays are both described in this report as having increased their carbon dioxide emissions after introducing offsetting schemes. All government departments now offset – but walk around Whitehall at night and you will see that the lights are still on. That is why many environmentalists feel that offsetting is the modern equivalent of the guilt-absolving indulgences sold in the 16th century by the Catholic Church.
So what to do?
About 1.5 million Britons offset their flights last year. Ten per cent of people travelling with lastminute.com offset too. That is a substantial figure for schemes that are voluntary, and brand new. It is, in fact, a dramatic demonstration of conscience by individuals. Its popularity should be sending a clear signal to Government that the public wants decisive action.
Eh? Ten per cent of people do something voluntarily means that the Government should force the remaining 90% to do the same?
And let's look at what the "substantial figure" actually is....
The inconvenient truth about the carbon offset industry | Climate change | Guardian Unlimited Environment
It is 20 months now since British Airways proudly announced a new scheme to deal with climate change: for the first time, passengers could offset their share of the carbon produced by any flight by paying for the same amount of carbon to be taken out of the atmosphere elsewhere. "I welcome warmly this move from BA," said the then environment minister, Elliot Morley.
And how much carbon has BA offset from the estimated 27m tonnes which its planes have fired into the air since that high-profile moment in September 2005? The answer is less than 3,000 tonnes, less than 0.01% of its emissions - substantially less than the carbon dispersed by a single day of its flights between London and New York. The scheme has been, as BA's company secretary, Alan Buchanan, put it to a House of Commons select committee earlier this year, "disappointing".