Be Careful With Carbon Offsets
Americans are big wasters, and we know it. Traveling 2,000 miles by airplane generates more than a ton of CO2 a person. We’re also a guilt-ridden and rich country that is happy to solve the world’s problems by pulling out our checkbooks, as long as it means we don’t actually have to do anything that would change our lives.
The market for offsets has blossomed for this reason. People feel guilty about their carbon emissions and then pay a company to plant trees or invest in alternative energy systems instead of actually changing their lifestyle. As little as $90 can plant 900 trees, enough to annually remove as much carbon dioxide as is annually generated by the fossil-fuel usage of an average United States resident.
It’s a nice idea, and so far, the companies have been successful. The unregulated, voluntary sector of carbon credits is supposed to reach $4 billion by 2010.
The problem is that these companies may be unreliable. There is no official regulatory system in place to make sure these companies are putting your money toward its intended use. If you don't watch what you are doing, you may end up buying worthless credits that don’t reduce carbon emissions at all or overpay for these credits. Other companies, like DuPont, encourage consumers to pay to clean up their own pollution, earning money in the process.
The takeaway is you can invest in offsets successfully, but you must be careful: