Our Lutheran Church’s advocacy offices have purchased carbon offset credits "to mitigate their carbon emissions accumulated through air travel" (full ELCA News release here). The purchase of carbon offsets is rooted in good intentions, for sure, but are carbon offsets a legitimate way to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of our energy consumption? I’m not so sure.
At the least, the whole science of carbon offsets is quite complicated and not entirely clear. An article over at The Economist’s website – A Tale of Two Markets – argues that carbon offsets "probably do reduce one’s carbon footprint, but by nowhere near the
one-for-one ration that seems to be implied by the extraordinarily low
price of carbon offsets." A Google search using the terms "carbon offset scam" produces quite a few interesting articles, not all of which are written by nasty pollution-loving big-business Republicans.
And of course, if we purchase carbon offsets in large part to assuage our guilt for polluting God’s creation, our guilt is no longer a motivating factor for us to reduce our carbon footprint in real ways – such as driving less, consuming less, and reusing and recycling more. We can just buy our way out of the problem! Carbon offsets are just one more thing we can consume, contributing to – rather than changing – the consumerist cycle that causes climate change in the first place.