An Offset Program That Might Be Worthwhile

The last decade saw the emergence of programs whereby people and organizations could offset their energy consumption and/or their CO2 emissions by paying money to preserve rain forests, plant trees, etc. These programs are often called carbon offsets.

CarbonFund, for example, promotes three types of offset activities–Renewable Energy and Methane, Energy Efficiency and Carbon Credits, and Reforestation and Avoided Deforestation.

However, there are problems associated with carbon offsets. Emission reductions are hard to verify, many programs have large administrative costs that reduce the amount spent on emission reduction, there have been more than a few instances of downright fraudulent activity, etc. There are also what I call ‘philosophical’ issues with these programs, such as perverse incentives and property rights.

However, if the focus were on generation rather than reduction, offsets could play a role in both emission reduction and developmental aid for emerging countries.

Take California for example. This is where California gets its energy:

Californai fuel sources

California is currently spending a lot of money, time and energy on improving its fuel portfolio. More power to them–literally. However, the solar panels they put up today are in all likelihood displacing natural gas. Natural gas is already a lot cleaner than coal and California could do better than just aiming at a vanity proclamation that X% of their energy consumption is fueled by pure as snow renewables (they don’t count hydroelectric power or nuclear as part of their emission free portfolio). The world doesn’t need to focus on removing natural gas from our portfolio. Our focus should be on coal–and California doesn’t use it.

If California wanted to make an impact on climate change and conventional pollution, they would do far better by building clean energy generation facilities elsewhere. Someone else would get the power (although the builder and operators would be compensated) but California would be making a contribution to a cleaner planet–and the reduction of fossil fuel usage in the target country.

Take China for example. California gets some of China’s dirty air, although they only notice it when there’s a sandstorm blowing off the Gobi. If California built a solar facility, wind farm, natural gas plant or even–horrors!–a clean coal plant, China would be the primary beneficiary–but the world overall and California as well would also reap the rewards.

If there were a way to recognize and reward these efforts, it would cut the Lomborgian knot that sensibly recognizes the need for access to energy throughout the developing world, while also insuring that the donor country or state (or city, for that matter) received both recognition and compensation for their efforts.

In Paris in 50 days they are going to talk about climate reparations, whereby those of us who used fossil fuels to power our development over the past two centuries pay those we are begging not to follow the same course $100 billion–to start with. There will also be a number of other schemes used to incentivise emission reduction and low carbon development.

Shifting the concept of offsets away from emissions to fuel generation would be a practical idea that would contribute to a solution. I hope someone brings it up in Paris.


6 responses to “An Offset Program That Might Be Worthwhile

  1. It’s a sensible idea to offset emissions this way. However, I would add a “respect for human rights” and “selfishness” dimension to such a program. This means a group can encourage renewables in nations which respect human rights, or which have a positive feedback effect on the donor’s economy.

    For example, at this point the Castro dictatorship is increasing repression. This is due to their fear that young Cubans may expect freedom is coming, when the truth is that, under Obama’s sponsorship, American elites are now lining up like pigs at a feeding through to see what morsels they share with the pigs in the Castro regime. To toss aid to those two groups of pigs sure would be a pity, but I’m afraid the power that rules, which has very flexible moral standards, will probably take up this idea you propose & help the dictators and abusers in this world in the process.

    There are techniques to rank investments according to cost and benefits, in this case the donors could simply try to estimate the emissions reductions per net dollar spent, and use a third axis to represent the measurable economic benefit resulting from the investment. A filter would be applied to high grade democratic nations. I venture a guess that a program to put in some renewables and a compressed natural gas transport system in the Caribbean and Central America would generate a huge plus. But I would carve out of the deal nations like Cuba, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

  2. Tom,
    1) The California program will end in failure. Wind and solar will never deliver.
    2) The money squandered on wind and solar could have cleaned up coal and built more nuke power, actually cleaning up the air
    3) The climate kooks have never considered practical ideas like developing clean coal or fast tracking proven technologies like nuclear. They only fixate on loser ideas like wind and solar. Why would they help other countries do practical good. Look up Obama’s failed push in Africa this year about solar vs, what Africans actually want and what they are doing about it.

  3. It is easy to sympathize with the concept of doing good for the world’s poor while reducing overall emissions. Nevertheless, proposals to pay “climate reparations” of any sort are non-starters and I would hesitate to throw the drowning scoundrels a lifeline by offering better ideas.

    Given that no harm can be conclusively demonstrated thus far due to past warming (whether AGW or not) it is a cart-before-the-horse approach to start paying now. Particularly when one considers all the actual, horrific crimes committed by the colonial powers (and, yes, that includes America) against weaker and technologically inferior cultures/countries.

    To pre-pay “climate reparations” prior to the infliction of actual harm while ignoring centuries of enslavement, slaughter and imposed dictatorships is a can of worms best left unopened.

  4. Here is Lomborg on the folly of current energy policies being imposed on Africa:

  5. Here is something creative from the insurance industry that could easily be adapted for the climate change dangers we are facing:

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