Eucalyptus Reforestation

Carbon Offset Criticism – 5 Flaws (And the Road Ahead)

With the untamed release of carbon into the atmosphere, the earth’s climate keeps getting more hazardous with each passing stroke of the clock.

And what have we done about it?

Leading countries recording the highest number of carbon emissions sat down and agreed on one idea – carbon offsets!

And how has this panned out so far? You’re yet to find out.

But one thing is for sure though, things are not looking up…

How Does Carbon Offsetting Work?

Here’s what the critics say.

Offsetting, pretty much, is like rich people paying the less fortunate to carry their debts for them. In the meantime, they selfishly go back and continue taking up more debts again for the poor to carry.

Has that made any sense?

To put it in a more literal perspective, offsetting is a plan whereby one country can pay another country to cut back or take in more carbon dioxide to make up for their own carbon emissions.

This is one of the methods that has been widely agreed upon as a solution to achieve less than 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming increase by 2050 as per the 2015 Paris agreement.

Some infamous ways that have been recommended to solve this are through the developed countries giving financial aid towards carbon-reducing programs in the less-developed countries. 

The other way is by also funneling this money towards energy-efficient projects like green cooking or traveling solutions.

From where I stand, it does make sense – at least in theory. If I have some spare cash, I should be able to invest it in lessening the carbon impact in a developing country a world away, right?

The problem doesn’t lie with the concept itself.

Where it does lie is the fact that there still isn’t a system in place that would have been able to ensure that corporations don’t abuse these offsets.

Is Carbon Offsetting Delivering as Promised?

Snowy Landscape With Carbon Emitting Polluters

Offsetting came with a promise of efficient, greener earth that sparked and then fizzled out like a piece of paper on fire.

I mean, sure, planting trees and using/coming up with greener methods of tackling our everyday needs is great.

But, to make a tangible impact, we need to do ALL that as well as actively cut back on our CO2 emissions! These two efforts combined could prove more effective and help to drastically reduce the current speed at which we’re expelling CO2.

As things stand, this is just another attempt to “pay off for damages” rather than stopping the damage and dealing with the root cause of the conflict in the first place.

You don’t need an overly pampered environment research to tell you that this ‘bright idea’ is not working as painted out in the beginning.

It’s just another form of a long con initiated by the big manufacturing industries that thrive on fossil fuel refining and consumption for the better part.

Is Planting Trees the Answer?

Contrary to popular belief, planting trees or reforestation alone is also not a silver bullet as many of the big emitters would like us to believe. Rectifying this problem needs more concerted efforts to make sure that we achieve the balance before the agreed deadline.

Most of the big oil players have leaned heavily towards planting trees as the most effective way to offset their carbon footprint. However, as vital as trees are in maintaining our planet’s ecosystem, the injury to the atmosphere is far too gone for this to work within the timelines given by environmental watchdogs.

Consider this, if you planted a tree today, it will take it anywhere between 10 to 20 years before it reaches a point of maturity where it can start to filter out CO2. So, basically, these trees start dealing with this problem 10 – 20 years from now.

And that is assuming that all the environmental factors are favorable to the tree’s growth and that it grows without any form of stress. And, of course, we’d need to plant enormous numbers of trees.

Yet, we know how nature works, right?

It’s strictly survival for the fittest!

Even if you were to plant a thousand trees today, chances are that a good number of them will be destroyed by droughts, deforestation, disease, or even wildfires as is common these days. (Don’t get me even started on the matter of land!)

So, no… Hasty tree planting won’t give us an immediate solution to this issue!

Main Flaws of Carbon Offsetting

First off, let’s not mix up the idea with its realization. 

As Anja Kollmuss, climate policy researcher at Stockholm Environment Institute said, the fact that most offset projects are flawed doesn’t mean we should all stop contributing to the few good ones.

A Thick Forest

The ones that are bad, though, end up promoting more carbon emission from the big spenders since they feel they’ve earned the right to spew all that toxin out.

Some of the most burning criticisms yet to be fully reacted to include:

  1. It categorizes the efforts made by developing countries as part of the efforts of the perpetrators. This is erred because the effort needs to equally come from every party involved.
  2. Carbon offsetting is only acting as a distraction for executing the real solution which is developed countries seeking immediate economic transformations.
  3. There is actually no science that could prove whether an offsetting initiative will decrease the same amount of carbon it’ll dispatch.
  4. There are no agencies in place to ensure that the proceeds from offsetting will, indeed, reach the developing countries as intended.
  5. Carbon offsetting is just pure injustice to the low CO2-producing countries.

Climate Injustice

We have numerous cases of lesser-represented, indigenous people being whisked away from their native homes because of offsetting programs. This is mainly done under the guise of reducing deforestation but we all know what it means…

Big corporations netting billions in the fossil fuel industry always have ways of greenwashing developing governments to their means.

There is total disregard of human rights in such cases as the natives are not involved in the decision-making most of the time to curb resistance.

Climate justice means being courageous enough to imagine equity for all and then fight for it. At the moment, the world has witnessed more climate injustice instead.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a major limitation of carbon offsets?

The major limitation with carbon offsetting is that it does not directly deal with the problem.

Instead of putting the focus on cutting back current carbon emissions, this policy mainly focuses on paying some sort of ‘toll fee’ to allow you to push out more carbon.

Is carbon offsetting credible?

Carbon offsetting is not entirely credible.

While the idea may work well for long-term reparations, the amount of carbon damage done at the moment needs more drastic measures. The planet needs solutions that enforce cutbacks on carbon emission from the source.

What’s more, most of these offset projects are not regulated and so one cannot really determine if the numbers given by those implicated are genuine or not.

What are the benefits of carbon offsetting?

The main benefit of carbon offsetting is that it helps to fund environmental projects that may have hit a financial rock.

Another silver lining is that offsetting at least gives a basic policy upon which regulators can use to enforce environmental laws.