21 Jul 2008


I got this in an email:
TerraPass members have now balanced out a total of over 1 billion pounds of carbon emissions, all by purchasing carbon offsets from Terrapass.com or from TerraPass business partners like Expedia.com, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and Climate Change Chocolate. We’re a mission-driven business, and our mission is to help individuals and small businesses finance verified reductions in carbon reductions
I can't tell if I am happy or sad to get this email. On the one hand, I think these guys are slightly dodgy; on the other, carbon offsets are the amazing market solution to minimizing the cost of carbon emissions.

But something doesn't seem right.
  1. Payments go for emissions reductions "below baseline", and baseline is sometimes a projection of where emissions would go.
  2. Does planting a tree today count for a carbon credit if the same tree would have been planted in a week? How long does that tree have to stay in place? Forever, presumably, if you are trying to offset carbon emissions -- but trees don't live forever!
  3. These offsets are bought on one side of the planet and sold on another so it's hard to know if what you bought is what was sold.
  4. Offsets don't do anything to reduce carbon emissions; in fact, they may encourage them by giving people a "guilt-free" reason to consume.
Bottom Line: I'm far more comfortable with carbon reductions than offsets. If you don't do it, it didn't happen.


  1. David:

    Long time reader of your blog, so I'm confident to recommend you be happy that we reached this milestone (I'm a co-founder of TerraPass).

    Some corrections to your assumptions (which should contribute to your happiness).

    1) True, but this has been very controversial on "third" world energy projects. Its not so controversial on a US dairy farm -- we have 96,000 dairies and less than 100 digesters. You can just go see the baseline for yourself.

    2) No trees at TerraPass and no front loaded credits either. Reductions happen in the same twelve months you buy the TerraPass carbon offset.

    3) All TerraPass projects are domestic, and we submit to a third party audit to ensure your reductions are not double sold. This complements a third party audit at the project level.

    4) Empirically false (see survey). So much so, that we do a nice trade in watt meters, scangauges, and standby slaying power strips that accomplish carbon reductions.

    TerraPass members are the greenest of the green and we're proud to be just one part of their response to climate change.

  2. Tom -- awesome reply. Glad to get it from the horse's mouth!


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