Selling Indulgences

A couple of colleagues have circulated links to websites offering the opportunity to offset the CO2 created by my energy consumption in return for monetary payment.


Thanks for the links, but all of these people are asking for money and offering little but vague assertions in return. This is not intended to deny the good intentions of either the Native Power people linked to by Al Gore or of the IRES folks and their friends at WestJet, or I guess of any other chap who puts up a website and offers a $60 absolution for the CO2 I spewed on my flight to India last year. But none of these sites offer convincing proof that my $60 payment will somehow suck back all that CO2. So how can I tell that what salves my conscience will indeed undo the effects of my sin?

This business of buying remission reminded me of the mediaeval practice of selling indulgences and a quick Google search confirmed that I was not the first to make that connection: � Selling Indulgences

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One Response to Selling Indulgences

  1. alan says:

    Theodore Labadie responded:
    I’m looking into this question as thoroughly and professionally as I can. Unfortunately, Langara does not have access to the Web of Science database, so I’m limited as to the scope and depth of research I can conduct except for the odd trip to UBC as my schedule allows.

    Hint to admin: Can we get Web of Science? pls, pretty pls?

    On a hunch, because these sites favour installing renewable, non-GHG producing energy systems in “3rd world” countries over carbon sequestration schemes (largely untenable, and often destructive), I’m assuming that they know their stuff. (i.e. likely legit.)

    That being said, it is possible that these systems are not being installed, or quickly degenerate into misuse. The World Watch Institute or The Earth Policy Institute may have information on these companies, and how monitoring, etc. is being carried out. I’ll look into it.

    I don’t entirely (or not in all cases) agree with the “indulgences” metaphor. But that will have to wait for either a bulletin board, or a public discussion.

    Incidentally, and somewhat off-topic, planting trees in the Northern Hemisphere is a bad way to sequester carbon. Because of their low albedo and because transpiration rates in mild climates are low, trees actually heat the atmosphere. (This is not so in the tropics, where trees have a net cooling effect.) There are many benefits to planting trees here, but decreasing the greenhouse effect is not one of them. In the N. Hemisphere restoring grasslands would do much more to counter the greenhouse effect than planting forests. Grasslands sequester a lot of fire-proof carbon in extensive root systems (and likely do it very quickly). I’ll look into that too. Heaven help me.

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