Posted at 1:12 PM on February 8, 2007
by Sanden Totten
No, this isn't the start to some snappy joke (though if you can think of one that starts like this please post it below. Seriously.). It turns out that Al Gore, The Rolling Stones and even last week's Super Bowl are all carbon neutral.
Now I've heard plenty about going carbon neutral but it took me a while to actually understand how carbon offsetting works. I think I've figured it out. When you pay to offset your carbon emissions you give money to a company like NativeEnergy or the Carbon Neutral Company. They spend that money on a renewable energy source like a wind turbine, solar panels or trees. So you don't actually reduce your carbon emissions, but you help improve infrastructure for future carbon-less energy.
It's a win-win right? Some people don't think so. This article argues that some of the offsetting plans are bogus (like planting trees, which doesn't seem to do much in most climates to suck up carbon) and that "carbon neutrality" may just be a way for guilty people to feel better about their nasty habits without taking serious action to change them.
Once, when I was giving some money to someone near the subway, I commented that it seemed like a drop in the bucket, enough to make me feel good, but not really enough to help anyone. Someone then told me, "you do what you know you can do and Karma will take care of the rest." It was one of the wisest things anyone has ever said to me. I know I, myself, can't change the world; I can only do what I can do and, hopefully. stop beating myself up for not doing more.
It is the worst kind of hubris to judge the reason behind someone elses genorosity.
Yeah, I agree it's bad to start pointing fingers at people who are doing something good and saying they are not doing enough. That kind of stuff will not get us very far. But one of the things I struggle with as a volunteer and someone who donates to various causes is whether or not my resources are going to be used effectively to achieve the goals I want. I've heard plenty of horror stories about thousands of dollars being wasted by beurocracy when they should have gone to help needy people or causes. Likewise, I wouldn't want to keep paying for carbon neutrality if I discovered that the money I was paying wasn't doing much difference. Of course, like I mentioned in the post, people are still debating the effectiveness of some of these programs. Some seem to do legitimate good while others have been shown to hurt more than they help.
I think part of keeping good momentum going is to make sure action we take is making tangible difference so we don't get burned out feeling like nothing changes.
But I agree, judging people's generosity is a bad idea.