Posted by jab12004 on March 31, 2009
Recently, my dad sent me an e-mail asking if I had ever heard of TerraPass. After booking a trip on a travel search engine, he was given the option to offset his carbon emissions with the purchase of a trip offset. Basically his trip could be “carbon neutral” by him just paying a $6 fee.
I decided to investigate TerraPass a bit more by seeing how much it would cost to offset a fictional business. After answering a large number of questions about travel , square feet of office space, servers and other big ticket energy expenses, I was presented with an estimate of how much my offset would cost.
I could see that as a business, I would feel satisfied purchasing the offset and then sticking a little label on my web page advertising my newly purchased climate savvy. However, I think this mindset has a few fundamental problems.
First, I’m not a huge fan of the idea that it is equally as good to buy an offset instead of finding ways to reduce consumption. While TerraPass does not promote this idea, I think this cartoon sums up my how I feel.
Basically, voluntary offsets can promote the idea that we can still do whatever we want if we just buy the appropriate offset.
Second, their services completely ignore indirect carbon uses. Basically, every single product in our lives probably has some carbon associated with its production use. The glass of orange juice that I drink with breakfast required fertilizers to grow the oranges, petroleum to transport the oranges etc. This is the same with any product a business might purchase.
Some people might just say I’m nitpicking at a generally good idea, and that we should be thankful that some businesses care about these issues. While that is partially true, I’m still a bit bothered that by attaching a simple price to offsetting emissions. Instead of people evaluating how they might reduce their current emissions, it becomes tempting just to cut a small check and offset their guilt.