Fast Company

Sustainability: The Little Green Lies We Tell Ourselves

Apparently it has become all the rage in Colorado (and probably other places, too) for individuals to purchase little cards that claim to offset the bearer's monthly power consumption derived from fossil fuels with the good clean energy of wind power. It's just like planting 13 trees, or not driving 1,200 miles in your car! And it only costs $15 a month!

Call me a cynic, but this seems to be yet another example of America thinking we can buy our way out of a problem. I'm sure the intentions of both the energy credit providers and the people who buy the cards are good, but I really don't see how this actually helps the environment. At most, it gives the renewable energy providers a little more cash to continue their operations. It does not really impact an individual's carbon footprint one way or the other.

The same goes for companies that buy carbon credits to boost their green image. Except with major corporations, the number of credits they purchase is negligible compared to the amount of energy they actually use. While a consumer can pretend he or she has completely negated the fossil fuel energy used each month, major companies don't even come close.

A recent editorial in the Boston Globe outlines several of the fictions we convince ourselves will solve global warming, including carbon offsets. As the writer notes, paying someone to plant a tree now doesn't really affect the carbon emissions you cause today. Such well-meaning ideas need to be much more drastic in order to actually bring about change.

If after you've purchased your carbon credits you're still feeling guilty about your environmental transgressions, head to Suffolk, England. A Catholic priest heard confessions of participants' "green sins" at a recent Greenpeace fundraising event there. After admitting to such acts as failing to recycle or purchasing a new gas-guzzling car, penitents were instructed to make up for their sins by donating to green charities.

Are carbon credits worth it or do they just make us feel good? What "green lies" do you tell?

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2 Comments

  • Bill Schenken

    I don't think you are a cynic. . . .

    Wait a blasted minute! Did I already say this once before?

    Well, in case you didn't get the point. You can purchase your green penance through your local church or energy provider. Whichever you trust more.