March 1, 2007

Carbon Capers and Cons

Bill Hobbs says the discussion of Al Gore's personal carbon footprint should be less about whether or not he is a hypocrite, and more about examining the validity and efficacy of so-called "carbon offsets" themselves. Not only the question of how effective they are, if at all, but also who will be the beneficiaries and custodians of the cash that will be changing hands.

It turns out that the Goracle himself is in the business of selling carbon offsets, to assuage the enviro-guilt of others, and to keep himself insulated from criticism for continuing to jet about the globe spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It almost seems as if the more Gore hypes the problem, the more he stands to benefit personally. The man is a hero. And you must admit, it does sound like a solid business opportunity in what looks to be a real growth industry.

Excerpting Hobbs' Why the Gore Story Matters

In its original story, The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville reported that Gore buys “carbon offsets” to compensate for his home’s use of energy from carbon-based fuels. What is a “carbon offset,” exactly? Essentially, it’s a payment someone makes to an environmentally friendly entity to compensate for personally using non-green energy.

As Wikipedia explains, a carbon offset “is a service that tries to reduce the net carbon emissions of individuals or organizations indirectly, through proxies who reduce their emissions and/or increase their absorption of greenhouse gases.” Wikipedia goes on to explain that “a wide variety of offset actions are available; tree planting is the most common. Renewable energy and energy conservation offsets are also popular, including emissions trading credits.”

So far, so good. So, where does Gore buy his ‘carbon offsets’? According to The Tennessean newspaper’s report, Gore buys his carbon offsets through Generation Investment Management. a company he co-founded and serves as chairman:

Gore helped found Generation Investment Management, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe…

As co-founder and chairman of the firm Gore presumably draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he “buys” his “carbon offsets” from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn’t buy “carbon offsets” through Generation Investment Management - he buys stocks.

Feel guilty about flying to Davos for the WEF, or just for taking the Explorer to Grandma's in Mobile for the weekend? Send money to the company I own, and I'll plant trees in Africa on your behalf....after paying for administrative overhead of course. Sure the trees take a long time to start taking CO2 out of the air, and then they die and return all the carbon to the ecosystem by burning or decomposing anyway. So we still haven't worked out all the kinks in this thing. Keep the money coming though, and just know we're working on it. Besides, it's more about how you'll feel about yourself.

Iowahawk likes the business model.

Related links:

Glenn Reynolds links several articles on offsets.

Jay Reding describes a house that really is environmentally responsible.

The Economist

Carbon Cop-Out

The Virginian

Ed Morrissey:

...purchasing offsets only means that Gore doesn't want to make the same kind of sacrifices that he's asking other families to make. He's using a modern form of indulgences in order to avoid doing the penance that global-warming activism demands of others. It means that the very rich can continue to suck up energy and raise the price and the demand for electricity and natural gas, while families struggle with their energy costs and face increasing government regulation and taxation.

Don Surber - Al Gore vs. Al Gore

UPDATE 3/1: Taranto weighs in

So, let's sum this up: Here we have a major American politician who is calling for policies that would impose huge costs on society but appears to be profiting handsomely himself; who is leading an extravagant lifestyle while demanding sacrifices from ordinary people; and who is calling on the media to suppress the views of those with whom he disagrees, while at the same time urging more government regulation in the name of "fairness" to his partisan and ideological allies.

Why is it left to think tanks and bloggers to investigate and expose all this? Why aren't the mainstream media all over the story? Could it be . . . bias?

Posted by dan at March 1, 2007 1:06 AM