'Carbon Offsets': A Good Idea That's Not Working
The problem with introducing 'green' initiatives that are based on "opt-in" actions by consumers, is that consumers rarely, if ever, opt-in -- particularly when their 'opting-in' requires paying an additional fee. CO2 emissions be damned, unless it's a mandatory levy, consumers just won't do it.
This adds further weight to my conviction that many of us like to 'appear green' (switching over to a cotton/cloth shopping bag or perhaps changing the odd incandescent bulb to a fluorescent) but we're infinitely less willing to put our dollars toward actually offsetting our pollution.
Admittedly, carbon offset initiatives are rife with their own problems and far from an airtight, climate-saving strategy, but this story identifies a key related to consumer behaviour around 'greening' travel, tourism, and ourselves.
What, then, will truly compel us to change our ways? A tidal wave of human refuse striking the Oregon coast? Polar bears taking refuge in the artificially-arctic climes of our local Whole Foods fridges? Gas prices that rival the cost of liquid gold?
Top airlines and tour operators keen to shore up their green credentials nowadays offer customers carbon "offsets" to compensate holiday pollution.
The problem is that few tourists seem eager to write off their green guilt. The idea is simple enough: "offsets" are schemes by which a tourist when paying his ticket can also buy into a project elsewhere that will compensate for the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) resulting from his trip.
But calculating the size of that carbon footprint apparently is not so simple.
A Paris-New York return flight, for example, might emit between one and three tonnes of CO2, depending on the different calculators used by companies and environmental groups.
That means the price of an "offset" can vary by a factor of five, from 15 to 75 euros (25 to 125 dollars).
One of the first to introduce offsets in France, in January last year, was high-end tour operator Voyageurs du Monde. "Voluntary compensations have been a total failure," said company chairman Jean-Francois Rial.
"Only one percent of our clients really paid the cost of the CO2 emitted by his trip," he said.
Now his company simply taxes travellers without first asking their opinion, adding 10 euros to a ticket for a long-haul flight, tantamount to the price for a half-tonne of CO2.