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On Point
Vincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages, writes his On Point column most weekdays. He is also an author and freelance writer. Reach Vincent Carroll at carrollv@RockyMountainNews.com.


Carroll: Delayed gratification
Wednesday, June 13 at 12:00 AM

If Frontier Airlines proceeds with plans to let customers purchase “carbon offsets” along with their tickets, you can bet that its sales pitch will be all green and no yellow — all environmental upside and no buyer beware.

You can be sure that customers who purchase the offsets — “more than $30 for a round-trip domestic flight,” the Rocky reported — will do so assuming they are about to neutralize the environmental effects of their flight and that the climate gods are smiling from the clouds.

What those customers aren’t likely to see at the Frontier counter, in other words, is the following headline: “Offsetting your carbon footprint takes decades.”

That headline appeared a few weeks ago in the Sunday Times, and what a story it told.
“Schemes used by environmentally conscious consumers to cut their ‘carbon footprint’ could take up to a century to deliver the promised benefits, a study has suggested,” according to the British newspaper’s environment editor, Jonathan Leake.

“ . . . The new research, carried out by scientists at the Tyndall Centre, based at the University of East Anglia, and Sweden’s Lund University, suggests that such schemes may, in fact, do little more than salve the consciences of those paying for them.”

It turns out that a number of carbon offset programs fund energy-saving programs in developing countries that can take many years to achieve promised savings — and that’s assuming they work out as planned. A big assumption, by the way.

Some have involved forestry projects that take decades to mature, if the trees don’t succumb in the meantime to fire or disease.

Frontier hasn’t finalized its carbon offset plans, but they’re likely to involve a partnership with Sustainable Travel International in Boulder, whose Web site lists its various carbon offset programs around the globe. They include solar energy projects in India, Eritrea and Costa Rica, wind power in Madagascar and biomass energy in India, with estimated savings (in tons of carbon dioxide equivalents) over a period of years.

Will the projects fully pan out? Buying a small piece of a development project in a Third World country is always dicey — and perhaps especially so when you know little or nothing about the people who’ll manage it or the company that hired them. Personally, I prefer to spend my philanthropic dollars — let’s face it, that’s what they are — on something with a greater chance of payoff.

Not that I blame an airline for offering conscience-stricken flyers a relatively cheap cure for their lifestyle guilt. Maybe that’s what it takes these days to fill those cabins to Mazatlan, Cancun and Acapulco. And after all, say what you like about the effectiveness of carbon offsets, they’ve got to be better than self-flagellation.

Vincent Carroll is editor of the editorial pages. Reach him at carrollv@RockyMountainNews.com.


READER COMMENTS

What an extraordinarily negative piece.

It seems bizarre to dump on Frontier before they have even announced any plans.

Posted by David on June 13, 2007 01:23 AM

What an extraordinarily negative piece.

It seems bizarre to dump on Frontier before they have even announced any plans.

Posted by David on June 13, 2007 01:23 AM

Good point.

However, you should have mentioned that paying for carbon offsets is a complete waste of money. There is no evidence that carbon has any effect on temperatures, and in fact, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but an important part of natural plant growth.

Bottom line, if the politically correct want to "pay" to make themselves feel better, then they should give their money to causes that have measurable benefits, such as feeding the poor, etc.

Posted by Ed on June 13, 2007 07:34 AM

It's a negative piece because it's an idiotic idea; they're trying to "solve" a problem that's just an enormous hoax.

Posted by Justin on June 13, 2007 07:47 AM

vincent, you really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for your latest whine. Global warming did not occur overnight and finding a solution is going to be complex and involve long term strategies as well as short term. While it only takes a few days or weeks to clear cut sections of the rain forest, re-planting and growth is literally going to take decades. And of course there is no guarantee that the trees won't die - is that a reason not to do it at all? You have every right to spend your philanthropic dollars however you choose. And you also have the right to jeer at people who choose other ways. But it seems pretty short sighted to me.

Posted by Marion Delanoy on June 13, 2007 09:17 AM

Since 95% of so called green house gasses is natural atmospheric water vapor, planting more trees will make the problem worse... not better. What a hoax. Follow the money...it is just a ploy to soak the rich and make them feel better. That is why Al Gore is a part owner and manager of a carbon offset company. He is going to get rich by being an alarmist. Duh!!

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