Should You Buy Carbon Offsets?

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February 25, 2020

carbon offsets for sale written as a headline

We have completed our Should You Buy Carbon Offsets? Ebook, which adds to our collection of free climate change Ebooks (available for download here).

After years of decline, carbon offset markets seem on the verge of dramatic growth. Individuals, companies, and even entire sectors (the aviation and maritime sectors in particular) increasingly look to voluntary offsets to advance their public climate change narratives and achieve environmental targets.

You may also have noticed that carbon offsets are increasingly used as a consumer branding tool. Your credit card company may already be buying offsets to make your purchases "carbon neutral," and that's just one of many examples. All at no cost to you!

Doesn’t that seem too good to be true? Well, it is. And is it really true, as one offset marketer noted in a recent webinar, that "you may have heard about problems with offsets in the past; those problems have been solved!"

Well no ... it isn’t.

This new Ebook is based on our 20 years of active work in the offsets field, and another decade of tracking the field from the outside.

The Ebook differs from most of the offsets coverage you have probably seen to date. It doesn’t simply argue about which offsets are good and which are bad. That’s today's dominant conversation, which most closely resembles a 20-year long tennis match.

Instead, we set out to explore WHY offsets are so challenging as a climate change mitigation strategy. It’s a short Ebook, and if you stick with it, we think you will know more about carbon offsets than most people actually in the offsets industry.

In 2006, Clean Air – Cool Planet, with the support of Stonyfield Farm, Clif Bar, and Interface, commissioned our team at Trexler Climate + Energy Services to write the Consumers' Guide to Retail Offset Providers. I joked at the time that we had to travel with bodyguards for several months.

It wasn’t literally true, but it certainly felt like it given the response to the report from offset providers that had not made it to the top of the list of recommended providers. Our new Ebook doesn't mention specific offset providers at all, in part because today's problems with offsets are as much systemic as they are provider-specific. That said, I suspect the reaction to the Ebook won't be overwhelmingly positive. As Upton Sinclair noted:

upton sinclair quote with money in background

Let us know what you think, either in the comments below or by private email or message.

About the author 

Mark Trexler

Mark has more than 30 years of regulatory and energy policy experience. He has advised clients around the world on climate change risk and risk management. He is widely published on business risk management topics surrounding climate change, including in the design and deployment of carbon markets. Mark has served as a lead author for the IPCC and holds advanced degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.

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