Morning Bell: Don’t Get Fooled Again

Conn Carroll /

The Washington Post reports this morning that “the Democratic-led House” wasted $89,000 in tax payer money on “so-called carbon offsets” that did not reduce any carbon production. The Post investigated three projects making up a third of the money spent and found, “it did not appear that offset money was the sole factor causing any of the projects to go forward.”

House Democrats were not the only ones scammed by the greenhouse-gas credit ‘industry’. Through ‘markets’ like the Chicago Climate Exchange, American consumers and corporations spent $55 million on carbon credit ‘commodities’ last year. The Post points out that the industry is largely unregulated in the United States, but that similar market’s in Europe are more regulated and the carbon offsets are more expensive. The implication being that more government regulation in the US could bring credibility to the industry and help stop global warming. A closer look at the situation in Europe, however, shows that the same verification problems that make carbon offsets useless also render cap and trade global warming plans (like the ones favored by leading candidates in both parties) completely ineffective.

Progressives love to point to the success of the cap and trade approach to limit sulfur dioxide production in the United States. The problem is there is a huge difference between the production of sulfur-dioxide (limited to a small number easily identifiable sources) and the production of carbon (virtually all economic activity produces carbon). Congressional Quarterly explains:

Industry likes cap-and-trade measure because they allow greater flexibility than straight emissions limits do … However, because there are all sorts of approaches to reducing greenhouse emissions, the basic requirements of standardizing the process are fearsomely complex. Emissions removals needs to be tracked and verified, while the benefits of various mitigation plans need to be quantified in some uniform fashion. The first, and most important determination for any such project is its additionality – an elusive criteria that tries to establish what benefits a mitigation system really delivers beyond a “business as usual” model.

For any cap and trade system to be effective, the government would essentially have to monitor all economic activity so that it’s carbon impact could be measured. Otherwise it is just too easy for anyone to claim they are doing something that is lowering their carbon footprint. After the EU’s carbon trading scheme failed to reduce carbon in the first phase of its existence, the EU issued new regulations to try and tighten the market for carbon offsets. But when the new regulations went into effect, the price of a carbon offset in Europe only fell further.

Carbon offset sellers have sometimes been compared to snake oil salesman. The only real difference between carbon offset traders and snake oil salesmen seems to be that the carbon offset scam victims seem to be a bit more upscale … and apparently in charge of Congress too.

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