Retailing Kyoto-Style Carbon Offsets

by Janet K Levit

Looking for a holiday gift that is bound to be unforgettable? Maybe you should try individualized “carbon offsets,” purchasing pieces of “green projects” (such as forest reclamation in Ecuador or wind farms in Oregon) in an amount that corresponds to your own carbon emissions. While corporations have been purchasing carbon-offsets for years, social entrepreneurs (e.g., Carbonfund, Climate Care, Climate Trust, and TerraPass), as well as corporations, are now marketing carbon-offsets to individual consumers (especially those susceptible to eco-guilt). According to a story yesterday on NPR, the average household produces 18 tons of greenhouse gas per year, and greenhouse gas emissions can be offset for $10 per ton; groups like Climate Care cleverly market gift certificates designed to neutralize all or part of such emissions (such as the “I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas” certificates for approximately $30 which offset 2 tons of carbon dioxide, “more than enough to offset carbon from warm radiators, log fires, Christmas dinners and general festive fun”). Likewise, Ford Motor Company has joined with TerraPass to market carbon-offsets to SUV purchasers for $80 per year.

As I noted in a previous post, despite the administration’s decision not to join Kyoto, various transnational actors, including private actors, congeal to strive for Kyoto-like ends. These carbon-offset initiatives draw individual consumers into this community, not just indirectly (i.e., exerting market power via consumer-driven boycotts of polluting companies) but directly, by sensitizing consumers to their role in creating greenhouse gas emissions and by allowing such individuals to utilize Kyoto-like offsetting mechanisms to pay for and balance their emissions. For those who think about the role that private actors play in the making and implementing of international law, initiatives such as these carbon-offset programs suggest that their role may become increasingly robust and complex.

Obviously, it would require billions in retail-level carbon offsets to make a significant dent in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and I am certainly not advocating retail-style carbon-offsets as the means to reduce carbon-monoxide emissions in any significant way. At most, they offer baby steps. Yet, these carbon-offset initiatives, especially when juxtaposed with today’s Supreme Court arguments in Massachusetts v. EPA, punctuate that international norms (in this case Kyoto-like rules) not only flow from official treaty, regulation, or court decision but also percolate from the bottom-up, in this instance from the combustive interplay of private consumption decisions, creative social entrepreneurship, and NGO-driven education efforts. This type of “bottom-up lawmaking” is not linear, unidirectional, nor predictable; yet it is an irrepressible phenomenon that peppers the international lawmaking landscape.

http://opiniojuris.org/2006/11/29/retailing-kyoto-style-carbon-offsets/

2 Responses

  1. Planktos takes sides in Supreme Court Case on Regulation of “Global Warming “ CO2 by the EPA

    The Supreme Court ponders the case of whether the US EPA ought to begin regulation of CO2 as a cause of harm to the environment but the case seems to focus solely on the popular case of “global warming”. All sides ignore the oceans where the real and present harm and danger of high CO2 is now apparent.

    Indeed several justices have showed sympathy for the administration’s position opposing the case.

    “There is a lot of conjecture,” said Justice Antonin Scalia. “When is the predicted cataclysm?” he asked Milkey (Massachusetts Asst. Attorney General)

    “It is not so much a cataclysm as ongoing harm,” Milkey responded, and “there is nothing conjectural about that.”

    The fact is that presently high and rising CO2 in our atmosphere is causing an immediate global cataclysm. That cataclysm isn’t occurring in the familiar terrestrial atmospheric biome of the planet but rather in that 70+% of the planet Earth that are our oceans. First ocean acidification, a direct consequence of the long rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere, has made the oceans 10% more acidic over recent decades. Reports of the UK Royal Society (2005) report the beginning of a cataclysm of global mass extinction of sea life will be well underway by 2050 and profound by 2100.

    Secondly high CO2 has caused a great diminishment of wind blown terrestrial dust that reaches the ocean, starving the oceans of vital micronutrients. Scientific reports, with which there is no dispute, have clearly shown that this lost productivity has resulted in an ongoing cataclysmic change of state of the oceans from being a vastly effective CO2 sink via living plant life, to having lost the capacity to biologically fix and remove 4-5 billion tonnes of CO2 from the global atmosphere each year. This sum of CO2 is noteworthy for being a substantial portion of the “global warming” net problem with CO2, stated at 6-7 billion tonnes each year, it also represents a dramatic loss of food at the bottom of the ocean food chain. The loss of ocean productivity combined with over fishing have led to the recent cataclysmic reports of all seafood disappearing from our tables by 2048.

    Planktos implores the honorable Supreme Court Justices to see that the evidence is very clear that there is just the cataclysm they demand – clear, present, dangerous and well underway. It is imperative that we empower and charge our government with the duty to act immediately to restrain CO2 emissions, restore, and revive our oceans. It is insufficient to make excuses that we, as resident Earthlings of this small blue planet, need not do anything but argue political and legal semantics while the cataclysm progresses.

    With regard to the preposterous notion in the administrations legal maneuver to deny that the States have demonstrable losses do to high levels of anthropogenic CO2. It is clear by the plethora of ocean evidence that all of the coastal states that have historically derived revenue and benefits from their ocean fisheries that they have and will continue to suffer huge losses in this arena as a result of unabated high levels of CO2 pouring into our air and oceans from our rapacious appetite for fossil fuels.

    Planktos is a California company working to develop and deliver practical and affordable solutions to the global ocean and climate crisis by restoring Earthly ecosystems on land and at sea.

    For more information contact: Russ George, Planktos Inc. 1151 Triton Dr. Foster City, CA 94404 russ [at] planktos [dot] com http://www.planktos.com

  2. Also using the individual as the starting point (in the domestic environmental protection context) is this interesting piece by Michael Vandenberg.

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