The purpose of the above image is not necessarily to draw attention to any specific comments by the eminent republican. In fact, I wanted an image of just some average dude purchasing some carbon offsets and then being confused about their purpose. But when I spotted this image, it was just begging to be further photoshopped. C’est la vie.

I live in Minnesota. We have beautiful summers and hellish winters. But that’s not all. We also happen to have perhaps the best public radio station in the country. Minnesota Public Radio is about all I listen to. This is due to two reasons:

  1. Every other radio station in my town is terrible.
  2. MPR is actually very, very good.

So it’s not usually a complicated process to find anything to listen to. That said, they are currently running their member drive. I don’t know how much you know about PBS or NPR or any other public service like this, but since they are not commercial, but are instead a sort of consumer co-operative, the vast majority of their funding comes from donations. And twice a year, they spend a week begging for money. It’s pretty obnoxious, but it’s just something you have to get through. The plus side, of course, is that if you do decide to donate money they often send you some pretty neat stuff. Books, mugs, duffel bags, that sort of thing. Sometimes CDs of past quality programming.

Tonight as I was listening to the radio, they offered a free gift with a donation that I hadn’t expected. They are offering a carbon offset with every donation. This immediately struck me as weird because I had assumed that carbon offsets were stupid. I’m still not convinced that they’re not, but since MPR was endorsing them, I decided to do some further research. The folks begging for money were telling me that one of these offsets was the same (as in equal to or identical to) as not driving your car for ninety miles or not throwing away six hundred aluminum cans.

This is what always struck me as strange about carbon offsets because wouldn’t it be easier to just not drive for ninety miles? In my experience, it’s always easier to not do something than to do it. Entire corporations have managed to be supposedly carbon neutral through the practice of purchasing these carbon offsets.

My understanding of how this works is that when you purchase carbon offsets, that money goes into a pool of cash that goes towards the planting of trees, retrofitting power plants, and a whole slew of other things that reduce carbon emissions. The idea is that despite the fact that a huge corporation that is not actually carbon neutral can pretend to be carbon neutral because they are funding a bunch of carbon-sequestering activities that would not have been performed otherwise. Supposedly, this earns them the right to belch out more greenhouse gases.

Perhaps it’s better than nothing, but it presupposes the notion that there’s already a ton of CO2 in the atmosphere. What I mean is, they are not being penalized for all the CO2 that’s already there. That’s nobody’s fault because we didn’t know better forty years ago (that’s a lie, but let’s roll with it). So by selling these carbon offsets (by planting a few trees) these companies or people–in the case of members of MPR–get to burn petro-chemicals and drive their cars guilt free for a period of time. Does this strike you as odd?

Wouldn’t it be better to buy these offsets and drive your car less?

It’s hard to be carbon-neutral. We all realize that. But the real challenge and the thing that we actually ought to do is be carbon-negative. You think that’s crazy? Well, at least I tried. Now it’s on your head.