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Carbon Offsets Gain Notoriety As Limbaugh Attacks

Let's Hope The Line About Any Publicity Being Good Publicity Is Accurate

Carbon Offsets Are Like Medicine for the Earth

Isn't This a Subject Limbaugh Knows Something About?

Better World Club was the first travel business and one of the first companies of any kind to offer donations, known as "carbon offsets", which are devoted to projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Better World Club has offset over 10 million pounds of greenhouse gas from planes and cars and is about to announce its 2006 offsets.

For years, few Americans knew what a carbon offset was. This is now changing, thanks largely to Al Gore and his use of carbon offsets and even more to the Rush Limbaughs and his ilk who view them as completely illegitimate. "Fraud" is a word frequently used by these conservatives.

For the most part, they use are two substantive arguments to smear offsets. Unfortunately, as sensationalized as their criticism may be, each does have a grain of truth.

The first is that carbon offsets can't be legitimate if "all you have to do is plant some trees". In fact, there are some valid arguments as to why tree planting is not a valid offset. Studies conclude that trees near the equator validly offset greenhouse gas emissions, but those elsewhere do not (See the January 2007 issue of BWC's 'Driving Change').

But trees also are vulnerable to the second, more difficult, argument about offsets: summarized as "additionality". Offsets should not be used for projects that would have happened without the offsets. Some groups fear that if offsets were devoted to trees, companies that have to regrow forests as part of their business would be subsidized to do so.

As offsets grow more popular, they are also becoming more complex. Recently some environmentalists touted a coal plant that was not built for a Texas utility as an example of an offset. Obviously, when claiming non-events as offsets, there is potential for abuse.

For these reasons, Better World Club does not invest in tree planting. Rather, BWC has provided funds to the Portland (OR) schools to help obtain natural gas furnaces to replace oil-burning ones, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We also have provided sensors to schools so that they can reduce energy to rooms that are empty. These projects were certified by the Carbon Neutral Network.

Limbaugh and his brethren may articulate these concerns, but they don't limit themselves to them. They are not interested in oversight. Rather, they want to smear any effort to minimize global warming because they want to smear the very idea of global warming itself.

The rhetorical centerpiece of the campaign is to compare carbon offsets to "indulgences", payments received by churches in the Middle Ages in exchange for forgiving sin. Here's Limbaugh:

CALLER: Since this environmentalism is the religion of the left, doesn't this sound an awful lot like the selling of indulgencies during the Middle Ages?

RUSH: Yeah. I've had a bunch of people make that comparison. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but you could basically go to the church and get permanence to sin.

CALLER: For money.

RUSH: For money. Just give the church money, and they would absolve you of the sin.

CALLER: Another thing is, if you speak against the environmentalism, they will bring you up before the inquisition.

RUSH: Yeah. We are called by those people global warming deniers.

CALLER: Yeah. Now, if you bring this all to light and nail these people to the door of the church, you know what that makes you?

RUSH: What?

CALLER: A modern day Martin Luther.

RUSH: Yeah?

CALLER: (Laughing.)

RUSH: (Laughing.) Fine. We'll start the new religion of Rushism.

CALLER: (Laughing.)

RUSH: I appreciate the call, Steve. I've gotta run here. But, the whole thing is plastic banana, good-time rock 'n' roll. It's phony bologna. It's a house of cards. It's a bunch of mirrors. But, yeah, go on eBay and sell some carbon offsets.

Of course, carbon offsets have nothing to do with indulgences except in the mind of Limbaugh and his listeners.

Limbaugh is just as strident talking about how hypocritical environmentalists are: remediation is apparently unimportant to him. Prevention is all that matters. You would expect this argument from a member of the radical Earth First, not Rush Limbaugh.

In fact, carbon offsets are better analogized not to religion, but to medicine. We all do our best not to get sick. Prevention is more important than remediation. But when we do fall ill, we need our drugs. Hey, Rush?

Yes, our laws should prioritize prevention. And we have no issue with those who point out that flying private airplanes and then offsetting one's carbon is usually indulgent.

But carbon offsets, when done right, are an important part of remediation. Modern life is making the earth sick and it needs its medicine. We who offer carbon offsets are providing this relief, what Limbaugh might consider OxyContin for the earth, if he weren't interested in hoodwinking his listeners more intently than any sincere carbon offsetter.