Climate Change & Offsetting

Recently I watched a program that casts some serious doubts over many corporations claims that they are green or carbon neutral. A couple of years ago it was Avian Flu that was going to decimate half the world’s population, before that it was SARS that was going to be the biggest killer of them all. Now it’s global warming and climate change – you can understand why there might be detractors.

Although there is no doubt that global warming is happening, I can’t see it as being the catastrophic disaster that the media is portraying it to be – simply because they’ll sensationalize any bit of bad news to make more money.

Nothing quite sells like bad news. Telling people “You are all going to be worse off! Find out why by buying our newspaper”. It’s a sure fire winner.

Anyway, climate change is now the buzz word and even the people living under rocks will be aware of it (you may have heard them comment that rocks are not like they used to be).

Never too far behind to miss a trick to make more money, many corporations are now jumping on this green bandwagon to give their corporate image that fluffy happy look. To be “carbon neutral” is the big thing. To leave the smallest possible “carbon footprint” is the goal.

The theory is (or I would assume that this is how the board meetings at the various companies went) that because society has been whipped up into a hysteria about global warming they will immediately gravitate to companies claiming to be doing everything in their power to stop it.

Just to spell out just how much BS there is out there with all these companies claiming to be eco-friendly and carbon neutral, here are some case studies that should make you think and hopefully realise that it’s all just a marketing scam.

Case Study One: Switch To A “Green” Electricity Provider

This is a great corporate scam dreamt up by some of the energy companies who must be laughing all the way to the bank. The marketing says this:

Signup to our new “GREEN” electricity plan and reduce your carbon footprint and help stop climate change and make the world a better place for future generations to come

(OK, I had my tongue in my cheek on the last bit about future generations, but the whole climate change sales pitch does revolve around taking action now to safeguard the world for future generations)

Right, so the “environmentally aware” sheeple who have all read about this evil climate change are prepared to do their bit. But here’s the clincher…they have to pay that little bit extra for their electricity because it comes from “green” sources and they are investing in future green projects.

Now this is the bit that gets really interesting…in the UK, the Government has made it law that every power company must invest a certain amount of money in renewable energy regardless. So these companies are not investing in green alternatives out of the goodness of their hearts, they are doing it because they are made to by law and they are passing the costs on to all the do-gooders out there who think they are making a difference. Crazy!

Some power companies are taking it to the next level by offering new customers the chance to sign on to their “green” plan for no extra cost. Again, these companies are required by law to invest in renewable energy, they are using the “look at us, we’re so great because we invest in green energy” marketing pitch to present a better corporate image.

Case Study Two: Buy A Tree…And Save The World

There is a big old furore about the cataclysmic and irreversible damage being done to the atmosphere by air travel. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 being unceremoniously dumped into the upper atmosphere by aircraft engines year after year. Sounds frightening, right?

The total CO2 deposited into the atmosphere is around 2% of the total carbon emissions world wide. Kinda puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?

Well, several companies have unsurprisingly sprung forward promising to offset your heinous damage everytime you take a flight by planting a tree…in return for lacing their outstreched palm with pieces of gold.

Various companies will tell you that if you pay them money (sometimes hundreds of pounds if you are taking the 5 person family on holiday to Orlando) they will plant a tree for each person that flies and for each journey (so 5 people going to Orlando and back is ten trees).

Incidently, in the scientific and analytical method of determining whether a single tree will absorb enough CO2 in it’s lifetime to offset the CO2 you dumped into the atmosphere when you stepped on that plane it doesn’t matter if you took a flight from London to Edinburgh or from London to Sydney. A single tree will offset it. These are remarkable trees. Does anyone actually know how much CO2 a tree takes in in a lifetime? What if the tree dies after 2 years?

OK, in theory it all sounds fine and dandy. I can see the logic behind it. Planes make CO2, trees like CO2. Offset airtravel evils with tree goodness.

The problem arises because nobody is quite sure how polluting a plane travelling through the upper atmosphere is. Where some tree planting companies will give a low figure, other companies will give a much inflated figure. Which one is the user to believe?

More to the point, how long is it going to be before criminals and the mafia (never groups of people to miss a quick money making scam) set up their own companies that claim to plant trees on your behalf when you send them money? It seems like the perfect scam. Take a few pictures in New Forest of your ‘trees’ put up a website and watch the money come rolling in as brainwashed people fall over themselves to send you money to make them feel less guilty about taking that plane journey.

Another classic case of a marketing pitch aimed at taking money off of do-gooders is to let people buy trees for trees that were already ear-marked for planting. The Forestry Commission in the UK plants thousands of trees each year in the UK, as does other bodies and trusts. Some of them are advertising carbon offsetting by purchasing trees that were already going to be planted. Does that really count?

Case Study Three: Corporate Carbon Offsetting

The latest salvo in the corporation’s ongoing quest to make more money is to present themselves as the green alternative to the competitor. With people (or should that be sheeple?) bombarded daily by the media about how bad global warming is, many will feel just a little bit less guilty if they feel they are ‘doing their bit’ to save the world.

Tapping into this ‘doing their bit’ philosophy that has been adopted by so many people, companies are marketing themselves as the ones to choose for people who are concerned about climate change.

To be able to make these claims they are investing several million pounds into CO2 reducing projects around the world. They pay companies like the Carbon Neutral Company who invest in projects around the world to apparently ‘offset’ the CO2 produced by the companies.

Take a massive British company where one of their business aspects involves supplying petrol to motorists. A great big no-no in the war on climate change. So they promote themselves as being green because they ‘offset’ the CO2 produced by cars using their petrol by investing in pigs.

Yep, pigs.

Am I joking? No. Pigs produce manure which as it decays releases methane. Methane is bad (que evil music), so by capturing all the methane in big inflatable bags they can burn it off and save the world. They can keep shovling the sh!t all day 😉

The paradox is, if cars using petrol supplied by this company didn’t exist, the pigs wouldn’t need to exist to produce methane. Therefore the only reason the pigs exist is to produce the methane that is burned off to offset the CO2 produced by the cars. Does this make sense? They are creating methane which wouldn’t otherwise exist to claim themselves as green.

Now here’s the clincher…the methane produced by the pigs (which don’t have any purpose other than to create the methane) is enough to offset just 2,500 cars in the UK. And with this, the company can claim to be green and ‘actively’ working to offset it’s carbon footprint.

A large multinational bank claims to be the only totally green bank in the world by claiming to have no carbon footprint due to all the investment in offsetting. In a year where this bank made a record £16 billion profit (that’s $32 billion for my American readers) they invested an incredible £2.5 million ($5 million) in reducing their carbon footprint.

By spending a profit crippling 0.0156% of their profits on this offsetting, they are claiming to be totally carbon neutral. Do you really think they are taking this seriously?

Finally, a large media company in the UK (and owned by a massive media mogul) claims to be environmentally aware and the ‘green’ choice due to it’s investments in carbon offsetting. One of the projects that it is invested in is a hydroelectric power station in Hungary that produces clean renewable energy.

When asked if the investment from this media company was required, the response was “no, we have already had the planning and development approved. The money helped our financial position and get the loans from the bank”.

The power station was being built anyway, so how can this media company claim to be offsetting their carbon footprint by investing in a project that was already going ahead?!

(The story was quickly changed a few days later by people higher up the ladder to say that the money they received was critical to the project)

I’m inclined to believe that when a corporation used the phrase “carbon offsetting” what they are actually referring to is the method of investing in something that already exists or has already been planned and claiming that these ‘new’ projects are somehow providing enough benefit to offset their carbon footprint.


In closing I think it’s not going to be long until the Government decides to tax the one thing that is a human right: the air that we breathe. By whipping up the hysteria around climate change and getting everyone into the mindset of “doing their bit” a tax will be introduced to make more money for the treasury.

It’s the perfect tax. No one likes to be taxed on the money they earn, but they might be more ready to accept a tax if they have been made to believe that their actions are causing climate change.

Are you “doing your bit” to save the world?

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