Some wealthy environmentalists who urge the world to reduce global-warming pollution are themselves using huge amounts of pollution-producing energy. They own houses which consume much more energy for heating and lighting than the average dwelling, have several large vehicles that spew out emissions, and ride on jets that pour out noxious fumes. Yet these rich greenies urge everybody else to change their lifestyles to reduce energy use and cut down on harmful emissions.
How do they justify their energy binging? They say the are not doing any evil, because they have offset their bads with goods. They have bought “carbon offsets” that cancel out their own pollution. For example, they pay to plant trees in Africa. These trees take in carbon dioxide, which makes up for the greenies’ carbon emissions.
In fact, several carbon-offset Internet sites show you how to offset your pollution using “carbon calculators.” You tell the calculator what kind of house you live in, how many residents there are, what kind of car you have and how much your drive, how much air travel you do, and what you eat, and presto! They tell you how much to donate to their organization. You can also buy a decal for your car’s bumper proudly telling the world that your car’s carbon emission have been balanced by sponsoring a clean-energy project. Now you are absolved of your environmental sins. You are now an environmental virgin. Go, and sin again, because all you need to do is donate again.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, a rich guy could buy indulgences from the Catholic Church, which offset their sins. Repenting and sinning no more was for peasants. Now we have environmental indulgences, so that we don’t need pollution levies to reduce emissions. We can just buy absolution with an environmental indulgence. It’s even better than the religious indulgence, because the Catholic indulgence presumed that the sin was already forgiven, while the environmental indulgence itself forgives the sin of polluting.
If carbon offsets are such a good idea, why not apply it to other areas of life?
Are you gambling too much? Donate money to an organization opposed to gambling. Now you can gamble as much as you like, because you have offset it by reducing somebody else’s gambling.
Did you embezzle money from the company you work for? No problem: just offset this with donations to a worthy cause. This nets out your theft.
Are you cheating on your spouse? You can cleanse your guilt and offset this sin by donating money to an organization that promotes family values. The greater fidelity of others will offset your cheating.
Did you murder somebody and get away with this? Stop feeling guilty by donating money to those promoting better law enforcement. If you can prevent a murder, this offsets your own murder.
Are you cruel to animals? You don’t need to stop. Just absolve yourself by donating to the humane society. If others are kind to animals, that offsets your cruelty.
Do you litter? Are you one of those smokers who toss the butt on the ground, squish it with your foot, and just leave it there for others to clean up? Cleanse your sin by donating to an anti-smoking group. That way, you don’t have to go to the trouble of actually disposing the litter in a trash bin.
Are you a boorish cell-phone talker, who disturbs others in a bus or train by loudly talking on and on? Absolve yourself by donating money to the Christian Science church, since it provides quiet reading rooms all over the world. You can then continue disturbing others, because the invasion has been offset!
Did you raise your children badly, so they are now delinquents? Cleanse this sin by donating money to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or a big brother or sister program. A good boy will offset your bad boy.
Are you addicted to alcohol or other drugs? If you donate money to an organization that helps people to stop their addiction and recover, you can keep on abusing your body and feel better about it. Your addiction has been offset by helping somebody else quit and recover.
Perhaps you were a government official who helped start an awful war. Offset this by sending taxpayers’ money to reduce suffering from poverty and diseases. The good deeds will offset the damage from the war!
If you eat fish which have been raised in a sea farm that pollutes the oceans and kills many other fish, offset this by buying gold fish and keeping them in a clean tank.
With offsets, we can pollute as much as we want to, because we can offset the damage. We don’t have to stop polluting and plundering the planet if the perpetrators are able to buy their way out with offsets. Actually reducing pollution is only necessary for the poor, who can’t afford to buy indulgences.
Welcome to the Church of Environmental Absolution, where we can indulge in pollution by simply calculating how much we pollute and then buying our way out by paying to plant trees somewhere. When the fish in the ocean have been killed off, our drinking war is all contaminated, and violence makes us all terrified, nobody will be responsible, because they have offset their evil with good.
At last, we have solved the problem of evil! Just offset it!
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FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.
Foldvary is the author of The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.
Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.