Posted by: ericgrimsrud | January 12, 2020

Carbon offsets do not help reduce global warming

Carbon offsets are increasingly being paid by individuals and organizations in order to compensate for their carbon emissions when indulging in various carbon-intensive activities.  This method of offsetting one’s CO2 emissions is becoming especially popular for the compensation of the carbon emissions invariably produced by aircraft travel.  A large scale example of this was provided on this website in a July post called “Rick Steves needs to reconsider”.  These schemes rarely compensate for the warming effect of the original activity, however.  And, in many cases, have net effects that are worse than doing nothing.  The main driving force behind carbon offsets appears to be merely the soothing the carbon emitter’s conscience.

Kevin Anderson, an international leader of climate change research has thoroughly explained all of this in a recent article which I’ll simply refer you to here:

In the next two paragraphs, I have provided a specific example he cites which clearly conveys his message.

“Assume I broke my (self-imposed) seven-year refusal to fly, paid my £35 offset and boarded a plane from Manchester to London for the conference. In doing so, I add to the already severe congestion at airports, causing delays and allowing politicians to argue for greater airport capacity, arguments only reinforced by the rise in passengers turning to offsets. To meet increasing demand, airlines are encouraged to order new aircraft, which they promise will be more efficient. Feeling pressure, a future government approves new runways, but the extra flights and emissions swamp efficiency gains from the cleaner engines.

Meanwhile, in an Indian village where my offset money has helped to fund a wind turbine, the villagers now have the (low-carbon) electricity to watch television, which provides advertisers of a petrol-fueled moped with more viewers, and customers. A fuel depot follows, to meet the new demand, and encourages others to invest in old trucks to transport goods between villages. Within 30 years, the village and surroundings have new roads and many more petrol-fueled mopeds, cars and trucks. Meanwhile, the emissions from my original flight are still having a warming impact, and will do for another 100 years or so.

Where is the offset in that?” Anderson then asks.  The answer, of course, is that there is none.

I will add that an additional concern in using carbon offsets would be that extensive monitoring of the subsequent effects of the original offset payment would be required in order to ensure that each offset would not be misused leading to additional warming – as suggested in Anderson’s example.




  1. See is what happens in the UK if an individual tries to do his bit see

  2. Eric, I have my doubts about carbon offsets also. But I am not nearly as pessimistic as the Kevin Erickson whom you quote. His analysis is down right depressing.

    I get it, thought. You have made it clear that you believe carbon offsets are ineffective. You have also made it clear that carbon sequestration/storage is inadequate. I hope that you are successful in encouraging reduction in GHG emissions.

    [Response from EPG: John, You appear to be getting to my main point; Yes, we need drastic cuts in emissions. All of the no pain cures are not appearing to be feasible. To put our faith in negative emission technologies is irresponsible. If we lose that gamble all will be lost. For more of Kevin Anderson, who I think is one of the few totally honest climate modelers, see his presentation at the Swedish conference on one of my previous posts. SHown in a Feb post) What he says is more than just his opinion. He is following the laws of Mother Nature so, yes , that leads to what is probably a depressing conclusion.

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