Carbon offsetting is a financial arrangement that allows companies, individuals and governments to attempt to mitigate their carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon offsets frequently go toward offsetting pollution in third-world countries by planting trees – or through various other activities. Unfortunately, it is hard to follow-up on the effectiveness of these processes. Further, while planting is a great idea, it takes an entire acre of Douglas firs, growing over a period of fifty years, to offset 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide. These offsets, which are starting from the bottom-up, are taking place in areas that should already be seeing change. Additionally, this set-up clearly cannot keep up with our current emissions levels. Rather than providing solutions, real change is postponed.
A better alternative to carbon offsetting is to set carbon caps. With a carbon cap system, every company that currently produces emissions would be given a set amount of carbon dioxide that they are allowed to emit annually. Every year, the amount of emissions would be reduced, resulting in an overall reduction in the amount of carbon emitted. Setting caps, and enforcing their subsequent reduction, ensures that emissions will not remain at the same high level. Additionally, caps establish a system where change is happening at the most important level – with large scale manufacturers. The constant need to change and improve to meet the requirements of constant reductions in allowances will also produce an environment whereby reducing emissions is the standard. Newer technologies will be created to reach this goal and science will be newly focused on developing production techniques that minimize emissions.
While carbon offsets promise change on some level, possibly over many years, carbon caps require immediate action to change the current emission levels. These are measurable levels, which allows for tracking of progress, and guaranteed results.