As we move toward living a greener lifestyle and become concerned with reducing our carbon footprint, carbon offsetting has exploded in popularity. Each year, simply by living, the average American expels over 20 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Things like automobiles, airplanes and industry continue to make these numbers rise.
The purpose of offsetting is to make yourself carbon neutral by paying a penance of a sort. In exchange for a few hundred dollars invested into some unseen environmental project such as reforestation or alternative energy production, you are canceling out your own carbon emissions. The theory is that offsetting will reduce the carbon emissions across the globe by utilizing them for projects such as planting forests. Theoretically, this is a sound plan. In reality it shows us that carbon offsetting is a failed model – this is why.
First, there is no legislation or governing authority for the oversight of those selling carbon offsets. Quite simply, there is never a guarantee that the money you send is being used for the project you are told about. If you pay $200 for ten trees to be planted in a rainforest in South America, there is no one flying down to see your trees and check them off a list while marking them so that they cannot be resold to anyone else. There are loopholes that allow scammers to take advantage of well-meaning consumers.
Additionally, there are some who argue that industry will begin to use carbon offsetting as an excuse or defense for raising their emissions instead of working to develop strategies for reduction. Through the practice of offsetting, they appear to be carbon neutral on paper while in reality they are not.
There is hope that offsetting can become a better option for individuals who want to make a difference, but there will need to be more centralized organization before that is going to be a reality. For now it is a failed model.