Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Buy Some Carbon, Mister?

As I mentioned in the previous posting, Slate and are running a series of articles called "The Green Challenge." One of the things that I've noticed is a tendency to say: "When all else fails (or has been done), you can always buy Carbon Offsets!"

I've always wondered what good carbon offsets really did. Outside of the simply "pay your guilt away" model, something like modern day indulgences, they make little economic sense. The idea is that the companies that take your money use it to fund other companies that are developing cleaner technologies.

Why not just invest in the companies that are developing the technology up-front? Okay, so maybe they aren't making any money now - but if they make some in the future, you'll be positioned. And if they never earn a dime - so what? You're not making any return on your investment with carbon offsets - which, the last that I looked, paid neither interest nor dividends. If you're going to throw money up into the sky, doesn't it make sense to at least stand underneath it?

I try not to be a knee-jerk, dyed-in-the-wool capitalist. After all, the free market isn't a solution to everything. But it seems that in this case, it's a pretty sensible idea. And I think that divorcing the idea of "Green" technology from some sort of charity funding scheme could lend the idea some needed credibility.

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