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Outsourcing Climate Change

September 15, 2009

As part of our ongoing introduction to FCNL, we’ve been having “Brown Bag Lunches,” in which one of the lobbyists here gives us an introduction to their area. Today we heard from Devin Helfrich about the Energy and Environment program here at FCNL. Specifically he was talking to us about the Climate Change bill, about which I knew very little.

FCNL did not support the bill that passed the house this summer partially because of its support of offsets as a way to reduce carbon at a global level. With offsets businesses are able to buy coupons that say that something to reduce carbon is being done somewhere in the world; this way these businesses are theoretically helping to reduce carbon in the world (or, offsetting their carbon use) while not actually necessarily changing their practices at all.

There are two major problems FCNL has with this policy. Firstly, it is very hard to verify whether these offsets are real; that is, when a coal plant buys a coupon for X number of trees being planted in Indonesia, to offset part of the carbon they produce in burning coal, it is extremely difficult to verify that real trees were actually planted in Indonesia. In fact, a disturbingly high percentage of offsets that are bought and sold probably aren’t real – which means that nothing is changing in terms of carbon levels (except that they continue to rise).

The second problem Devin mentioned is that these offsets are bought and sold at a global level; therefore if a US business buys carbon offsets, they are probably carbon offsets from somewhere else in the world. This is a problem because under this model, the US infrastructure will not be required to change into a more environmentally friendly one for quite some time. What occurred to me is this: People get so huffy about “outsourcing American jobs.” When transnational corporations move their labor headquarters to Mexico or Taiwan to get cheaper labor, the US loses out on jobs for US people.

Carbon offsets are a way to outsource climate change. Rather than cleaning up US pollution, we’re encouraging carbon reduction in other places. Why don’t people get angry about outsourcing climate change? We should take pride in improving our infrastructure, reducing our pollution, and relying on more sustainable methods of producing and using energy, fertilizing crops, etc, etc – the same way we take pride in our jobs and our work.

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