Friday, July 27, 2007

Moving a Corporate Scam to the Public Sector

This week's act of chutzpah falls under the category of making an outrageous decision in opposition to strong contrary evidence. In this case the evidence concerns trading in carbon emissions, also know as carbon credits and carbon offsets. The evidence that this was more of a scheme to protect polluting industries than a serious step towards cleaning up a polluted atmosphere has been accumulating for some time, but the hardest data were reported by the BBC last month with only the weakest of refutations. In the face of this evidence, the outrageous decision has come from our Forest Service, according to Claudia Lauer, Staff Writer for the Los Angeles Times:

For years, companies have been allowed to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing "carbon offsets" — vouchers for investment in alternative energy sources, tree-planting and other projects that can mitigate global warming.

Now the idea is spreading to individuals, with the Forest Service's announcement Wednesday that it will be the first federal agency to offer personal carbon offsets through an initiative called the Carbon Capital Fund.

"We came up with the idea because everyone is looking at what they can do in terms of climate change," said Bill Possiel, president of the National Forest Foundation, a nonprofit partner of the Forest Service. "The money goes to a restricted fund for projects on national forests."

Trees and forests are "carbon sinks," Possiel said, because they draw carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming — out of the atmosphere and store it for long periods of time.

The Forest Service, an agency within the Agriculture Department, estimates that the 155 forests it oversees absorb 10% to 15% of the nation's carbon emissions and that planting through the new initiative will increase that amount.

Under the program, individuals can use a "carbon calculator" at to figure out the size of their carbon footprint. Then, they can buy offsets at $6 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. An average family of four is responsible for 19 to 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, so the offsets would cost $114 to $180.

"People have an opportunity to contribute to the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests not only by countering climate change, but also by replanting forests for the benefit of future generations," Forest Service chief Gail Kimbell said in announcing the initiative.

As to any contrary evidence, Possiel claims it is refuted by the "ground truth" of the computer models they are using. Furthermore, verifications based on those models will be managed by an unnamed third party. All in all the operative noun for all this still appears to be "scheme;" so the Chutzpah of the Week award goes to the Forest Service for sending out a dog that could never hunt in the first place.

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