I recently received an email newsletter from my web hosting company (a wee plug for NSDesign) offering to match a donation towards tree-planting as part of their carbon footprint offsetting plan. Apparently all their new accounts (since last year) have been hosted on servers in a carbon-neutral data centre. I’m on an older account which is still hosted stateside but they are hoping that this too will be carbon-neutral in due course. In the meantime it was suggested that I have a look at carbonpassport.com. For a payment, they will invest in carbon offsetting schemes on your behalf.
I was thinking about it though and I’m not sure about whether this is the best option. Where energy use is unavoidable then such schemes are definitely valuable. But I do wonder if they’re open to abuse in a sense. Those with a guilty conscience and the means to pay don’t actually need to amend their lifestyle. We see this on a grand scale with the developed countries buying up the carbon emission allowances of the less industrially-developed countries. Although I suspect this isn’t the work of a guilty conscience, just plain economics. Those with a guilty conscience and no means to pay may be able to change their lifestyle but are inevitably left with an ethical dilemma. Again, on a grand scale, it means investing in the latest energy-efficient technology which inevitably comes at a higher price which means less money to spend on the essentials.
So, does carbon offsetting work or is it a salve to the conscience? Is it a vital component in the overall strategy for energy-use change or is it merely a way of avoiding responsibility for making our own necessary lifestyle changes?