The simple explanation why offsets don’t work

July 7, 2022 by Joshua
in Nature

I’ve developed the simplest explanation for why carbon offsets don’t work I’ve seen.

Fossil fuels underground are outside the biosphere. Extracting them puts them into the biosphere. Once here, if we burn them, form plastics, or similar industrial processes, they will eventually end up in the most stable form, meaning a form in which they don’t break down, they linger for longer than human time scales, and they poison living creatures, eventually us. Common end results include carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that warms the globe, carbon-based acids in the ocean that acidify it, and plastic that smothers animals and disrupts our hormones when it reaches us.

Offsets only shuffle carbon around the biosphere, but don’t change the process of it settling into a stable poison. It may be a tree or linger in dirt for a while, but those forms will change. Once fossil fuels enter the biosphere, if we burn it, make it into plastic, or the like, I can’t see a way to avoid it becoming poison. Moving it back out of the biosphere would work if we could do it.

Despite wishful thinking and modest funding, we have found no effect way to remove carbon from the biosphere meaningful. We’ve concocted a wishful thinking phrase “carbon capture and sequestration” for theoretical processes we have no way to make work practically at a scale the would matter. If you know of examples that work, please let me know, because it could change this dynamic. What’s happening in Iceland isn’t close.

Moving carbon around in the biosphere doesn’t change that it will end up as pollution. We end up flying more. Buying offsets promotes more extraction, therefore bringing fossil fuels into the biosphere that become poisons we have no way to remove.

In Short: Offsets Bring Poison Into the Biosphere That We Can’t Remove

The process:

  1. Extraction brings carbon from outside the biosphere into it.
  2. Carbon ends up as stable poison.
  3. We can’t remove carbon from the biosphere.
  4. Offsets move carbon around in the biosphere doesn’t remove it.

The end result:

Buying offsets distracts us from seeing that moving poison within the biosphere doesn’t remove it. Nothing we know does. The best we can do is not bring more into the biosphere, but offsets promote that extraction.

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