To ease Catholic-like guilt, celebrities, politicians, and now big businesses are in a headlong rush to make a show of their righteousness, despite the plain hypocrisy of their jet-setting ways, which is creating a market explosion for "carbon offsets" as perhaps its most significant consequence. It has not escaped notice by fellow environmentalists:
The whole business is eerily religious in feel. Back in the 15th century, the question was: Do you believe in Christ? It was required in Spain by the Inquisition that the answer should be affirmative, leaving to one side subsidiary specifications.
It is required today to believe that carbon-dioxide emissions threaten the basic ecological balance. The assumption then is that inasmuch as a large proportion of the damage is man-made, man-made solutions are necessary. But it is easy to see, right away, that there is a problem in devising appropriate solutions, and in allocating responsibility for them.
Granted that indulgences can be and have been abused in the Church, and excepting what indulgences actually are, the lack of absolution and repentance on their part, as illustrated by impressively high carbon footprints, may portend a crisis of faith for the popular environmental movement, but I doubt it. They will always have their hermits in the desert, but it will be interesting to see whether "carbon neutrality," which actually requires very little change in behavior, carries the day.
"The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation," said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. "Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins."
"This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther," Mr. Hayes added. ...
Mr. Hayes said there were legitimate companies and organizations that help people and companies measure their emissions and find ways to cut them, both directly and indirectly by purchasing certain kinds of credits. But overall, he said, an investment in such credits — given the questions about their reliability — should be looked at more as conventional charity (presuming you check to be sure the projects are real) and less as something like a license to binge on private jet travel.