Becker and Posner on carbon offsets

Becker and Posner discuss carbon offsets on the Becker-Posner blog. Posner suggests that the most serious drawback of the carbon offset movement is that it “creates the false impression that global warming can be tamed by voluntary efforts just as cleaning up after dogs has been achieved by voluntary efforts, without need for legal compulsion. Global warming cannot be tamed by voluntary efforts, because the costs of significantly reducing carbon emissions in order to reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (or at least stop it from increasing) are enormous. If people believe that voluntary efforts will suffice, there will be no political pressure to incur the heavy costs that will be necessary to avert the risk of catastrophic climate change.

In a comment Adam Stein co-founder of TerraPass, a carbon offsets selling company objects: “…offsets are not a substitute for cap-and-trade at all. Rather, the voluntary market is a potentially useful complement to a regulated market, acting in the short-term as a sort of policy bridge while the world waits for the U.S. federal government to take meaningful action; and in the long term as a supplementary source of carbon reductions…Regarding whether the existence of a voluntary market reduces political pressure for mandated reductions: this is a charge that is made frequently, and without real evidence. Awareness of the causes and potential solutions of climate change is still dismally low in the United States, and it is hard to see the disadvantage of programs which draw attention to the problem. In fact, the rise of the voluntary market has coincided with a remarkable surge in support for political solutions to climate change.”


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