Day By Day

Friday, March 02, 2007

Carbon Offsets: Historical Perspectives

Marc over at Spinning Clio considers the concept of "carbon offsets" currently being popularized by Al Gore and the Hollywood crowd.

Historical analogies he cites include religious indulgences [whereby the rich could buy their way out of purgatory], the practice of "conscription substitution" during the Civil War [whereby the rich could hire poor men to serve in their place], and sumptuary laws that that "regulated and reinforced social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food, and luxury expenditures."

The effect of such laws is to reinforce and to perpetuate social distinctions by exaggerating the spiritual, economic, and even life preserving possibilities associated with wealth. One of the sources Marc links to worries:
the danger is that the use of “carbon offsets” will create two things that are morally monstrous: a de-facto sumptuary law and the impoverishments of the poor and powerless of this planet.
At the very least, a system of carbon offsets constitutes a regressive tax on energy use, one that will increase the social distance between the rich and the rest. It is both morally and socially irresponsible and should be repudiated.

Read Marc's post here.

Check out The Virginian here and here. He argues that the current hoo ha over Gore's profligate energy use and his assumption that carbon offsets can correct them has been good for the country because it has exposed and is causing examination of the regressive, even reactionary, nature of "progressive" environmental reform.

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