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Give Your Grad a Carbon Clean Slate!

What do you get the globally conscious grad who has everything?

If you're looking for something unique, you're probably stalling out somewhere between the hemp sandals and the solar-powered backpacks. We have the answer.

These kind of gifts offer dubious ecological benefits and a fleeting trendiness. That solar backpack, for instance, used only occasionally, might need to be worn for decades simply to balance out the energy and materials used to make it -- and do you really think solar backpacks will be cool next year, much less next decade?

And most green gifts are pretty meaningless, because little steps alone don't lead to sustainability. This is especially true for the lifestyle choices young people can make themselves. We often tell kids to start by screwing in a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), since they are dramatically more efficient than regular bulbs. But our lives are so ecologically damaging that Tom Arnold at TerraPass has figured out that to balance out the climate emissions from just one average American kid's Little League season, that kid would have to swap out ten bulbs. That doesn't even begin to count the food that kid eats, the house he or she sleeps in, the school he or she attends, the toys and clothes he or she buys... it's pretty obvious that most kids are going to run out of light bulbs to replace long before they reach sustainability.

The real answers to our problems, as we've said before, all lie in changing the underlying systems in our economy. Until political change is sold at the checkout counter, though, the best socially conscious gifts you can give are the ones that actually change the world directly in meaningful amounts.

That's why this graduation season, Worldchanging is proud to offer its major donors appreciation gifts that really make a difference: our Carbon Clean Slate certificates.

Growing up, few kids have the power to transform their surroundings into a bright green life. That power generally only comes as one grows older. That doesn't mean that kids don't recognize (and feel guilty about) the ways in which their lives have helped make climate change and other planetary problems worse.

Our Carbon Clean Slate gifts lift that guilt by offsetting their childhoods. They can go forward in life knowing that their emissions have been balanced by your gift, and they are free to make their own way in the world, unhampered by the past.

How it works: for every major donation above certain levels, Worldchanging will buy a major carbon offset in the name of your favorite graduate.

For $6,000, we'll offset all the climate emissions that grad racked up until he or she graduated from high school;

For $7,500, we'll offset their childhoods and their university years;

For $25,000, we'll offset their youth, college and working careers.

The offsets themselves will come from TerraPass, the gold standard company in carbon offsets. TerraPass uses independent verification (including a complete voluntary independent audit), direct sourcing of their offsets (so they know they're for real) and immediate investment (to create offsets now not later)... as well as offering full transparency about their projects. You can't find a better offsetting program than theirs.

Your grad will get a handsome certificate announcing that their slate's been wiped clean, climate-wise, along with a personalized note and a copy of the Worldchanging book. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you've made a real, demonstrable difference and honored the graduate's commitment to changing the world.

Everyone wins: Your grad gets to head out into the world with the moral weight of their personal choices lifted from their shoulders, you get to show your love and respect, the climate gets a bit of a break and Worldchanging gets the funds we need to continue our prize-winning work exploring the solutions that will create real, lasting change. Half your gift is even tax-deductible!

To buy, or to simply make a donation to support our work, please click here.

Worldchanging's Carbon Clean Slate: Because there's no better present than a better future.

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Comments

Brilliant.

$6,000 is a bit over my budget! But I'll send 100 just because ideas like WorldChanging's always show me the world in a new way. I'll never think "graduation gift" again without thinking of this.


Posted by: Jen on 8 May 08

Our sincere thanks, Jen. We truly appreciate -- and certainly put to use -- all contributions. To all of our readers: If you enjoy our work and find it useful, please consider donating an amount that you feel is appropriate!


Posted by: Julia (on behalf of the Worldchanging Team) on 8 May 08

Alex and team:

We're proud to support this innovative idea -- thanks for the kind words about our programs.

Whether you are buying a ton for a plane flight to graduation, or considering a big gift to support WorldChanging, you may want some more information about where these reductions take place. Just slide on over to TerraPass and click our project feedback pages for our latest projects.

As an example, I just returned from the Michigan Dairies, and they projects are progressing nicely, generators are already humming at two of them, delivering energy from something that for a long time we've just considered waste.

These projects aren't viable without the carbon revenues, so we appreciate everyone's support in helping them get there.


Tom Arnold
co-founder, TerraPass


Posted by: Tom Arnold on 8 May 08

Thanks for the good words, Jen! And just to reiterate what Julia says so well above, we will definitely accept donations small that $6,000.00! $25,000.00 or $25.00, it all helps us keep doing this work.

Thanks,
Alex


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 8 May 08

Oops, Tom snuck in before me, but the point he makes is right on as well: these are real, tangible projects helping to reduce emissions that would otherwise be melting ice caps and bumming out polar bears.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 8 May 08

jeez-

I TOTALLY love you guys, and wholeheartedly support donations to worldchanging, but somehow this post is lacking in your usual grounded perspective.

I'm concerned for worldchanging that a post like this will be posted elsewhere. Was it written tongue in cheek?

The catholic church once collected hefty donations from wealthy patrons, claiming that Christ had granted them the ability to grant 'indulgences'... under whose authority are you advertizing to 'wipe the moral slate clean'?

I think it was even from a worldchanging post that I learned that CO2 has a residence time of 300 years, plus a quarter of it that persists forever... and that the momentum in the ocean acidification system is not reversible in our lifetime... I question the usefulness of advertising that perpetuates the myth that if we have enough money we can pretend we didn't contribute to that. (And thus if we get rich enough in the future, we can erase the impacts of our present and future choices too.)

Its the associated claims (1- there's a moral highground to be had, 2- we can turn back the clock, 3- that incentivizing renewable energy investments is the same as actually not emitting) that I'm protesting to here in this post, not the donation itself.

Actually, I think the readers of this post should be donating to worldchanging because it provides the place where we can have discussion of this sort... That's the tangible work which might be worth several thousand dollars, in my opinion.

Bottom line: Worldchanging has never 'sold' any marketable or exclusive real-estate on the moral high ground, and it just doesn't strike me as useful to start now.


Posted by: donnacqua on 8 May 08

This is such an important cause, but I do worry about the notion of the offspring of the wealthy heading "out into the world with the moral weight of their personal choices lifted from their shoulders." Buying the offsets is great, but it should not clear the way for us to buy our grad that Hummer she may have been dreaming about!


Posted by: John on 8 May 08

I would say that it offsets their carbon footprint from the first 18+ years of their life but iI wouldn't say it offsets their childhood.

The toxins and plastics and what-nots aren't offset, are they? Water wasted?
Are all the people who work for TerraPass driving zero emissions vehicles to go to the job site (something they wouldn't have done if you hadn't paid for it).

The logic of that last bit might not be fair. You could call it their footprint instead of yours. Likewise, I don't think it would be quite fair to say that since the money they receive from you for working may be used on paying for something with an ecological footprint it is also your footprint.


Posted by: Brennon on 8 May 08

Donnacqua, can I chime in here, as you raise a really good point that I am pleased is being discussed. The tension between moral grandstanding and the reality of our emissions footprints is one defining characteristic of the climate crisis, at least as it relates to consumers and green marketing.

First, the easy stuff. Offsets aren't indulgences and our survey data shows people who voluntarily spend money to fund greenhouse gas reductions are quite motivated to reduce their impact in other ways as well. If anything we're preaching to the choir...

Your second points are really thought provoking, and that's what I thinks really interesting about Alex's idea. I hope it will move the discussion forward in the WorldChanging community.

The "morality" of climate change, if you put it that way, can be thought of in another way as the emotion that you the consumer feels in "going green". Maybe you're reducing your flying, going veg, or reading the WorldChanging book dreaming of your next work project. Or maybe you have a green job and you feel great going to work every day (I know I do!).

The reality is that a whole raft of green marketing initiatives are hitting consumers and maybe its time for some perspective about the scope of the problem and some calculations on how these small steps relate to each other and to our carbon footprints.

As just one example, our focus groups consistently show consumers are woefully under-prepared for the carbon calculus that is required. Composting is great, but it doesn't as was suggested by someone is a recent group, compensate for 15,000 miles of driving a year.

So what better place to get to the meat of this than point out the enormity of a students historical footprint, and encourage a donation that is verified to match the scope of the footprint.

WorldChanging is about bold scale-appropriate changes that get us closer to where we need to be. One of the changes has to be in the dairy industry. Sure, we can drink less milk, skip the brie, etc, or we can use a pretty simple WWII era technology to capture the emissions and generate energy on dairy farms. The calculus will shock you -- changing manure management processes on 4-6 cows reduces emissions by the US per capita 22 tons. 6-8 cows generate enough energy for an average US household. Yes, its a short term fix. A transitional tool. But if we really are going to implement the changes required to solve the crisis, we've got to be honest about what is required and we've got to get started now.

Brennon: you're totally right, this only addresses carbon. Alex can we make that a little clearer?


Posted by: Tom Arnold on 8 May 08

The problem with trying to green the world: No matter how much you try, you're fighting against a runaway train with massive momentum and entrenched influence....that even when "slowing down" is still going to mutiply exponentially given population growth, etc.

The problem with human beings: People critisize "greening" with this seemingly impossible task in mind.....and therefore prefer to revert to the mindset of sheep, falling back into their previous ways, or into a mindset that gets picky about how and why you may be "greening"

What to do: Well....you aren't going to convince millions of people to change in one year, one decade or even a few generations....but set up the means by which to plant the seeds of a mindset that way down the line may be very noticeable, and thats worth donation. Jeez...if its starts with rich kids giving fat cheques or with me collecting my poo for later use, its still all good !

Well done guys..from Durban, South Africa


Posted by: David Bartlett on 9 May 08

The underlying goals and intentions here are good - however our political (lack of) leadership and their corporate buddies are to blame for the current situation we are in. Somehow making an 18 year old "pay off" the issues the world before them has created seems rediculous. The companies making all of the money by destroying the world, the air etc. should take their big bonuses/profit to pay for it themselves. Educating someone to live better and more enviromentally friendly would have a greater long term impact than a sum of money IMHO.


Posted by: John on 9 May 08

More evidence that the climate change/ecological movement is becoming a religion... it is now selling Indulgences to the rich just like the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Be afraid non-believers.


Posted by: Maldo on 9 May 08

Ha! INDULGENCES! That's clever! No one had ever made that comparison before. You're a genius, coming up with such a telling comparison, because you're right, wantin to make up for damage I'm doing and helping farmers build waste-fired generators they can't afford themselves (so they make more money and keep a lot of greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere) is EXACTLY like corrupt old men from the middle ages using their religious authority to force gullible peasants into giving money so a made-up old man in the sky will forgive them for their ethical lapses. NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL.

Thank you for your daring willingness to unveil this hoax.

Now please get to work telling us why evolution is a fraud as well.


Posted by: Robert Hansson on 9 May 08

Slow down. One of the easiest ways to "offset" is to get developing nations to plant eucalyptus groves. Toss the indigenous people off the land, plow under the farmland, and plant groves to make American yuppies feel good about themselves. Do a google on +"carbon offset" +eucalyptus and educate yourselves.

Food wars are coming because of "green" ideas such as biofuel, carbon offsets, and preventing native farmers from using pesticides and gas-powered tractors to create enough food to eat. Green is another name for imperialism.


Posted by: WWE on 9 May 08

Indulgences or maybe more like this...

http://cheatneutral.com/

Sending a message that we pay to "offset" our carbon emissions is not much, if at all, different than claiming we can spend our way to sustainability, even with strategic consumption.

Not consuming is better than strategically consuming, just as saving (not using) energy is cheaper than buying it, as Amory Lovins says...

Can't the offset advocates at least see the paradox of paying to cover emissions with the radical reconfigurations necessary to hit Hansen's targets?

In a limited world of space for a message, offsetting isn't it. Consider this...where in Nature does one other species than ours use a strategy such as offsetting? Show me that, and I might believe.


Posted by: Josh on 9 May 08

Thanks for the thoughtful comments (and the less thoughtful ones as well).

We'd hope that some interesting questions are raised here, like: If personal sustainability is essentially impossible through behavioral change for middle class people, what is it that people should be doing if they want to live without destroying the planet?

The usual mantra is something like change what you can, offset the rest. We're trying to show just how much we'll all need to offset if that's our approach.

That doesn't mean that these offsets aren't real. they are. You can go check them out for yourself. This is no abstraction. Give one of these gifts, and you're creating clean energy and reducing CO2 emissions in the real world.

But I think Tom and the rest of the crew at TerraPass would agree with me when I say that the ultimate goal here is not to build a gigantic planetary system of offsets, but to redesign and rebuild the physical systems we depend on that are now destroying the planet. I hope that this point is made abundantly clear on Worldchanging and in this post.

Finally, we're definitely not deaf to the issues of generational equity around here

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//007108.html

We're not looking for the 18 y.o. to buy this. We're looking for the 50 y.o. to buy this for her: it's the 50 y.o. whose money was made putting all that CO2 up there in the first place; it's older people who made the decisions that tied the 18 y.o. to a climate- destructive life... and if those older people can afford to make that right by paying for something good to happen that otherwise would not (a farmer turning manure into clean energy), that seems to me to not be an indictment of the 18 y.o., but an opportunity for some bit of redemptive behavior on the part of the 50 y.o.

In short: We need to change. A lot. While we pursue big changes, we're still causing damage. Offsets are one way to cause less aggregate damage. We're a nonprofit and need to raise money in order to have conversations like this. Give money and we'll offset some harm.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 9 May 08

WWE- no eucalyptus here, no food wars, no whatever, just offsets from American farmers, fully accounted for. Go read the info if you want to know more.

Josh- where do we say or imply that people shouldn't save energy rather than waste it, etc? We say that all the time. But in this case, as an average American with currently used systems and currently available technologies, you simply cannot save enough energy by yourself to have no carbon impact. Even if you underwent radical lifestyle reductions (reductions that almost no one is willing to undergo), your share of the public impact (roads, bridges, airports, military, NASA, the health department, the Postal Service, etc.) is larger than a one-planet carbon footprint. That impact is made in your name, with your tax dollars, for your benefit, but you can't change it with what you buy or what you forego. You can, however, offset it and work to change it.

That is not the same thing as trying to shop your way to sustainbility.

It's worth be clear-headed about that, I think.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 9 May 08

Thank you WorldChanging for putting the 'fun' in fundraiser, and pushing us to think about ourselves as carrying a carbon burden. This is a good way to raise money and change consciousness.

I am sincerely curious why TerraPass went with the Chicago Climate Exchange rather than another certification standard.


Posted by: Lev on 9 May 08

Hi Lev,

Good question. We actually use the Voluntary Carbon Standard for offset certification. When we started in 2004, we used the CCX. Since then the carbon standards have evolved quite a bit (a process that we've pushed for and participated in), and we jumped on VCS as soon as it was ready.

There are other standards that we like and support as well. This is an area of active development.

- Adam


Posted by: Adam Stein on 9 May 08

Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.


Posted by: Maldo on 9 May 08

Alex- This is a great discussion! THANKYOU for providing the forum and your other insightful comments which I wholeheartedly appreciate (I am a worldchanging book owner and hereby pledge to become a member.)

Josh- cheatneutral.com made me laugh out loud! Thanks for making me realize that I'm clearly getting too grumpy and burnt out in my work (doing footprint estimates and land management calculations which sometimes other folks use for offset purposes) for my own good.

David- your point about the value of offsets as 'seeding' (and also the point about picky infighting) was well put, and made me rethink, thanks.

Tom- I also liked your point about how focus groups consistently show consumers are woefully under-prepared for the carbon calculus that is required.

All- here is the basis of all my comments: I cannot accept Alex's premise that "personal sustainability is essentially impossible through behavioral change for middle class people" or I will say "game over" and will walk off my job. (Also, Alex, I know you can't really believe this in the grand scheme of things- you must just be taking a pragmatic position there.)

I believe that behavioral change is possible, but because we're fearful of the generations this will take to accomplish we conceptually/intellectually/practially don't allow ourselves to go there. To me, this is the great sustainability frontier, and this discussion makes me realize that as I dismiss offsets as rearranging deckchairs, I also lose the value (re: David's point) on 'seed value' over the long term. Will buying offsets and marketing offsets change mindsets of middle america so that behavioral change becomes a greater possibility? Perhaps, and I certainly hope so.

Does marketing the 'offset' idea continue amount to reinforcing a paradigm which we deeply need to change? In some ways, yes--- which begs the question- what information would help support the addressing of behavioral change? Would people buy an offset that supported next generation education... they haven't to date... but if we're talking 'calculus' where is the dollar investment over time (lifetimes) most valuable? (This last Q was inspired by Tom's good point.)

I shouldn't have such an 'either or' attitude toward mandatory versus voluntary, but thanks for allowing me to pushback a little here. I think its important to explore.



Posted by: donnacqua on 9 May 08

Even in light of Alex's recent comments about generational equity, if I were an eighteen or twenty-two year-old graduate getting a gift of a lifetime offset, I'd feel both overwhelmed and guilty. How does this gift NOT sound like: "Here's what I paid in honor of your graduation; the dollar amount is equivalent to the damage you have caused since you drew your first oxygen-rich breath"?

Upon receiving such a gift, I would not smile graciously, feeling motivated to go out and make the world a better place. In fact, I'd probably start to cry.

There's got to be a better way to motivate and inspire graduates to understand their impact on the world and their responsibility to future generations--perhaps by working on an organic farm for the summer or leading children on interpretive hikes in a state park. Let them come to the decision to do a "lifetime offset" on their own.

Let me say that I think the offset option is great. I offset my car's emissions through a program similar to TerraPass, I offset my house's emissions through my utility company (in wind credits), and I offset my air travel through STI. But that's my decision. I wouldn't dream of buying them for another person.


Posted by: Lindsay on 9 May 08

So I can buy two lifetime sets and pollute twice as much?


Posted by: Jim Strathmeyer on 9 May 08

Are you people actually serious about this folly of *greening the earth* or is this intended to expose the latest in what the snake oil sales tactics have turned to?

I hope you're not just exploiting fools who know no better.


Posted by: forest hunter on 9 May 08

Without a doubt, the best lifetime impact is a life spent working to invent and build systems which don't produce unsustainable levels of environmental harm in the first place. Aiming our careers and public lives towards a bright green future is the best thing any of us can do.

I'd say that to the best of our ability, we should also bring our private lives into alignment with those values, and there's something each of us can do on that front.

But given the near-impossibility of zeroing out all our impacts through personal choices, having offsets to fall back on helps us as individuals achieve a balance between working to make a change in society, treading lightly on the planet ourselves and having a life in a busy, complex world.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 9 May 08

Good stuff. Carbon offsets for grads. The possiblities are endless.


Posted by: Olliegator on 9 May 08

I would have been far more inclined to donate to Worldchanging if there had been a sincere call for funds to support these healthy debates. By clearly putting itself on the "offsets are OK" side of the fence, Worldchanging is now unable to be the objective arbitrator that I had valued it to be.

This move makes particular views implicit in futrue debates, namely that (in the words of Alex Steffen) "personal sustainability is essentially impossible through behavioral change for middle class people". Now I'm sorry but that is a ridiculously broad and sweeping statement for a forum that literally calls itself Worldchanging.com. Maybe we should change the name to "Worldchangingexceptformiddleclasslifestyles.com"

How many flights a year are "necessary"? 2? 20? We must look at how to use remaining fossil fuels efficiently and effectively, so that we can continue to do vital things like eat, and get medical care when we get ill. Flying for a business trip, a graduation, or even to see family once a year is not vital when you look at what is actually at stake here.

Given that we are supposedly making "all possible reductions", can I ask whether or not those people truly living sustainably are offsetting the carbon dioxide they breathe out every few seconds?


Posted by: Jamie on 10 May 08

I don't see how that statement is so controversial. He made it pretty obvious later in the post (and he is right in saying) that:

"Even if you underwent radical lifestyle reductions (reductions that almost no one is willing to undergo), your share of the public impact (roads, bridges, airports, military, NASA, the health department, the Postal Service, etc.) is larger than a one-planet carbon footprint. That impact is made in your name, with your tax dollars, for your benefit, but you can't change it with what you buy or what you forego."

It has nothing to do with what social class you belong to, if you live in this country, nearly everything you take advantage of on a daily basis is unsustainable.

Even the homeless have large carbon footprints.
http://www.newscientist.com/blog/environment/2008/04/even-homeless-have-large-carbon.html?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=specrt10_head_Big%20footprints

I have always been harsh about carbon offsetting, but the way Alex put it in this discussion is eminently rational (if the offsets can be guaranteed to be valid).


Posted by: Andrew Leinonen on 10 May 08

While I support the idea of carbon offsetting, I have to take issue with the basic rationale for the Carbon Clean Slate certificates. It is claimed:

"Our Carbon Clean Slate gifts lift that guilt by offsetting their childhoods. They can go forward in life knowing that their emissions have been balanced by your gift, and they are free to make their own way in the world, unhampered by the past... Your grad gets to head out into the world with the moral weight of their personal choices lifted from their shoulders..."

SERIOUSLY? While I certainly want to do my part to encourage a more sustainable world, I feel not a single ounce of "moral weight" from my childhood holding me back. I will never feel guilty for having parents who raised me in the best way they knew how, even if I can look back and see the damage this caused. I don't feel guilty for slaughtering native North Americans or for the slave trade, even though I surely benefited from both and am fully supportive of modern acts of restitution and justice. I know wrongs were committed, and I know that because I directly benefit from them that I should pay to try to fix them (when the government gives them cash for example), but to say that I should feel guilty is crazy. In the same way, I would love to see all those thousands of dollars go to TerraPass, but when they try to get donations using the shame of the past instead of the hope of the future, it pisses me right off.


Posted by: Andy on 11 May 08

Andy,

Your comments echo a small 'niggle' I've had about the good ancestry principle. Namely, that there is an implicit assumption that future generations will blame us for our predicament. I don't believe this is true. After all, I don't think early pioneers are condemned for wiping out bison, or passenger pigeons, or thylacines (or the mid-west locust). We might wish they hadn't, but there's always the feeling that they didn't really know any better.

So, it isn't a matter of who is to blame, it's a matter of who is going to fix.

However, I do think the principle (and this certificate) is a useful framing tool for focussing your efforts to provide for the future. After all, *don't* you want to be a good ancestor?


Posted by: Tony Fisk on 11 May 08

I'm curious as to why TerraPass isn't offering these things as standalone packages. If half of the cost is tax-deductible, is it safe to assume the actual cost of the offsets are half the costs listed above if purchased through Worldchanging?

Also, what's the total annual carbon footprint assumed by this? It seems to be around 20 tons per year, perhaps a bit less.


Posted by: za on 11 May 08

"Even if you underwent radical lifestyle reductions (reductions that almost no one is willing to undergo), your share of the public impact (roads, bridges, airports, military, NASA, the health department, the Postal Service, etc.) is larger than a one-planet carbon footprint. That impact is made in your name, with your tax dollars, for your benefit, but you can't change it with what you buy or what you forego."

This suggests that Worldchanging.com has a remit that doesn't include changing how our countries are run. This individualistic approach to dealing with problems clearly caused and suffered by the collective is ridiculous. It keeps us solidly in the paradigm of post-WW2 thinking that has got us in this environmental mess in the first place.

We need to be actively and vocally talking about how to make reductions everywhere, not just in our own domain of personal impact. It is absolutely crucial that we all engage our brains to work out how the hell we try and reduce the public impact as well as our own lifestyles. I thought Worldchanging was ahead of the curve on questions like this, but sadly it seems not.


Posted by: Jamie on 12 May 08

"Our Carbon Clean Slate gifts lift that guilt by offsetting their childhoods. They can go forward in life knowing that their emissions have been balanced by your gift, and they are free to make their own way in the world, unhampered by the past."

That's an fool's belief and bargain, false on the facts...for these reasons.

First, an offset is a form and subset of consumerism. You have to buy one only because of other consumption. Certainly we agree that, in our industrial paradigm, makes even our smallest actions resonate destructively in larger social-ecological patterns. That cup of coffee you drink might be linked to oppressing indigenous cultures, slashing and burning rain forests, and creating carcinogenic and biologically toxic wastes. Turning on that light switch has meant destroying more than 450 Appalachian mountains, poisoning communities, and destroying parts of the most biologically diverse freshwater ecosystem in the world.

But how does this gift “lift that guilt” or “offset...childhoods”. It doesn't mend these mountains or rewind the childhoods of third-world workers. So how exactly, then, can grads “go forward in life knowing their emissions have been balanced,” as we watch polar bears likely eventually disappear? This promise of being “unhampered by the past” is part of that fool's bargain, based on an insane belief. Their carbon, that's debatable, but the unfortunate truth is that the marketing of these does read more like assuaging human guilt than acknowledging ecological and cultural realities that are different but inseparable from any carbon consequences.

It is the ultimate sales pitch in a social system that embraces isolation and specialization. Knowing the realities of an organic pattern, as Wendell Berry and others have written, is to realize that you cannot separate carbon emissions from other degradation, and in that way, promising the “lift[ing] of guide by offsetting...childhoods” so that one can “go forward in life...free to make their own way in the world, unhampered by the past.”

Much focus and effort goes demonstrating the transparency and verification of offset programs. That's not what I'm disputing, and I'll concede for the sake of argument, that these specific programs that Terrapass funds are truly vital to a sustainable future. Just don't promise personal environmental salvation with a donation of money. That's an insane claim contrary to scientific consensus.

About "personal sustainability is essentially impossible through behavioral change for middle class people," I understand your point but disagree. One of the most dangerous elements of our migrations to cities is the forgetting of essential cultural services, a reduction in the . And as Jane Jacobs writes, even the memory of what was lost has been lost. That collective forgetting, aided and abetted by how we use tools and technology as a substitute for skill, is the basis of conclusions that, “personal sustainability is essentially impossible through behavioral change for middle class people”, and Terrapass' analogous claim that, “Of course, global warming is too big a problem for a handful of people to solve on their own.” And

Instead a clear consequence of migration to cities is the destruction of the “Earth-making class,” the stigmatization of “subsistence” and degrading of the Ethnosphere, coined by Wade Davis to be “sum total of thoughts, beliefs, myths, and intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. It is humanity's greatest legacy, the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all that we are and have created as a wildly inquisitive and astonishingly adaptive species.”

Right now, we lose a language every two weeks and a species, possibly, every 20 minutes. How do you offset that, as the same actions that you're pitching a TerraPass Offset for caused and are driving these disappearances.

In separating people from land, creating global feedback loops, industrializing the processes we rely on for survival, it is no surprise that we now believe ourselves powerless to do anything other than use money as a means absolve ourselves of past sins, since our culture has made money the measure of all things. So, I see TerraPass' statement that “global warming is too big a problem for a handful of people to solve on their own” and yours, that “personal sustainability is essentially impossible through behavioral change” as hopeless isolated and too contextualized in the mores of current society. If the challenge to preserve life as we recognize it, of extinction versus preservation, it is about redefining conceptions of “middle-class”, appropriate technology, etc...not trying to conform an objective definition of sustainability into our standing industrial paradigm. In our machine-based, industrial thinking, of standardization, homogenization, centralization and scaling up, it is a true statement that the “middle-class” cannot become sustainable by its own actions, because an industrial “middle-class” rests on certain assumptions of consumption, i.e., a lawnmower for every home or whatever. Offsetting in this sense becomes the FSC-certified new floor, ripped out to replace the 100 year old cork or local timber, the new corn-plastic bag versus a ripped-and-worn cloth bag, the Prius instead of questioning the idea of the car itself in a world of 7 billion people.

So while the quality of the offset itself might have improved, it is a lie on its face. $7,500 cannot offset a childhood of life in an industrial age. Only a value change in the heart and mind can, not a promise to absolve one of guilt, that fools people into thinking they have “balanced” their life. What's a mountain worth? The offset is a lie because it does not answer or claim to solve that question, to restore the true damage of each of our childhoods. The offset, simply, does not meet up with and match in terms of quality and quantity, the true nature of destruction of our lives, mountain-for-mountain, indigenous-culture-for-indigenous culture, or species-for-species. If anything, it does the opposite by creating an illusion that if you pay money, you are absolved of your carbon consequences, even if that damage occurred 20 years ago. It clouds the issue by oversimplification...in a crowded conversation of what it means to be truly sustainable. It isolated carbon as THE harm to remedy and then offers a false solution to even that.

An offset at best is a sales pitch, which might direct money toward worthwhile projects. But in doing so, the promise causes greater harm...in creating an illusion that our carbon lives have a one to one match, financially as well as ecologically, that we simply can balance out with a few dollars. And in the process...eliminate any guilt that we might feel about our actions. But the damage's already done...and we all contributed to it. Paying $7,500 to offset a childhood and university years does absolutely nothing to repair the damage caused by our life style and decisions.

That these projects might be demonstrably valid is not relevant to the debate. Yeah, yeah...additionality. That's another illusion, for a different post, since I've rambled more than enough.


Posted by: JoshS on 12 May 08

Oops, sloppy post there. Sorry about that!


Posted by: JoshS on 12 May 08

This “carbon offset” label seems to me to be an error. If I understand this correctly, it’s about investing in green tech without the investor expecting a financial reward. That in itself might be worthwhile and I might even be willing to donate to such projects, but only if their proponents were honest and called it “donations to greentech”. And, of course, only if the money boys weren’t going to make these projects happen _anyway_.

When I ask people what “carbon offset” means they tell me it means somehow sucking out CO2 from the air after they did something to put it in. There are no machines that can do this yet. The biosphere can do it, but it can’t keep up with even our current greenhouse gas production, let alone the centuries of legacy pollution.

Here is how I see the scheme presented here: marketeers recognize that greentech needs capital; they don’t think they can get enough through normal financial means; so they appeal to the public with the weasel-words of “offsetting”. The consumer pays a market-based rate (which has nothing to do with scientific facts or available engineering) allegedly for carbon removal but really for a sense of feeling good about themselves. (Look at how many times the word “guilt” is used in the WorldChanging/TerrPass sales pitch.) The entrepreneurs get free money to invest in green tech. (Again, not in itself a bad thing, but the deception is a problem.) The green tech will eventually produce equipment that is less polluting than older, Industrial Era equipment. (Again not a bad thing.) However, the presence of the green tech does not guarantee that the older, dirtier tools will be abandoned. It also does not absorb the pollution that was produced when Mr. and Mrs. America flew to Britney’s graduation. Nor does it absorb the pollution created when that plane was manufactured, or when the asphalt for the original airstrip was trucked in, or when the Wright Brothers flew that first plane.

The price is ridiculously low, too. I expect that the rate of about US$17 per metric tonne is at least one order of magnitude too small. If the average American makes around US$40,000 per year, and produces around 20 metric tonnes of CO2, shouldn’t the rate be in the vicinity of US$2000 per tonne? That would go a long way toward meeting Branson’s challenge, *and* curbing consumption in the present.

I much prefer the peer-to-peer “cap-and-trade”-like system proposed by George Monbiot ( http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/31/heres-the-plan/ ). That at least begins with scientific facts, rather than the emotionalism of markets and marketing. The ultimate target should be to converge at CO2e production levels much less than what the biosphere can absorb, so that the parts per million can actually decline. This scheme would also create massive markets for non-fossil-fuel equipment as the belt tightens each year. And if we can build permanent artifacts with the carbon floating around, that would be even better.

In the meantime, I think these “carbon offset” band-aids will sooner or later go the way of other financial fads.


Posted by: GK4 on 13 May 08

Agreed. Thank you Josh and GK4 for the insights.

I now understand the visceral nausea I felt while reading this piece: it's nothing more than a sales pitch, and I almost got taken.


Posted by: Lindsay on 13 May 08

Wow, Josh and GK, you missed the point entirely here.

Of course a carbon offset will not undo any damage already done: nothing can do that; the whole idea is based on preventing an equal amount of future damage. Of course people need to make other changes (stated clearly here and in 8,000 other posts on this site). And of course CO2 alone is not the only problem (search "carbon blindness" on this site).

Our main point is this: our impacts are huge, individually, and mind-bogglingly huge collectively. The vast majority of simple steps we're encouraged to take are so small as to be meaningless when weighed against the enormity of the problem. We're trying to show that by demonstrating just what it would take to get to a "zero balance" on carbon alone for an 18 year old.

Do we think that every 18 year old will have a patron spend thousands of dollars to offset their carbon? Of course not -- though if they did, the equation does in fact pencil, GK, and TerraPass would in fact be able to offset an equivalent amount of CO2 for that money (your argument fails because CO2 is cheap, which is part of the problem), and, unlike Monbiot's idea, this already exists and works. (And yes, Worldchangiing is a nonprofit and needs the money, so I guess that does make it a "sales pitch..." though what we're selling is real.)

What we do expect is that people reading this will stop to think about the enormity of their own impacts, and of the impacts they create invisibly through the systems they rely on and support, and start to wrestle with the magnitude of change a bright green future will entail.

I see absolutely no reason to believe that (besides a few noncomformists like the Amish) anyone in the developed world is willing to retreat from modernity, industrialization and consumer culture, especially if we're being honest and including all the invisible systems in the equation. Moving to the country, running your frybrid tractor off waste vegetable oil and growing your own food and fiber -- something essentially no one is willing to do -- still doesn't cut it if you're existence depends on everything from the local highway to the public health system to the county sheriff. Until we transform the operations of our entire system, your share of those essential services will prevent you from being sustainable.

So, if we are going to achieve sustainability, it's going to involve transforming our lives into bright green versions of ourselves and that means changing the way industrial systems operate. We're getting close to being able to do that -- as thousands of solutions profiled on this site will show. But we're not there yet.

Until we get there, we need two things: changed thinking about the magnitude of the challenge and bridge steps. Offsetting is a bridge step; this offer is designed to change thinking.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 13 May 08

The thing that really gets me about this is the fact that the 'essential' things are conflated so hugely with the non-essential things. When talking about changes to middle class lifestyles, stopping flying will wipe out around 1/3 of an annual carbon footprint. Flying is not essential. Mass flying has only been around for the last 20 years, and it's the exception, not the rule.

If this debate was taking place to offset essential things like eating food then I would agree entirely. But to state that flying is essential is incredibly short-sighted and people who understand the immense threat of global warming need to make a highly visible stand on this issue.

Next time, how about Worldchanging asks people to sacrifice a flight, and donate the money saved on the ticket? Then the carbon wouldn't enter the atmosphere.


Posted by: Jamie on 16 May 08

Alex, I understand your point but disagree with it.

Taking your argument on its words:

You agree that "Of course a carbon offset will not undo any damage already done: nothing can do that; the whole idea is based on preventing an equal amount of future damage."

But yet your sales pitch is: "Everyone wins: Your grad gets to head out into the world with the moral weight of their personal choices lifted from their shoulders" because "[o]ur Carbon Clean Slate gifts lift that guilt by offsetting their childhoods." “They can go forward in life knowing that their emissions have been balanced by your gift, and they are free to make their own way in the world, unhampered by the past."

So if as you write, "of course a carbon offset will not undo any already done", how then does an offset "life that guilt by offsetting their childhoods"? That “handsome certificate announcing that their slate's been wiped clean, climate-wise”?

If an offset, as you advocate, "based on preventing an equal amount of future damage," then for consistency shouldn't the sales pitch be about covering the grad's current and future emissions? Since that might help to offset or avoid future damage caused by emitting carbon?

The trouble for me is the promise of absolving one's guilt, merely by paying money, for a "handsome certificate announcing that their slate's been wiped clean," while admitting that "a carbon offset will not undo any damage already done."

But more troubling is that you believe, "nothing can do that."

Defining "offsetting [a] childhood" so that graduates can "go forward in life knowing their emissions have been balanced" being "free to make their own way in the world", I think, reasonably creates an impression that the money paid for the offset has mitigated or healed the damage of that grad's childhood. The guilt is about past actions, that caused social, economic and ecological damage in the past. Yet you admit that “a carbon offset will not undo any damage already done: nothing can do that.”

But instead of asking for donations to offset current and future actions, since the “whole idea is based on preventing an equal amount of future damage,” you are selling absolution of guilt for damage caused in the past.

Instead of pitching, “Our Carbon Clean Slate gifts lift that guilt by offsetting their childhoods. They can go forward in life knowing that their emissions have been balanced by your gift, and they are free to make their own way in the world, unhampered by the past,” more accurate would be something like: “new grads face many challenges starting out, especially in today's costly and challenging world. You can at least balance out their carbon emissions over the next few years with a thoughtful donation to a proven offsetting program.”

In that way, you at least are beginning to match emissions with damage, rather than using money as a way to assuage guilt but not actually repair or restore any ecosystems or cultures.

The plain words of that statement make it false and misleading. No slate has been wiped clean, because as you admit, this is about “preventing an equal amount of future damage.” “Everyone wins: Your grad gets to head out into the world with the moral weight of their personal choices lifted from their shoulders, you get to show your love and respect”

Then you write: “If personal sustainability is essentially impossible through behavioral change for middle class people, what is it that people should be doing if they want to live without destroying the planet? The usual mantra is something like change what you can, offset the rest. We're trying to show just how much we'll all need to offset if that's our approach.”

But when time will show that we've shifted into the Anthropocene, marked by a species extinction as rapid as every 20 minutes, the effective disappearance of a unique culture every two weeks, 6x more plastic than plankon in one part of the ocean, and the equivalent of a 747 of children crashing and dying each hour due to lack of clean drinking water...the promise of absolving guilt by creating an impression of high cost just doesn't make sense.

You assume that I have not checked out the offsets or am “missing the point.” I'm not missing it, I'm disagreeing with it.

If this is “not an indictment of the 18y.o., but an opportunity for some bit of redemptive behavior on the part of the 50 y.o.”, then make that plain. In that way, hopefully the true damage caused, in social and ecological systems can be comprehended by the generation that did the damage, the one that's in the best position (of current power and leadership) to begin restoring these systems. But instead, you're making an end around and arguably false marketing pitch, to offset the “sins of the father” but creating some sense of guilt in the child. That's disingenous.

I might take a different view if this actually restored damage in the past. I disagree too with your belief that nothing can undo damage already done. The capacity of self-repair, adaptability and resilience of natural and human systems is amazing. If this is about actually absolving past guilt, then remediation and restoration of damage caused is essential to that. That's the essence of healing, a “truth and reconcilation” sort of thing with ourselves and the world. Creating illusions by manipulating one's guilt is not an honest way toward genuine sustainability.

I'm confused too, about your argument about “We're a nonprofit and need to raise money in order to have conversations like this. Give money and we'll offset some harm.” Nobody disputes that nonprofits rely on public donations or that WorldChanging has done good in the world. You almost seem to be acknowledging some cognitive dissonance in this particular sales pitch relative to your message, or at least a “trust us, give us money, don't question the contradictions of this sales pitch, because we'll offset some harm.” That's evident in some nonstarters. I never wrote that WorldChanging implies that people shouldn't “save energy rather than waste it”. My point was, offsets create an impression that you can balance consumption with money payments to good projects. My point was that any such balance is an illusion because it's not just about carbon. It's about mountains destroyed, cultures degraded, species lost. No financial offset can act as substitute for these losses. But yet, you claim that graduates, by virtue of the offset, are now “free to make their own way in the world, unhampered by the past.” Then you concede that offsets don't reverse past harms. So in a way, you're selling a sort of moral frictionlessness, offset and and it's okay to feel good about yourself. So what's moral absolution cost? Just a few thousand dollars. The only catch...we're still have destroyed certain human and natural elements of the world and are continuing to do so.

Here's maybe the crux of it. By selling an offset, you've conceded the greater war---”as an average American with currently used systems and currently available technologies, you simply cannot save enough energy by yourself to have no carbon impact. Even if you underwent radical lifestyle reductions (reductions that almost no one is willing to undergo), your share of the public impact (roads, bridges, airports, military, NASA, the health department, the Postal Service, etc.) is larger than a one-planet carbon footprint. That impact is made in your name, with your tax dollars, for your benefit, but you can't change it with what you buy or what you forego. You can, however, offset it and work to change it.”

So again, you're implying offsets somehow restore or remedy damage caused. But you admit they don't, not in the present, not in the past, but hopefully as a transitional step toward a “bright green” future. But you've neutered any sense of guilt, absolved people of doing more than just paying money (which they earn by perpetuating the fundamentally broken system that you're working to change), you're eliminating any argument to make the “radical lifestyle reductions” that “almost no one is willing to undergo”. Why should they? They've offset their guilt, induced by the sales pitch that they are now “unhampered by the past.” So why even try to make these harsh changes? Just pay some money for offsets. And that's where the illusion and sales pitch causes real harm. It reduces one's sense that change is necessary. I know you'll probably point to many links, where you advocate otherwise...but that's not what your post and sales pitch is saying!!!

So as you say, “what we do expect is that people reading this will stop to think about the enormity of their own impacts...”. No, I believe what most people will see is that it costs $7,500 or whatever to offset the damage of a childhood, maybe pay it, and think they've helped to remedy past damages.

And you're not just “trying to show [that our impacts are huge] by demonstrating just what it would take to get to a zero balance on carbon alone”, you're taking money on a promise to absolve guilt by meaningfully erasing past damage.
It is interesting about your characterization of the Amish as “non-conforming”, especially when your replies here have a strong tone of pushing conformity on this issue. I “missed the point”, as if my or GK4's thoughts couldn't be based on reason or accurate sense of the issues. I'll just add that the Amish are one of the few to preserve actual culture and to live sustainably in the world. I think they have much to teach us “conformists” about how to live lightly and authentically sustainable in this world.
So as much as you might “change thinking”, I wonder if it's in the way that you are contemplating.

I believe WorldChanging is a great resource...that's not what I'm challenging. It's the plain words, beliefs and perceptions that this sales pitch creates.


Posted by: JoshS on 16 May 08

"I'll just add that the Amish are one of the few to preserve actual culture and to live sustainably in the world. I think they have much to teach us “conformists” about how to live lightly and authentically sustainable in this world."

This is probably the crux of the difference between us. I think if we need to rely on the Amish to provide us our model of sustainability, the situation is hopeless.

There is no evidence that 9 billion people could live like the Amish (the public health consequences alone would be catastrophic) and even less evidence that more than a tiny fraction of us are willing to.

Whether you or I like it, or not, more than a billion people already live middle-class lives and show no inclination of being willing to give them up, and billions more are working their tails off to join their ranks.

If we can't invent a sustainable model of global middle class prosperity, we probably can't attain sustainability at all.

Luckily, the signs are excellent that we can create sustainable prosperity, and offsets are one tool for getting there.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 16 May 08

So, how much of this goes to WC as a charitable donation, and how much to TerraPass for the offsets? 50%?


Posted by: Jon Stahl on 18 May 08

Well...I agree that might be one of our inflection points, where our common beliefs diverge.

But, to clarify...I wrote, and mean, that we could learn much from the Amish, not live exactly like they do. So perceptions of basic sanitation and any public health consequences, based on our evolved social standards, do not apply to my scenario. If anything, I bet we'd agree about storm/black/grey water standards. Using living machines, ecosystem services...nothing we can construct matches the water purification function of a marsh. So I'm not advocating back to outhouses and latrines, but rather modular living machines, water efficiency, matching the performance of the surrounding ecosystem in terms of nitrogen, phosphorus, aquifer recharge, etc...

So I am not proposing the Amish as our "model of sustainability" by concrete example, but to learn from in preserving our traditions, "natural knowhow", and beliefs, which underlie their sense of Stewardship, the active application of belief and knowledge to practice and the action of preserving the world.

About being willing to live more lightly without a paradigm change from our machine-based, industrial and consumerist culture, it's really not our decision. As Biomimicry and other sciences instruct, the Earth is subject to limits and boundaries. Natural systems work with a sense of single-purposefulness and reality.

Our technology and consumerist paradigm has divided us from this natural, dynamic nonequilibrium. Technology is a substitute for skill, replacing centuries, or in some cases, thousands of years of human culture and practices that have learned to live sustainably on the land (often after learning hard lessons, i.e., Jared Diamond's Collapse). Nature will correct...it's a question of whether we can adapt to these increasingly more frequent, severe and persistent disturbances. Nature is slowly eroding our illusions of separation from the natural world, think Katrina, bioaccumulative chemicals, etc...

There is no evidence that 9 billion people can live within the existing paradigm. Or that any human definition or system of "sustainability" will prove ultimately sustainability. Rather, it is about quieting our cleverness, and observing Nature as Mentor, as Biomimicry teaches.

"Middle-class" is a human construct, with fundamentally different meaning in Syracuse, NY versus the Serengeti Plains. It is a concept entirely inside of our mind and our culture. Meaning it is open to redefinition, based on belief, experience, culture...

I agree that billions are working in backbreaking conditions to attain the illusion of the United States definition of "middle-class". It is about redefining prosperity itself.

Maybe if you could show me one example in nature, of the more than 1.8 to 30 million species now extant, where even one sub-population uses the strategy of offset to build fitness (health) in future generations.

Unfortunately all I am reading in this conversation, from WorldChanging's side, is:

"Wipe guilt clean by offseting a childhood for $7,500". And, "offsets are a tool for a bright green future. These together are claim and conclusion only, without any intervening truth (moral or rational) about how exactly a promise to absolve guilt for past harms by paying money to offset future emissions does in fact transform one's thinking.

That said, I appreciate that you've kept this dialogue open...I think that is a testament to the good character and work of this site in working for a sustainable future.

My big point, is that it's time to honestly, objectively define sustainability itself.


Posted by: JoshS on 19 May 08

I think this is a great idea. You are giving your children the power to clean up a world that when they were two or three years old, they didn't even know they were damaging. That said, it's a pretty expensive gift to give. $6,000, or 25,000 could be put towards starting a non-profit to help clean up the environment. At least there are options to take responsibility and effect change. Thanks for sharing this idea.

Dagny McKinley
www.onnotextiles.com
organic apparel


Posted by: Dagny McKinley on 20 May 08

Case in point...about the most likely perception and impression of your sales pitch.

"You are giving your children the power to clean up a world that when they were two or three years old, they didn't even know they were damaging"

With all respect to Dagny...Alex is that the impression that this donation campaign is hoping to create?


Posted by: JoshS on 20 May 08

Josh, you seem adament that carbon offsetting is inherently bad. The idea is born of two things. The need to change the economic system when resistence to that change is strong and the need to change the belief system when the resistence to that change is also strong.
I also see carbon offsetting as a less than ideal remedy for climate change but I see no other way of even introducing the idea that a balance exists that can be even artificially offset. The economic system we still rely on, that contributes enormously to climate change, is one based on a oneway transaction of the earths resourses. The belief system is also premised on a one way journey through earth in which the earths resourses are there to take. Both systems are alien to the notion of replenishment of resourses or spiritually being here for ever.
If carbon offsetting is the only way to get people used to the idea that we must balance our consumption with replenishment and that life's journey is not just about us here today, then that of itself is good.
You must be so very patient that even the ideal of which you strive may take so long that it is your great grandchildren who see the benefit of your ideals.
When those grandchildren are adults they may well laugh at the concept of carbon offsets, as we laugh at the idea of medievil indulgences, but they will know and thank us that carbon offsetting is a damn sight more serious an issue and as hopelessly inadequate as it may be in retrospect at least it was the beginning of the end of an economic system based on endless greed and a belief system based on rampant egotism.


Posted by: simon seasons on 25 May 08

Good solid stuff, Simon.
It really is a move in the right direction, that due to the completely funky angle our entrenched systems and thinking have us travelling at, may seem inadequate to some.
Its a little like a Trojan horse in that sense.


Posted by: David Bartlett on 27 May 08

Absolutely David.
So many responses to climate change seem inadequate but that there is any response at all is great to see. I have written else where another analogy of standing on a quay and pushing against the hull of a giant ocean liner. Eventually, and this a true test of the basic physics of inertia, all ones persistent effort will make the ship move and from then on you could actually make it keep moving quite easily all by your self, but it will take just as much pushing in the other direction to bring the ship to a halt again.
Climate change is just the same. Since the industrial revolution we have been pushing the climate levels of carbon dioxide in an exponential direction and now we need to all push as hard in the other directon to bring the climate back to a normal 'inertia'.
The trouble i see and wrote of above is that our thought systems and particularly I think, those rooted in our belief systems to do with so called spirituallity, revolve around a 'personal salvation' hinging on achieving nirvana somewhere else that is distinct from a unilateral salvation hinging on maintaining the nirvana that is already here in front of us.
It is this historical redirection of consciousnessness and hence economic energy that has seen our societies forget about the delicate balances of the earths enviroment that are intrincically connected to our actions. Of course not all of us forgot it and not all of us entered into the devils contract of personal salvation over universal salvation.
Many such people know how inadequate a response carbon offsetting is, but on the other hand as many if not more think climate change activism is reactionary poppycock or could not care less either way as they have a few thousand so called heathen infidels to murder or they struggle under the weight of sexism and the equal oppression of ignorance. Such is the sad state of spirituality amongst many societies.
Interestingly, the Earths growing and painful reminders of the duty we all have to care for her, 'our one home in space', are such that she is begining to overcome even ardently fundamentalist religious types who previously ignored the importance of an Earth based consciousness. Even as far back as some heresies persecuted by the European Inquisition, we can see a growing religious return to the importance of counting the Earth back into our affairs.
This phenomenon too will become exponetially apparent even if it has to take the form of Al Gore groupies and economic gurus buying and selling carbon indulgences.
The focus is generally, returning to the Earth and through what ever eyes and what ever "funky angles' it is looked at, it should all be seen as a push in the right direction against that seemingly insurmountable great steel hull that is climate change bearing down on the opposite quay.


Posted by: simon seasons on 27 May 08

Simon, thank you for taking the time to read my (unfortunately) disorganized thoughts. Haste and a sinus infection make for bad writing. Hopefully my reply will be both more direct and concise.

I agree with GK4, regarding the underlying essence of this transaction as donated capital for renewable energy projects. And with Alex in believing that this is a good way to gather momentum toward a sustainable future. That is a good thing. Selling and packaging it as moral absolution for guilt of an inherited childhood and “life-print” of destruction...that's bad, and closer to CheatNeutral or even medieval indulgences.

And I agree, sustainability faces the tremendous, persistent inertia of our current industrial-machine-based paradigm.

Perhaps it is a question of balance, too, that divides this issue. Both human and natural systems, exist as coupled, interlinked hierarchies, in a world of dynamic non-equilibrium. There is no steady state of balance, in climate or culture. I agree that we as a species are linear in a world of non-linearity, where corrective stabilizations at different spatial and temporal scales tend to self-correct excesses from within.

With our tools, we are exceeding these biophysical limits, in a way, by substituting technology for skill, we have leveraged beyond Earth's limits and boundaries. At least temporarily. But to claim that this damage done may incrementally be cleansed morally by money donations ignores natural realities. As species shift habitats, fade into extirpation or extinction, and fall out of natural rhythm, it is a form of ultimate pride to believe we can wipe free our past with an offset that funds renewable projects tomorrow.

Most important to me is honesty, in belief, in science and in advocacy for a sustainable future. Using sales pitches disconnected from cultural and ecological truth and reality threatens more harm than good done.
Change is absolutely essential, I agree. And it's coming no matter, without regard to our cultural beliefs. The issue is whether we develop sufficient social-ecological resilience to absorb these impending disturbances, to preserve our beliefs, cultural systems, and life as we see it.

When you speak of the basic physics of inertia, I agree, and believe there should be a science (and art) to sustainability. Offsets fail that standard for me, at the essential cultural level because of the dishonest message and sales pitch that their proponents make. I think WorldChanging's pitch fits this prototype well, of greenwashing, of lacking any association or cause/consequence connection to the promise of assuaging guilt to ecological damage caused. There is no honesty to it, in a time, when a public is more carefully evaluating claims of green, it is a dishonest message, justified by an ends-satisfy-the-means argument. That's unnecessary and unfortunate.

I agree too, with the trouble you see regarding “our...s0-called spirituality...around a 'personal salvation' hinging on achieving nirvana somewhere else that is distinct from a unilateral salvation hinging on maintaining the nirvana that is already here in front of us.” That's good stuff. And exactly what the Worldchanging and Terrapass sales pitch is claiming!!! Donate funds to offset a childhood of unintended ecological destruction so that you can go forward with a clean slate, absolved of your guilt!! There is no unity of promise, payment to restoration and salvation. The offset is the promise of a nirvana somewhere else”, other than ecological and cultural reality, rather than the “unilateral salvation...of maintaining the nirvana that is already in front of us”!!

It is a misdirection of consciousness that, while unintended, fools people into thinking that donating money will erase past ecological and human harms, to restore “the delicate balance.” Simply, the promise of an offset and its actual effects are not one-to-one. Not even close, certainly not within any science-based or provable framework.

Donated capital for local or global renewable energy projects is a positive thing, as Alex says, for each of us to reduce each of our massively destructive social-ecological footprints that we are born with and have inherited. But to equate donations with moral absolution of guilt for childhoods, Simon, is that same “devils contract of personal salvation” over the preservation of this Earth. That's a scientific certainty. Our best sales pitch do not transmogrify a claim against reality into a “bright green” future.

My main point: tell the truth, of science and of culture...or we will lose this good fight.


Posted by: JoshS on 28 May 08

Josh, I see your point.
Perhaps the original sales pitch contained an erroneous view of childhood existance. I certainly took a back step when I read of expunging the damage done as a child in ones adulthood, by paying for good to be done somewhere else, other than ones own nieghbour hood, in a capital raising venture not too unlike any normal capatilistic method of raising capital.
My immediate response was, well this copywriter has obviously never had to contend with a teenage daughter getting ready for a night out with her pals, while the adults and siblings wait to use the bathroom.
My god, if I forced guilt upon my children for the rampant waste of resourses I imagine many other children indulge themselves in, they'd hang themselves as adults. Let's just start at three years of age and a roll of sticky tape, never mind teenagers showering/shaving legs for 30 minutes and then preening themselves with a hairdryer for another 45 minutes or all the interveaning years of snapped off sapplings, broken windows, trashed cars and the vacuuming of all that dirt they traipsed through the house, sheesh!.
I see your point, but I also see world changing's need to familiarise many more people, than are currently open to the idea, with the consept than fixing up the damage is possible.
We are dealing with people who by and large know, if not understand, the consept of spiritual reparation for past actions. They also paradoxicaly live in an economic system rooted in an almost complete disdaign for such reparation type behaiviour.
The cunundrum of living with two seperate 'levels' of understanding existance has led most people to just ignore major problems when they arrise in the hope that someone else will deal with it.
Global warming is an issue that can't be ignored in that way because it will take each and everyone of us to completely abandon those two deeply cherished views of existance which are at odds with getting peole to understand that thier view life is the problem.
I quote you
"The issue is whether we develop sufficient social-ecological resilience to absorb these impending disturbances, to preserve our beliefs, cultural systems, and life as we see it."
No, the issue is changing peoples perceptions enough to break down that resiliance to absorb the impending disturbance and so shift the whole of culture to focusing on turning around the "impending disturbance". This cannot be done by preserving our beiliefs and cultural systems or life as we see it, since all three of those 'attitudes' are the creators of the problem in the first place.
We need a new way of life as we see it and we need a new belief system and wee need a new culture.
To start with one has to use the Trojan Horse method because currently the majority have no hope of being reached by any other means.
We have to use guilt because that is what they undestand. We have to use capitalist fund raising because that is what they understand.
You may yourself see through the shopfront and can readily identify the make of the manniquin, but it is not the point of the exercise. You may understand the direction the manniquin is looking in because you are already on that path yourself.
I believe you are on that path because you so verbosively give rein to it. My question to you is, why are looking back at the shopping habits of people you have left far behind? You are wasting your energy on concerns that would be better focused in front of you. No disrespect intended.
Simon.


Posted by: simon seasons on 28 May 08

I'd just like to add that when dealing in morality issues as apposed to scientific ones, that cleansing will be much more successful if morality is removed from the equation. That is not to say that one should act without morals. I am saying that the act of cleansing the Earth of 300 years of industrial pollution and the contributory attitudes refered to above is far more important than the act of cleansing one morals of guilt. I see that act as essentially one of a selfish concern. Contributing to the cleansing of the Earth, whether that be by direct action or social indulgences is of itself a morally cleansing act, the differance is in the focus from personal angst and self concern towards social self inclusion with the affairs of the Earth.
The affairs of the Earth ARE all about balance and on any scale our actions, even tiny ones, adjust that balance. The balance would be more fully tipped back to natural equilibrium if we could get everyone to agree that the Earth is more important than their personal moral foibles, but currently society in general does not see itself that way. Hence the need for Trojan Horse type consciousness shifting like carbon offset indulgences. Further to that there are things like trying to get people to change over to enviromentally sustainable building design by appealing to their hip pockets and only vaguely to their sense of guilt surrounding the watse of resourse in conventional design.
The work involved is enormous enough without burdening the recipients with a complete mental breakdown. Only by incrementally inducing change in consciousness will the task ahead be achieved. in terms of time lines it will be a true revolution but it will have to a soft green revolution in which the thought patterns responsible for the damage are sowly eradicated by incremental change and not fast and furious compulsion.
Mother Earth has a handle on the fast furious compulsion bit. We as a society have to work out a way to respond that doesn't involve all the old ways of life that have really shown themselves to be anathema to life at all.
Carbon indulgences are just the first very thin edge of the wedge, and from my point of view, morality just doesn't come into it no matter how much morality is pleaded to or hand wringing is engaged in by those who decide to accept the offer to 'donate' towards a livable future.


Posted by: simon seasons on 28 May 08



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