Political

Carbon offsetting: who invented it and does it work?

Airplane flying across a clear blue sky
Whenever I carbon offset airplane flights, I’m pleasantly surprised at how relatively small the cost of carbon offsetting is. The percentage it adds to the cost of a flight is large enough to make many politicians scared of introducing a tax at that level, yet small enough to think that it is not some unimaginable chasm to cross to deal with the carbon problem when the costs come out at that sort of level.

And then of course I also remember the controversies over how effective carbon offsetting really is. A recent edition of the Planet Money podcast took a look at just his question, including an interview with the inadvertent inventor of carbon offsetting.

When NPR’s reporting team traveled deep into the Amazon rain forest to report on the environment, they took planes, a truck, and a motorcycle. Lots of fuel was burned. Lots of carbon was emitted. They felt guilty. In the process of reporting on the environment, were they making the problem worse?

So they came to the Planet Money team with a question: What can we do about it?

There’s this one option. They can pay a little money and the fossil fuel pumped into the atmosphere can somehow go away. Carbon offsets have been around a long time. Long enough to know if they actually work. Today on the show: We investigate carbon offsets.

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