It looks like Yahoo announced an intent to go carbon neutral, following on the heels of Whole Foods Market. But wait, read the fine print – they’re not going renewable, they’re just buying forgiveness in terms of carbon offsets. I’ve been thinking alot about carbon offsets lately and figured this might be as good a time as any to through out a streamm of conciousness post on my blog. First, a synopsis – carbon offset purchases basically revolve around the idea that I can fund capital projects which eliminate greehouse gases elsewhere which equals the amount of greenhouse gases I emit based on my own power usage. It makes sense – a Wyoming windmill produces more energy than a Vermont windmill; Florida solar collectors more effective than London collectors; etc. The math is easy too – you can calculate equivalency in gigawatts and be done with it.
There are two blatantly obvious issues per detractors. First, there’s a problem with carrying capacity in these plans. For instance, Whole Foods is they’re purchasing these energy credits from renewable energy in Colorado, and maybe Yahoo will too. Who will consume all this spiffy green power created in Colorado? We can’t just ship it out to the ends of the earth, so the entire scenario feels like an exercise in pure theory. Besides, windmills are incapable of meeting energy demand for the entire Fortune 500, should everyone follow suit. As it stands right now, this is a nice entreprenurial opportunity with a small net impact.
Besides, all this does is shuffle around carbon emission. Yahoo and Whole Foods aren’t really zero carbon; businesses powered by Colorado renewable power are. If we accept that offsets equate to netruality (or even reductions), Yahoo could just become “nonimpact” by co-locating all servers and directing employees work from home.
So let’s throw aside the politics and BS and get real: carbon offsets are just a little white lie to plow capital into green investment in a quasi-capitalist manner. But that’s cool as long as that capital inflow is invested in practical long term solutions rather than hype. I’m even nuts enough to suggest this cash should be plowed into something radical with a potentially huge long term impact.
PS – Pardon the cheesy title – I’ve taken a cue from The Register. I love the Brit press.