The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

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Your Tuesday Update: Look What Bernie’s Doing!

Good news: Bernie Sanders is paying for carbon offsets for his campaign. Hillary Clinton did so in her 2008 campaign and has said she will do so for this one but has not yet made payments.

Carbon offsets are interesting. The idea is to cancel out one’s own carbon emissions by paying to reduce emissions or sequester carbon somewhere else. In practice, it’s a little more complicated. For one thing, are some kinds of offsets better than others, and how do we tell? Does it matter if the person buying the offsets has really exhausted his or her ability to reduce his or her own emissions first? Is it theoretically possible to make humanity as a whole carbon-neutral by buying offsets for everybody, and if it isn’t do offsets really work to begin with? Maybe they’re just a form of greenwashing?

I’m inclined to believe that offsets do not represent a real climate solution but are probably harmless and do direct much-needed funds to important projects. This is only a brief Tuesday update, so I’m not going into it in depth, but I’d say that the important thing is to reduce one’s own emissions first and then, sure, buy offsets. Why not?

Has Bernie Sanders minimized the carbon footprint of his campaign before buying offsets? I don’t know. At the very least, he’s putting some of his campaign money into climate-friendly projects and that is a good sign. This blog does not comment on any aspect of any electoral campaign besides climate policy, so this should not be considered an overall endorsement, but Mr. Sanders is taking climate change seriously and it is good to see.