Carbon Offsets Should Make You Nervous

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The most important action to stop climate change is simple: Reduce the damn emissions of greenhouse gases that cause it.

But it seems that some people don’t want to talk about that. Instead, we hear a lot about reaching “net-zero” emissions (instead of zero), using emissions-trading markets, or even fanciful ideas of “carbon removal”. And we’re hearing a lot more of this from tech investors, business executives, and government leaders lately.

This talk makes me a little nervous, and it should bother you too. Much of it shows a deep misunderstanding of the climate problem, and what we have to do to solve it.

Yes, some limited carbon offsets can be useful. Done well, they can help create financial incentives for avoiding and reducing low-hanging emissions around the world today. They can also financially support nature conservation projects that avoid deforestation and protect biodiversity. And, in the long term, carbon removal projects may help us offset emissions from some hard-to-decarbonize products like steel, cement, plastic, and jet fuel.

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