Letters to the Editor – Weekly Issue of May 10, 2010

Readers write in about carbon offsets.

Carbon smoke signals

Thank you for your cautionary tale about unregulated voluntary carbon offsets titled "Blowing Smoke?" and for the editorial in the same April 26 issue, "Carbon offsets: Buyer beware," that warned against overblown expectations for a similar mechanism that may be built into federal climate policy. We should take a lesson from the current debate over financial reforms, as the clever derivatives instruments that got Wall Street in trouble are also proliferating in global carbon markets.

Though strictly regulated and conservatively credited offsets may play a limited role in mitigating climate change, the "transactions costs" of verifying and regulating will be high.

We might better engage agriculture and forestry sectors in the effort through programs that encourage carbon-friendly practices outside the emissions cap.

That way, if projects fail to live up to expectations, we haven't blown our chance to meet emissions-reduction targets.

On the topic of "permanence" you state that carbon dioxide "may last for 100 years in the atmosphere." In fact, scientists with the International Panel on Climate Change predict that at least 20 percent of the CO2 released today will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

And this percentage will increase if the ocean sinks that are largely responsible for reabsorbing CO2 begin to fail due to changes in ocean circulation or the decline of sea life that absorbs carbon.

Any chance of solving the climate crisis requires truly long-term thinking.

Ann Ingerson,

The Wilderness Society

Craftsbury Common, Vt.

I agree with the premise of the article "Blowing Smoke?" – Buyer beware: The carbon offsets you buy may be junk.

However, I propose that all carbon-offset plans require future action, which might be fraught with delay.

Immediate action is better than uncertain future action. The now federally approved Cape Wind project in my state would have provided this immediate action but objections have delayed the project for more than seven years.

Do similar objections face future action plans for carbon offsets? Environmental laws enacted decades ago to protect endangered animals and plants are being delayed in the name of study. But that effort would be better placed in studying how to address global warming.

The article, "An offset gone wrong: Green windmills aggrieve farmers," gives the impression that all wind farms are unjust to local residents. Maple Wood Wind Farm in northern New York State is a good example of where this is not so. The dairy farmers nearby were initially opposed to the wind farm. But now, realizing that with the leases paid for locating a windmill on their farms they could continue farming successfully, they approve.

Robert A. Brown

Reading, Mass.

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