Carbon footprint wearing big clodhoppers

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According to the latest reports, the EU are pushing the inclusion of airlines in their Emissions Trading Scheme (the EU ETS). It's a carbon offset programme that assigns quotas to polluters, who are free to sell any unused credits to the highest bidder.

I've always had a nagging doubt about this whole idea. It always reminds me of unused mobile phone credit rolling over from one month to the next–an incentive expressly designed to encourage consumers to use their phones even more.

But would phone companies allow users to sell their unused credit (at reduced rates) to other users? Certainly not! Their goal is to maximise the cost of your phone bill.

Similarly, each of us has a series of tax-free allowances. Would the government allow poor people to trade their unused allowances on the open market? It would be unthinkable–their goal is to maximise tax revenue.

The phone companies/tax office have their 'offset' systems in place to maximise consumption/income. That is all the carbon credit system can do.

The mechanism is, ostensibly, about reducing the overall amount of emissions, but in actual effect it is promoting the maximum output. By using the age old 'government budget' system–whereby you simply must spend all of your allocation this year or you won't get it next year, and from whence our spiralling public finance problems–polluting companies will use, buy, sell, or trade every single particle of their allowance every year.

In theory, companies are incentivised (you like that one? cringe!) to reduce emissions so they can profit from the sale of excess credit. True. But, this still does not reduce overall pollution by one atom–since some other company will just pollute more by buying those credits.

If you'll pardon the pun, it's a Shell game, a mere bubble market created to give corporations another green logo to slap on their website (see above), while trading yet another high-yield commodity.

Go, backroom capitalism!

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