You may have heard this line before, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The quote was attributed to Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican Friar, in charge of collecting indulgences in 16th Century Germany.
However, it’s not Roman Catholics who have embraced a re-run of indulgences, but the new gurus of carbon-offsetting at the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, takes issue with ECI’s latest venture into indulgence – carbon offsets in his piece for the American Spectator titled, A Pardoner’s Tale. Murray sarcastically notes, “You can atone for your carbon sins by buying carbon offsets from the Evangelical Climate Initiative.” Murray also says:
Not to worry. ECI tells us that “The average American is responsible for about 23 tons of CO2 pollution.” And it just so happens that $99 (Not $78 or $103.54? How did it just happen to come to a price right under the $100 threshold past which consumers are much less likely to purchase?) is just enough to offset 23 tons of CO2 per year.
Murray also highlights the new found free market spirit of ECI, but also calls the faithful to their reformation roots, declaring:
One last concern: Where’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on ECI’s moneymaking site? Or the Better Business Bureau logo? Or the link to information about how the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the carbon offsets and carbon trading businesses to make sure there’s no monkey business going on? They’re not there, because — well, because there is no regulation of this business. Apparently the ECI has finally found a tiny bit of the free market that it doesn’t want to strangle with regulation. One wonders, though, what happened to the ECI’s strong suspicion of sin in every branch of the corporate world. Or is the carbon offset industry impeccable?
It appears to me that this particular branch of evangelical theology is in dire need of a reformation. When it comes to the sin of carbon emission, perhaps carbon-using Christians should remember the words of Martin Luther’s Letter to Melanchthon: ‘Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.’
(Powerblogger Kevin Schmiesing pointed out the indulgent nature of carbon offsets in a post last February.)
On the campaign trail just recently, John Edwards called for Americans to give up their SUVs, and then was seen leaving the rally in none other than a sports utility vehicle. But not to worry an Edwards spokesmen said, “We buy carbon-offsets for the vehicle.”
It seems as if individuals and families were serious about altering their carbon footprint, they would curb their energy use instead of purchasing an indulgence for their guilt. It seems to resemble a fad or a trendy phase by guilt-ridden polluters. I wonder if I have to purchase a carbon offset for those parachute pants I once owned in kindergarten?
However, with the rising free and unregulated market of carbon-offsets, it will be interesting to see what other offsets emerge in the marketplace, and whether this will trickle down to the health, food, and tobacco industries. Entrepreneurs who miss out on this exploding market, may be feeling a bit of guilt and remorse as well.