And you thought carbon offsets couldn't get worse!

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Climate and Capitalism has frequently commented on two widespread illusions – that global warming is caused by overpopulation, and that buying offsets is an effective way to combat greenhouse gas emissions. I never imagined that anyone would try to combine them.

by Ian Angus

Three years ago, Carbon Trade Watch published a report called The Carbon Neutral Myth. Its main conclusion was summarized briefly:

“Carbon offsets are the modern day indulgences, sold to an increasingly carbon conscious public to absolve their climate sins. Scratch the surface, however, and a disturbing picture emerges, where creative accountancy and elaborate shell games cover up the impossibility of verifying genuine climate change benefits, and where communities in the South often have little choice as offset projects are inflicted on them.”

I wish I could say that things have improved since then, but they haven’t. It seems as though we hear about new carbon offset schemes every week, and each one is less credible than the one before.

But competing designers of offset plans will have to work very hard to beat Optimum Population Trust (OPT), an English outfit that campaigns for population control in third world countries and for reduced immigration to the UK.  For sheer chutzpah, it will be hard to beat  PopOffsets.

You guessed it. Instead of actually reducing your carbon emissions, you can now pay OPT to persuade third world women not to have babies!

What’s more, it’s cheap. According to the website:

“Research is indicating that providing a currently unmet need for family planning is the lowest cost way of reducing CO2 emissions and climate change – possibly less than one third of the cost of other technological fixes – without any environmental downsides.”[1]

They have an online calculator to determine how much money you should pay to salve your conscience. As a resident of Canada, which has one of the world’s highest per capita emission rates, I can get a PopOffsets Certificate that proclaims me “carbon neutral” for a year — for only 100 euros.

OPT says that it will use my money (“less minimal/unavoidable costs”) to provide grants to unnamed “family planning organizations.”  Just in case you object on religious grounds, they promise that they will “not direct funding towards abortion services.”

Now there are some catches. According to the PopOffsets’ FAQ:

  • There are no standards for measuring or verifying the effectiveness of any voluntary offset program, including this one.
  • The PopOffsets plan is not accredited by anyone, but OPT is “running a campaign to achieve accreditation in the long term.”
  • They haven’t actually decided who will get the money.
  • And “more work needs to be carried out on quantifying this methodology of CO2 reductions.”

That last point should be nominated for Understatement of the Year.

I might take this a little more seriously if the money were used to reduce the birth rate among rich Brits. Just think how much lower England’s emissions would be if aristocrats and bank directors were limited to one spoiled child each. How many Bentleys and Jaguars could be taken off the road if the Royal Family stopped reproducing altogether?

But no. Rather than targeting the high-emitting rich, the only concrete project mentioned by PopOffsets is a family planning program in Madagascar, where, according to PopOffsets’ own website, annual emissions are just 0.1 tonnes per person. Per capita emissions in the UK are nearly 100 times that level – and the emissions generated by the richest Britons are of course much higher.

In short, instead of targeting actual high emitters, PopOffsets blames the world’s poorest people for a problem created by the rich, and it solicits funds for unnamed projects whose impact on global warming is at best unmeasurable. Even if you are totally convinced that reducing population is the way to go, the PopOffsets scheme is hard to swallow.

There’s a satirical website,, which promises to “neutralise your cheating,” by letting you pay someone else to remain monogamous and faithful. It says:

“Cheatneutral is about offsetting infidelity. We’re the only people doing it, and Cheatneutral is a joke.

“Carbon offsetting is about paying for the right to carry on emitting carbon. The Carbon offset industry sold £60 million of offsets last year, and is rapidly growing. Carbon offsetting is also a joke.”

I won’t be surprised if some unsuspecting websurfer mistakes PopOffsets for an even more elaborate joke. Unfortunately, it isn’t one.

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[1] In case you are wondering, the research turns out to be one paper by a grad student who was paid by OPT. Peer-reviewed? Not a chance.

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