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Beth Daley chat transcript

Globe writer followed up the latest article in her series on global warming by talking with Boston.com readers. Beth_Daley: Hi - Beth Daley here to talk about carbon offsets and global warming

homie__Guest_: HI Beth, I love the series so far. What's the state of alternative energy sources in New England right now? Are we ahead of the game?

Beth_Daley: Hi - thanks for writing. I'd say the state of alternative energy sources are still in their infancy in many ways here - we have a lot more technology and know how, especially in Massachusetts but there are still financial barriers, be it upfront cost for solar panels or people who don't want wind farms to wreck their views. We still have a long way to go before renewables really make their mark.

Student101__Guest_: Hi Beth, I really enjoyed your article. Here is a question, after researching carbon offset companies, what do you really think about their effectiveness and why?

Beth_Daley: Hi - thanks, that is a great question.

Beth_Daley: Carbon offset companies are a great way to get the public engaged in this enormous worldwide issue, but as to actually helping stop/slow the problem? Not so much.

Beth_Daley: The fact that the entire system is unregulated is very troubling and consumers don't always know what they are getting. Your question also brings up a more philosophical issue: Should people be working to buy smaller cars and homes rather than buy their way out of an energy excessive lifestyle?

carbon_copy__Guest_: Hi Beth, the tale of woe in today's Globe was concerning. Do you feel with the expanding market for pro-environment business we'll see a lot of these scams?

Beth_Daley: Yup, I do, although the company I wrote about feels passionately they are providing a real service.

Beth_Daley: For everyone well-intentioned person wanting to help the environment there is probably someone else trying to make money - some legitimately, some not. People have to be extraordinarily cautious when they think they are helping the environment - they have to take the time to research what they are investing in. Now, this can be tough (It took me a month to figure out the story in today's paper) but it can be the difference between someone pocketing your money and real good coming out of it.

Martin__Guest_: Hi Beth, Thanks for chatting. The whole concept of emissions offsets seems kind of "out there" to this relative newcomer to the global warming discussion. Am I alone in my ignorance?

Beth_Daley: HI Martin, thanks for your question.

Beth_Daley: A LOT of people think the idea of carbon offsets is, to be as tactful as possible, Utterly ridiculous. There is a funny website called www.cheatneutral.com I mentioned in the story that compares it to trying to compensate for infidelity.

Beth_Daley: That's because these people feel individuals (and corporations and countries for that matter) should not be able to pay someone for the right to pollute. They should be reducing their emissions first and foremost.

Beth_Daley: Still, I think offsets are fine as long as people are working to reduce their emissions. It's impossible for many of us to stop heating our home or driving our car so paying for the gases to be absorbed, avoided or destroyed seems like a reasonable thing to do.

Student101__Guest_: What about using offsets for things we do not have control over. For example, I can certainly buy a smaller car, but I can't control the energy efficiency of the air planes I fly in. Would it be appropriate to consider carbon offsets in this case?

Beth_Daley: Hi - now this gets to the nitty gritty of all our choices. Some environmentalists would say you do have control over flying - and you should stop flying so much.

Beth_Daley: Now, that is not something most people are prepared to give up (including me). So, yes, offset away.

Beth_Daley: It all comes down to personal decisions - you gotta do what you feel comfortable with at a price you feel good about.

Bill__Guest_: Hi Beth. Here's a question. I am a planner in Western Massachusetts working on a Clean Energy Plan with a lot of other people and we are realizing that if we, collectively, seek to reduce our use of energy and replace dirty fuel sources with clean renewable ones, we can help meet the New England Governor's Conference on Climate Change goal of 80% reduction of GHG emissions by 2050. And RGGI will help to ensure that as new renewables come on line, the dirtiest of fuels hopefully will be phased out. But, what does the state have now, or the regon, with regards to nuclear fuels? Although the emissions aren't laden with C02, they aren't clean or safe, relative to a wind turnine, hydro facility, or even a combined heat and power biomass facility.

Beth_Daley: Hi Bill - great question. I think there are lot of paths to get New England to those goals and they, at least in the beginning, all in someway deal with energy efficiency. But there are lots of financial barriers to efficiency - and at some point the savings will stop no matter how much we invest in it - so people will move onto other fuel sources.

Beth_Daley: Nuclear? Maybe. It is carbon-clean, at least for its emissions but we all know the big problems with waste and safety of surrounding communities. I know there is a group in NH eager to get more nuclear power there and the Nuclear industry group is touting its plants as global-warming friendly. But I think its going to take a lot to overcome public opposition to build more in New England.

ledroit__Guest_: Do you believe that carbon offsets provide those who really indulge in fuel and energy, say those with exceptionally large homes, to forego shrinking their carbon footprint? Wouldn't it be more carbon efficient for Al Gore to get a smaller mansion rather than trying to have his cake and eat it too?

Beth_Daley: Absolutely! But here's a question: How small do you go? Don't we all energy indulge a bit and who is going to make that determination about what is acceptable and what is not? Maybe Al Gore should buy a smaller mansion but maybe also I should buy a bicycle instead of a car. I think its like most things in life: Moderation, moderation, moderation.

Harry__Guest_: What are your thoughts about those energy-saving light bulbs you see being sold everywhere? Aren't they really just a way for utility companies to shift the cost of new power to consumers? Also, don't they increase the amount of mercury we are spilling into the environment?

Beth_Daley: Those light bulbs are everywhere, huh? (even the front page graphic in the globe today).

Beth_Daley: They actually are good - I know they have some disposal problems but they really use less energy and seem, from what little I know, like a good idea.

Atram__Guest_: There really are lots of actions that you can take do for yourself to reduce your own carbon footpring, rather than paying someone else for offsets. Most of them relate to energy efficiency and conservation, some to investments in renewable energy. Many of the efficiency and conservaiton actions actually save you money. I haven't kept up with your series, but perhaps you can provide a Top Ten list of cost-effective or negative cost actions, as well as a collection of links to resosurces that provide such information.

Beth_Daley: Hi Atram -
Beth_Daley: Great idea. Energy efficiency is really the mantra (and renewable energy). The whole idea, many environmentalists say, is to transition away from fossil fuels so it seems logical to invest in offsets or other projects that do just that.

ledroit__Guest_: Is anyone in the environmental movement working to set up an independant way to verify the work done by carbon offset websites?

Beth_Daley: Hi - thanks for writing.

Beth_Daley: There is an environmental movement to better verify these offsets but in many ways that is the whole problem: It's a movement, meaning there are several different groups doing it - all with different standards.

Beth_Daley: Britian is really concerned with the Wild West concept of the offset world for consumers and is coming up with voluntary standards. No such luck for the U.S. - that's why consumers are left to navigate this confusing system armed with little more than good intentions.

Bill__Guest_: Just a note here: If every homeowner and business in the Pioneer Valley of Western Mass. replaced only those lights that are on for 4 hrs or more with compact flourscent lights, the energy savings would be equal to about 450 GWh per year or 7% of our demand for electricty.

Beth_Daley: Hi - your excellent comment speaks for itself.

AF__Guest_: My name is Anton Finelli, and I am one of the owners of the company e-BlueHorizons and the landfill methane project mentioned in today?s Globe article. Needless to say, we have strong opinions about the environmental benefits of our project and take exception to many of the assertions and implications about its environmental merit or lack thereof set forth in the article. We are also confident that anyone who clearly understands the effect of any action they take to retire verified carbon offsets on e-BlueHorizons would be very satisfied with the tangible impact they are having on future carbon emissions. Anyone who would like to hear more of our side of the story is welcome to contact me directly at afinelli@e-bluehorizons.com, at write to me at the address following. Enjoy the rest of your chat.

Beth_Daley: HI - a note from one of the owners of the company I wrote about today -
Student101__Guest_: Would my money be better spent just giving it to an organization that deals with alternative energies directly?

Beth_Daley: Hi - thanks for writing.

Beth_Daley: I think all types of offsets work based on my research.

Beth_Daley: But just look into the company/non-profit fully to make sure you know what you are buying - is it what you think you are getting? How much do they take for overhead costs? Just because you are buying something "good" doesn't mean you shouldn't ask the same kind of questions you would if you were buying a new TV.

Matt__Guest_: Hi Beth. Thanks so much for coverting this! While you obviously aren't in a position to advertise, did you find that certain offset companies seemed more reliable than others? Or that some were clear scams?

Beth_Daley: Hi - thanks for writing.

Beth_Daley: I certainly found some I'd invest in more readily and after my research, it would be based on these two questions: Are you making something happen with my money that wasn't happening before?

Beth_Daley: Are you telling me clearly and transparently where my money is going?

Beth_Daley: I really believe most companies believe they are providing a real service. But since there are no rules, lots of questions arise. I should note that virtually all the companies I talked to want one set of rules - they think it's the only way the voluntary consumer carbon offset market will thrive in the court of public opinion.
gboston__Guest_: I just read what Mr. Finelli wrote online here. But he doesn't address a key question raised in today's article. If the methane was going to be dealt with by his company anyway, before anyone purchased carbon offsets, then how the heck is the consumer getting any "value" for their contribution. I just don't get it?!

Beth_Daley: I think you can contact him to answer that question. Based on the story, that definition (called additionality) is an enormous issue.

ledroit__Guest_: Given the uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of the carbon offset marketplace would you recommend that a person with $x.00 to spend on energy efficiency invest that money in carbon offsets or instead invest that money in other areas, say home appliances with higher energy efficiency ratings or better heat insulation?

Beth_Daley: Hi - good question.

Beth_Daley: Based on the experts I talked to its this. First invest in energy efficiency and then - only then - buy offsets. If you apply that logic, a lot of people never buy offsets because they are spending so much money making their home and appliances more energy efficient (a laudable goal)

Student101__Guest_: Are there any papers or information online that compare different offset companies?

Beth_Daley: yup = there should be links on the globe page but one good one is the Tufts Climate Initiative - http://www.tufts.edu/tie/tci/carbonoffsets/index.htm
Beth_Daley: It's excellent.

Beth_Daley: Hi - signing off now, thanks for the excellent questions sorry I couldn't get them all - Beth_Daley: Best, Beth

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