Dumping the SUV guilt!
January 13, 2006 5:33 AM   Subscribe

The jolly green Hummer? The growing band of environmental offset companies which give you the chance to offload your SUV driving, energy squandering guilt onto an annual subscription and a fancy bumper sticker looks like one way that we'll be able to live with ourselves in the power hungry 21st century. Is this the placebo we've all been waiting for?
posted by Duug (20 comments total)
Cool. (Too bad it's volentary -- externalization costs should be built into as much as possible.)

Also, a terrapass for my '97 Civic would cost me $30. ( :P )
posted by Tlogmer at 5:41 AM on January 13, 2006

These are all a variation on the marketing of green tags. Not particularly a bad thing, but it doesn't get you off the hook for personal conservation. Here's a more marketing-neutral article about it.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:47 AM on January 13, 2006

Here is what people have said about offsets in the green.
posted by ND¢ at 5:50 AM on January 13, 2006

Driving a Hummer makes you an energy hog. No amount of money thrown elsewhere changes that. Mathematically "buying your way down to zero emissions" doesn't, in fact, eliminate the emissions coming out of your bloated ego tailpipe.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:55 AM on January 13, 2006

This COULD be legislated, making it the responsibility of the airlines and the car-makers, and some day it will be. That day will come when the government doesn't work for the fossil fuel industry.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 5:58 AM on January 13, 2006

Driving a Hummer makes you an energy hog.

Energy hog huh? And here I thought they were just assholes.
posted by three blind mice at 6:06 AM on January 13, 2006

Is it possible to build a gigantic CO2 filtering machine? This assumes that factories and power plants keep polluting the air like they currently do (and certainly will for a long time in the developing world).

Basically set it somewhere really windy (in a fjord?) so that it can process tons of air. It can be powered by wind power (duh) so the only emissions created will be in it's construction and maintenance. It would have to be completely financed by goverments or NGO's as it wouldn't be commercialy useful.
posted by parallax7d at 6:37 AM on January 13, 2006

Erm... I drive 15,000 miles a year and (apparently) produce 8,000 lbs of CO2 a year. Terrapass think that makes my car "efficient". Funny how it never feels that way at the pump...
posted by twine42 at 6:44 AM on January 13, 2006

I have mixed feelings about these things, which are more or less the consumer equivalent of the notion of heavily polluting factories buying environmental "credits" from cleaner ones.

It's great that such programs generate money for and awareness of alternative-energy programs, but I think they also foster an attitude of "I can just BUY clean air while I continue to drive like I always have!" These programs are clearly stopgap measures -- which is fine, because the world (at least the US) is surely not ready to make the massive, dramatic changes in lifestyle and energy use that are becoming increasingly necessary. But, on the other hand, there's a danger of the stopgap measures becoming the status quo -- just as the buying of environmental credits has become on the industrial level.
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:51 AM on January 13, 2006

Is it possible to build a gigantic CO2 filtering machine?

Like this?
posted by sourwookie at 6:52 AM on January 13, 2006

That would normally work sourwookie, but that's last years model.
posted by parallax7d at 7:02 AM on January 13, 2006

Yeah, buying this seems to equal the "right" to pollute. I agree with Steve in Maine: "it doesn't get you off the hook for personal conservation"
posted by moonbird at 7:04 AM on January 13, 2006

Not to derail, but there is a team of researchers at my school headed by Chris Moser, working on custom-engineered proteins called maquettes.

With funding from the DoE, his team is working on a maquette which is designed to work on a platinum substrate, electrolyzing water into hydrogen and oxygen gases, as a much cleaner and more efficient way of getting us to a hydrogen-based energy economy.

I asked Dr. Moser once if there was a similar maquette design that could do carbon sequestration: pulling carbon dioxide or methane from the atmosphere, separating the carbon from the oxygen or hydrogen components, and depositing graphite or some other insoluble carbon solid. He indicated that carbon chemistry in plants is still very poorly understood at that level, and would be very difficult to engineer into a maquette at this juncture.

Terrapass is an interesting idea. I have to wonder whether the money is spent wisely, though. I'd prefer the dollars going to Manhattan Project-level alternative energy projects. I don't think the US will survive with its current energy policy, and I don't believe that Terrapass' current funding schemes do much more than tilt at windmills, so to speak.
posted by Rothko at 7:14 AM on January 13, 2006

It's not reducing energy consumption at all. It's like building an 8000 square foot home, then installing triple glazing and energy efficient appliances, and thinking that you're reducing your burden on the environment.
posted by carter at 7:54 AM on January 13, 2006

I think it's kind of misleading to stupid people. They're targetting the people who will think, "Well, my 2003 Suburban produces this much stuff, and $74 will make it all go away!"

I'm not knocking the idea of these guys making charitable donations to environmental groups and such but it seems like it really is rather a guilt balm.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:55 AM on January 13, 2006

"Guilt balm" is a term I am going to have to begin using.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:34 AM on January 13, 2006

I veer across the highway, firing a few rounds out the open passenger window. I'm not really aiming, but I want to clear a little room in the next lane. My exit is fast approaching, and if I miss it I'll be at least five minutes late for work and my boss will glower. I hate it when he glowers.

My eye catches my InnerCityAngel placard on the sunshade, and I smile a little inside as I pump a few more rounds out in lieu of a turn signal. I think the kid I'm currently sponsoring is "Johnny", and I whisper "this one's for you, Johnny. Uncle Freebird's got to get to work so he can make money for your treatment!" The InnerCityAngel people promised that I'd never get a traffic ticket while displaying their sticker, and so far that's held true. Marketized Morality is working great for me as I knock some puny hybrid rolling and tumbling in flames into oncoming traffic.

With that, I swerve across the remaining two lanes, clipping some unidentifiable car with my ActiveBumper, and careen over the shoulder and back onto the offramp. My Hummer5 is still bouncing on its shocks as I roll into the handicapped space in front of the office. I'm paying for prosthetics for some kid in a wheelchair somewhere, and though whether it's official policy or not is still being decided, traffic cops seem to take my Handicap-Proxy sticker as good enough.

I just barely make the meeting, sipping bottled water collected in the last known salmon-bearing stream and offset by the creation of a huge luxury fishpond somewhere - I'd check the label but I'm busy drinking coffee seasoned with real farmworker blood and balanced by funding a class teaching coffee growers how to use Microsoft Word so they can get valuable jobs.

I'm glad I didn't miss the meeting - our newest construction project involves building a giant Guns N' Porno for Kids mall on top of an Ancient Indian Burial Ground where now only the nearly extinct Purple Tongued Buffle Snail makes its home. The Offset Strategy is a real revolution in the field, we're very lucky to have the expert we do, because otherwise there might be no way to do it without feeling a little bad or even getting in trouble. But she's got some incredible plan - I don't follow all the details, and there's still some litigation, but apparently we're shipping orphans from Botswana to Washington,DC, where we first infect them with rabies then cure them and give them jobs as congressional interns and database programmers.

I sigh happily as I relax in hy human skin upholstered office chair (30% of the purchase price goes to fund educational programs in the still-simmering battleground of New Orleans) and think about the progress in abstracted morality reflected in every facet of my life. In the old days - well, it scarcely bears thinking about, does it?
posted by freebird at 9:06 AM on January 13, 2006 [26 favorites]

Cool read freebird.
posted by parallax7d at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2006

Freebird wins!
posted by Duug at 12:39 PM on January 13, 2006

I'm sure I read somewhere that it consumes as much energy and generates as much shit to make a car, as the car itself is likely to prduce during its lifetime.

I also remember being told that a small sized car inhales as much oxygen during a 100 mile journey, as you or I can expect to during a whole lifetime.

We're screwed.
posted by marvin at 1:46 PM on January 13, 2006

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