The buzz about carbon credits has been a steady, but relatively low hum in my estimation. The discussion needs to be taken beyond the visceral, new-idea level where thoughts are cool from a political perspective until you dig into them on a logical and philosophical level.
From a blog by the California Department of Food and Agriculture comes a notice that the USDA gave money (government code speak: grant) to “create a market for carbon credits generated on working grasslands.”
Aside from the fact government can’t create anything by itself but merely takes and reapportions, the grant helped initiate a partnership between Chevrolet and landowners in North Dakota whereby Chevrolet gets to continue to emit more carbon-based pollution into the atmosphere because someone else hasn’t reached their limit.
Let’s stop and think about this philosophically. If the point is to reduce carbon dioxide and other so-called “greenhouse gas” emissions then why allow one party to emit more while others are emitting less than their allotted amounts?
There’s a premise here that bodes well for agriculture and it’s this: agriculture does not produce its limit of greenhouse gasses and is therefore a source to sell carbon credits.
I would think the Ag groups would want to trumpet that far and wide.
Yet, there are other questions about carbon credits we must answer.
How far away from the source of the carbon credits be from the creation of the pollution for which the credit was purchased? Can I buy credits from someone located in Maine and use them in California?
Who gets to determine how much carbon dioxide can safely be emitted from an operation? Don’t plants need carbon dioxide as part of their “breathing” process?
How do you put a value on a metric ton of carbon dioxide? Can it be bought and sold on the CME or DJIA?
According to one website carbon credits are a “highly regulated medium of exchanged used to ‘offset,’ or neutralize, carbon dioxide emissions (by giving one) the right to emit one metric ton of carbon dioxide or the equivalent mass of another greenhouse gas.”
I realize all this gets messy rather quickly because someone is making money; who am I to tell someone their legal way of making money is wrong? That does not mean I can’t ask questions and pose philosophical arguments that question the practice.
While I can’t define what those pressures are in North Dakota, I can surmise them from my California perspective where some cities are driven to expand their boundaries as far as possible and thus creating a financial incentive for growers on the fringes of the city to sell for development purposes.
According to the CDFA blog, one positive outcome of these credits from a farming perspective is the creation of perpetual easements with the retained right to work the land as before. This buffers the grower from commodity price swings.
This is similar to California’s Williamson Act, though that provides tax incentives rather than a direct payment for keeping farmland in production.
There are many questions we ought to be asking related to carbon credits and how they are valued. I’m sure there are legal ramifications to these credits too that only the mind of an attorney can conjure.