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Carbon Offsets: Useful Tool Or Smoke And Mirrors?

As a nonprofit that has pioneered the U.S. offset market for 10 years, ever since Oregon passed the first law requiring new power plants to offset part of their emissions, the Climate Trust agrees that some of the greenhouse gas offsets being sold in the U.S. market are of dubious quality ("Another inconvenient truth," The Environment, Mar. 26). We also agree that offsets, if done right, can be an important tool for fighting climate change.

The promise of an offset is that, from the atmosphere's perspective, the results are essentially the same as they would be if a business met its reduction goal by cutting emissions at its own facilities. High-quality offsets allow society to maximize emissions reductions achieved per dollar spent.

We are concerned, however, that the low-quality offsets being offered by some could cause policymakers to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The Climate Trust provides a model for how to do offsets right. If the rest of the voluntary offset market applied the quality standards developed by the Climate Trust, consumers would get what they pay for, regulators would have greater confidence in offsets, and, most important, the atmosphere would see a significant increase in environmental benefits.

Mike Burnett

The Climate Trust

Portland, Ore.

Congratulations on exposing the sham marketing of carbon offset credits to assuage the guilt of the rich and famous. Let's see how far we can carry the hypocrisy of purchasing credits from businesses that would have cut their emissions anyway, either through regulatory mandate or because it made good business sense.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the meat industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Shouldn't the nation's millions of vegetarians be receiving carbon offset credits also?

Jeffrey Lawton

Tigard, Ore.

Al Gore and the organizers of the Academy Awards deserve credit for raising America's awareness of climate change—and making animal-waste management seem cool—regardless of whether the carbon offsets purchased for the gift baskets at the Academy Awards are "additional" or "business as usual." More to the point is that by limiting itself to voluntary efforts, the U.S. is being left behind in the $20 billion-plus global carbon market.

If BusinessWeek focused on the bigger picture, such as Europe's unilateral commitment to reducing emissions and congressional testimony by Al Gore, Sir Nicholas Stern, and the CEOs of major multinationals endorsing a cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, it could help promote a dialogue leading to meaningful action by the U.S. on climate change.

Veronique Bishop

McLean, Va.

As one of your sources, I was pleased to read the article on carbon offsets. But there are two things I would like to clarify: The Tufts Climate Initiative is not an advocacy group but a branch of the Tufts Sustainability Office, which helps Tufts University reach its goal of lowering its own greenhouse gas emissions. We conduct research on energy and climate change and help the university implement energy-efficiency projects to cut its carbon footprint.

The Tufts Climate Initiative is not strictly opposed to carbon offsets. Carbon offsets do have a place in spurring innovation and helping the U.S. move toward a low-carbon economy. However, the only really meaningful actions are to reduce one's own emissions and to be politically active to make sure meaningful legislation is enacted.

To claim climate neutrality simply by buying offsets is, in my opinion, dishonest and misleading.

Anja Kollmuss

Tufts Climate Initiative

Medford, Mass.

Your piece provides a perfect microcosm of the liberal Establishment. Rather than do any heavy lifting to achieve the results they seek, they throw money (someone else's if possible), climb on the shoulders of those who did the work, and crow about the great things they've done.

Brett A. Larsen


"Parlaying casinos into empires" (Finance, Mar. 26) appears to suffer from interest-group capture. Both Wall Street and BusinessWeek should be applauding the economic development that Indian gaming brings to Indian country.

For generations our people suffered poverty and deprivation while the federal government built infrastructure for other communities just across the river or over the mountains. You could always tell when you got to an Indian reservation because the roads were so bad.

Today, Indian gaming is a catalyst for the economic development of Indian lands and, more recently, of the U.S. economy as a whole. And Indian tribes generally have good, solid relationships with local communities. So your article's discussion of a backlash on Main Street does not reflect the reality of our situation.

Ernest L. Stevens Jr.

National Indian Gaming Assn.


Your story on Indian gaming was preaching to the choir here in Washington State. With 26 federally recognized tribes, some with multiple casinos, as neighbors, Washingtonians are acutely aware of the concerns you discuss.

While pointing out the disadvantages to local nontribal communities, the article did not mention a glaring economic reality: Choosing to continue as wards of the government means that these very successful tribes are still ladling from the finite pot of federal aid that could be better spent accelerating the development of truly destitute tribes in remote locations.

Meanwhile, in order to accelerate the economic growth of local tribes, our state government does not require them to pay any gaming revenue tax. So we state taxpayers just tighten our belts, take up the tax slack, and dream of retiring to Connecticut.

Michael Whitehead

Marysville, Wash.

As a retired Dun & Bradstreet employee, I found "The BusinessWeek 50" (Cover Story, Mar. 26) particularly interesting. Prior to being spun off, Cognizant (CTSH) (No. 12), IMS Health (RX) (No. 25), and Moody's (MCO) (No. 29) were part of the then- $5 billion-plus Dun & Bradstreet Corp. (DNB)

Previously shackled by senior management, these companies subsequently flourished. I found this to be a noteworthy comment on the business skills of the people in senior management positions at Dun & Bradstreet at that time.

Doug Greene

Cortez, Colo.

Thank you for your excellent review of Dr. Jerome Groopman's How Doctors Think ("The doctor is in a rut," Books, Mar. 26). Unfortunately, however, by saying that celiac disease is rare, you have committed one of the errors Groopman warns about. Celiac disease occurs in the U.S. in about 1% of the population. That makes it, according to many researchers in this area, the most common hereditary disease among humans.

Ann Dodge's story is a common one in the celiac community. My brother died of lymphoma two years after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. He was refused testing for celiac disease following the diagnosis of his lymphoma. He was told that celiac disease is rare, that the gluten-free diet is nutritionally inadequate, and that testing for celiac disease might cause his lymphoma to spread. All three of these claims are ludicrous, yet they came from his primary-care physician, someone my brother trusted.

Ron Hoggan


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