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Another Inconvenient Truth

Behind the feel-good hype of carbon offsets, some of the deals don't deliver

The organizers of the Academy Awards declare all their celebrity presenters to be "carbon-neutral." Vail Resorts Inc. (MTN ) in Colorado boasts that its chairlifts and lodges are "100% powered by wind." Seattle's municipal utility claims that its net contribution to global warming is zero.

A growing number of organizations, corporations, cities, and individuals are seeking to protect the climate—or at least claim bragging rights for protecting the climate. Rather than take the arduous step of significantly cutting their own emissions of carbon dioxide, many in the ranks of the environmentally concerned are paying to have someone else curtail air pollution or develop "renewable" energy sources (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/1/07, "Ethanol: Too Much Hype—and Corn "). Carbon offsets, as the most common variety of these deals is known, have become one of the most widely promoted products marketed to checkbook environmentalists.