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Exploring the real reason for carbon offset credit markets

A letter to the editor explores the reasons behind carbon offset credit markets.

A butterfly in wildflowers on Conservation Reserve Program land. Liz Harder / Harder Stock
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I read with interest the article on carbon offset credit markets in the Feb. 26 edition of Agweek.

First of all, may I commend you on your accurately addressing the issue at hand: carbon credit OFFSET. I have read too many articles that call this the carbon credit market, and there is quite a difference, i.e., the first one exists (albeit tenuously) and the latter does not; it’s a total misnomer.

The issue I have with the tenor of the article is that it indicates that “companies voluntarily pay another business to buy them.” Technically the payments are voluntary, but what the article doesn’t say is why (nor have any that I have read on the subject). Why DO they want to pay for carbon sequestration by, in this case, farmers? Primarily it is because those companies employ some not-so-green practices and could pay for someone else to sequester carbon in lieu of improving their poor environmental practices. Hence the carbon OFFSET credit market. No, I do not know the ins and outs of how that is accomplished, but I do know it exists and is in practice.

“All these multinationals are interested in the environment” and “interested in reducing emissions” only insofar as it helps their bottom line. In fact, if they are so interested in “reducing emissions,” why would they need to be purchasing carbon offset credits? A cynic (or a realist) might suggest that these interested parties have found, or are certainly exploring the possibility, that they can more economically buy carbon offset credits than to address their own environmentally unsound practices. In other words, it’s cheaper for them to write the check to carbon offset brokerage firm than it is to invest in the R&D necessary to clean up their own smokestack/toxic waste/high carbon footprint issues.

I think their magnanimity ends at the checkbook. That’s borne out by their disinterest in already established no-till operations (disclaimer: Our operation is completely no-till, absolutely no soil disturbance, ever). Their interests end at what quantifiable amount gets them “even.”


Is there money there? I think there can be, but it is definitely a buyer-beware situation. In the agricultural world maybe we are too hard-pressed to be asking ethical questions, but one does come to mind: Are we willing to sell carbon offset credits and be complicit with some multinational company that does not want to address their own environmental issues?

(Editor's note: Buerkle farms near Plevna, Montana.)

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