Back in the middle ages the Catholic Church sold “indulgences” which were essentially “Get out of Hell” cards that were available for a price. Different sins had different costs, but virtually any sin was “forgivable” if the perpetrator purchased the appropriate indulgence.

This is one of the great embarrassments of the Catholic Church to this day.

The modern equivalent of the spiritual indulgences is the purchasing of “carbon offsets” by people who want to have their cake (unlimited energy use) and eat it too (claim to be “green”).

Al Gore is one of these. His defense against one of his mansions using 20 times the power of an average home is that he purchases “carbon offsets” so his “carbon footprint” is zero.

So what does a “carbon offset” do? Usually it funds some activity that is supposed to pull carbon from the air, the most common activity is tree planting.

How effective are carbon offsets in actually reducing a person’s carbon “footprint”? Well, that depends on how you calculate these things. And the details are very, very murky. In fact some environmentalists scoff at planting trees in this way because trees are not immortal. They eventually die, and when they do, they are either burned or decay. In both cases whatever carbon they took from the air is returned to the air. So unless “carbon offsets” guarantee eternal planting of trees for the person purchasing them, all a carbon offset purchase does is defer the actual carbon footprint to a later time, to the purchaser’s children, for example.

Other means of reducing “carbon footprints” have similar limitations.

So in effect purchasing a “carbon offset” in order to reduce a person’s carbon footprint is simply a symbolic act which allows the person to feel good about themselves. Which is exactly what medieval indulgences were.

Someone in one of the talking head shows should confront Al Gore with this, but nobody will. Al Gore will continue to consume 20 times the energy of an average home, and his purchase of indulgences will only defer the environmental cost to his children, while G.W. Bush’s Crawford Texas home, which has a number of environmental modifications, including geothermal energy, rainwater collection and recycling, environmentally friendly walls and solar panels, will continue to be ignored by a mainstream media more interested in rhetoric than reality.