"Over the past couple of years, hundreds of corporations from Amazon to Visa have announced plans to move toward “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions.
Look more closely, though, and the promises also reflect something else: the growing prominence of a controversial environmental accounting tool generally known as “carbon offsets,” or “carbon credits.”
Supporters say these offsets are an important tool in the fight against global warming and also an increasingly important funding source for climate-friendly initiatives. Think of them as contracts that can be bought and sold, allowing projects that remove greenhouse gases to counteract emissions made somewhere else. Want to neutralize the impact of driving your gasoline-powered car? Carbon-offset programs make it seem as easy as ordering a mystery novel. Worried about the carbon impact of your flight? Offset programs say you can support a tree planting program in Bali to make up for it.
But critics argue the offsets don’t reflect progress at all and instead are a new form of greenwashing. They warn that offsets may actually slow the greenhouse gas reductions scientists say are necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change and are a distraction from the hard changes needed to decarbonize the economy."