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Carbon Offsets: Not just a good idea, it’s the LAW!

Anyone old enough to remember that commercial – “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature?” The sooner we can get off the fossil fuel merry-go-round, the better, I say. And the better for Mother Earth.

In this administration’s efforts to become more green, it’s possible to envision a day when government agencies will be required to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).

Do you think that calculating the carbon footprint of your business travel will at some point become part of your mandatory entries in GovTrip?

Also, I am curious as to how green you think the average fed is in DC and how integrated this mode of thinking may become in our everyday work lives in the future. Being from the west, I don’t really get a sense that this is a priority for most in the Capitol city. I am really interested in how feds from all over the country perceive the urgency – or lack of it – of forestalling or reversing the effects of climate change.

For a really good explanation of Carbon Offsets and what they do, go to the website of the Society of American Indian Government Employees (SAIGE) at www.saige.org – click on the NativeEnergy button and it will walk you through all your questions about RECs.

What about requiring all new federal facilities to be built green? Isn’t this already on the books? Help me out here.

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Allen Sheaprd

IMO carbon priorities are local. The mid west wants to use corn. The coal states want to make clean burning coal. Some want to use windmils – in other peoples back yards.
Solar power seems to be the most neutral.
Instead of build it green law, promote those who do build it green. Why? Driving 55 is a green law that everyone knows but few follow.

Lori Windle

hey Alen- thanks for your input. In Colorado we are host to the Natonal Renewable Energy Lab which has been around 30 years. So these things are hardly radical ideas out here. We have wind farms here that you can elect to direct a portion of your utility bill to. My neighbor down the road has a couple small turbines, and I am in the process of getting solar panels on my roof this summer. (decided against the turbine because I don’t want to whack any birds..) However, what I was trying to get at was not the personal use of renewable energy options – such as driving the speed limit, or ditching your furnace for a wood pellet stove, like I did three years ago – but the federal government’s commitment or lack of it in analyzing its own activities and their effects on CO2 production, and acting upon it.

Allen Sheaprd

Hi. Hearing you are not only talking the talk but walking the walk goes a long way. You are right I was focused on stories about coal country or not putting windmills off Kennybunkport (sp?) because it would spoil the view.
One would think the federal government could mandate renewable energy. Government has, or should have, access to all sorts of labs, information and really bright professionals. They also have the land. Not parks or forrests but research areas and other installations.
I know this would upset some power companies but in places like Guam, the Navy used to help power the island. If the investment pays for itslef over time then it would be the responsible thing to do. Why? We are working to keep the government around for atleast another 200 years.


Arizona has been involved with the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) for well over a year now. Considering our (former) governor Janet Napolitano has left for DC, and we have a new governor Jan Brewer whose stance has our particpation more as wait-and-see, I’m glad to see that Obama has taken notice, and seems willing to adopt what seven states (as well as some Canadian provinces) have been tirelessly working on !

Patrick Broyles

Okay, my career has been with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for over 30 years, we are the original green folks before green became a fad. Many in my agency work there because we feel the need for stewardship of our natural resources, not to get rich, gain power or have our names go down in history. We also know a whole lot more than many people think they know.
Being “green” can be as simple as getting a vehicle that gets 40 MPG (I have one). On the other hand buying carbon credits so far is like raising ostriches. Al Gore & some of his buddies have gotten rich off of it but it has done no one ahy good. People will raise trees for lumbes, grow crops for food & grass for livestock. The ones who get paid extra for what they are already doing are nothing but con artists. Legal, but con artists.
New Federal Buildings being built green? By the example set in San Francisco I sure hope not. That new Federal building is so horrible to work in that Federal employees are petitioning to change things in it every day, or looking for new jobs elsewhere so they won’t be stuck in it.
Do we need to save the world? Hey, that’s my career, but use science, not folklore or the latest in urban myths.

Lori Windle

hi Pat! good to hear from you – how are things on the other side of the world? I appreciate your comments and respect your opinion, but I think there are some things you could learn about offsets before declaring them a fad or an urban myth. Go to the SAIGE website and click on the Native Energy button, and read – the money raised from carbon offsets goes to fund renewable energy projects such as the KILI radio wind turbine on the Rosebud reservation, and for methane sequestration projects, etc. Take a look my friend, and try to keep an open mind.
Anyway, the jist of this posting was to hopefully get people talking about if they think that the federal government is moving towards offsets and green building as standards. I would like to hear more about what is worng with the SF Federal building – whazzup with it?

Lori Windle

maybe not now, but my question really goes to the heart of that. I can see a day a few years off, when we may be required to do so. In the meantime, I am going to make it a habit to buy some to cover my GOV travel anyway on the SAIGE site. From Denver to San Diego is only $14.00, so its a lot cheaper than some people may realize. At least for now…..


The problem with carbon offsets is that a company with a lot of money can just ‘buy’ offsets for the same carbon footprint they are producing now or an even greater carbon footprint. In other words, the pollution of carbon fuels is just ‘moved’ elsewhere…except that it doesn’t go away because the thin layer of atmosphere that is constantly moving over the face of our Earth knows no boundaries. Remember the movement of particles from Chernobyl or the Indonesian fires in the 1990’s as viewed from satellite photographs and the impact on neighboring countries? The best course for the health of all of us and all life is to innovate our need for energy of all kinds the way we innovated the energy usage of the average computer today. When I worked on a mainframe computer in college that occupied an entire building and had the same or less capacity today than the typical office computer, the energy consumption was 1000 times greater. Why can’t we think outside the box of carbon-based fuels, and move everything to solar and wind and geothermal? By the way, the production/growing of biofuels is extremely polluting, with carcinogenous and deadly pesticides, and fertilizers that contribute heavily to the pollution of our ground water and rivers and oceans.

Lori Windle

Agreed! This effort will take a multi-pronged approach. If we can do things properly then carbon offsets will outlive their usefulness. The blessing of them at this point in time, is that the money goes to support renewable energy research and actual projects that are not fossil-fuel based. I agree that biofuels have serious problems, but there are some bio mass projects that use fiber from, for instance, trees that have died due to things like the pine beetle infestations. This is taking a natural disaster and turning it into a product for good, something that contributes to sustainability rather than erodes it. Still would like to hear if anyone thinks this administration will want to mandate offsets for government facilities and travel….


If you haven’t read them yet, I would like to recommend ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond, and the follow-on “Dark Ages Ahead” by Jane Jacobs wherein she discusses the Fertile Cresent’s collapse, saying, ‘We may be sure that the story of desertification of the Fertile Crescent (previously forested and became a desert because)…corrective adaptation that would have threatened the plaster industry (consuming forests for fuel to fire the kilns) would have handicapped …dependent industries and must have appeared at the time, to be less feasible than continuing to ruin the land itself.” Perhaps we could insert ‘car and energy industries’ fueled by environmental destruction of our air from petroleum and our land from deforestation.

Al Fullbright

There was a push to build some solar applications in the late 70’s or early 80’s. I built several solar panels to assist with air-space heating. The design and covering material for the front of the panels were available at nearly all the big lumber yards. But It never took off because it was a downturn time in the economy and people just didn’t want to commit to the investment.

As the economy improved, people pretty much gave up on the idea. There was a negative economic incentive for the short run, and as things leveled out, I dont believe people realized the kind of long term savings they envisioned either.

The problems were that considering the cost and the investment, the average person was not in a position to take advantage of the technology. In addittion, the price of oil seemed to fluctuate with the political wind. By the late 80’s everyone had pretty much given up and the solar covering material became hard to find again.

From my simple carpentry experience building the panels, I can say unequivocally that even simple solar panels work, and we could do a lot more with it than has been happening so far. Nearly all hot-water applications could use solar. We know Solar can produce electricity.

I think the largest application could be to heat work spaces and shops that operate during daylight hours. A lot of day-time work-spaces could be heated with solar almost exclusively. I wonder if the stimulus money going into improving industrial parks and such are taking that into consideration. Where I live in SD, nearly all meaningful work during the winter is done indoors. Geothermal and solar could do wonders here.

Al Fullbright

June mentioned the deforestation to fire plaster kilns. I recall my grandfather telling me that during the first deppression they cut wood and sold it because there was little money and few jobs. Firewood was competing with coal and kerosene for heat.

Grandpa said that the entire area around Wessington Springs, SD was a forest, and they cut it down and sold the wood. You would never believe it now. There are a few trees, but no forests.