Air travel for me, excercise for thee

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Carbon offsets have all sorts of problems. The methods used to calculate teh precise offset are often sketchy, and it's not clear to what extent offset carbon stays offset. Creating a market for greenhouse gas reduction may also have the undesireable effect of encouraging companies and governments to keep belching factories going until they can sell the offset, or even build new ones for the purpose of being paid to shutter them. But this is really something special. Upon original reading, I had thought that it must be taken out of context or otherwise misleading:


Climate Care celebrates the fact that it encourages the Indian poor to use their own bodies rather than machines to irrigate the land. Its website declares: ‘Sometimes the best source of renewable energy is the human body itself. With some lateral thinking, and some simple materials, energy solutions can often be found which replace fossil fuels with muscle-power.’ (2) To show that muscle power is preferable to machine power, the Climate Care website features a cartoon illustration of smiling naked villagers pedalling on a treadle pump next to a small house that has an energy-efficient light bulb and a stove made from ‘local materials at minimal cost’. Climate Care points out that even children can use treadle pumps: ‘One person - man, woman or even child - can operate the pump by manipulating his/her body weight on two treadles and by holding a bamboo or wooden frame for support.’ (3)

Feeling guilty about your two-week break in Barbados, when you flew thousands of miles and lived it up with cocktails on sunlit beaches? Well, offset that guilt by sponsoring eco-friendly child labour in the developing world! Let an eight-year-old peasant pedal away your eco-remorse…

But no, their website is exactly as described. To be fair, there apparently are other projects that don't involve tethering people in developing countries to human hamster wheels, but all in all, that may be one of the most appalling things I've ever read. Special bonus question: why are the smiling brown people naked? Have they given up clothes to save the energy of washing them?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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