Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Buying our way out of sin

Buying our way out of sin
The Telegram

For such a modern-day problem, it seems like a terribly Medieval solution. The problem is climate change — the way humanity is altering the Earth’s weather by spewing fossil-fuel emissions into the atmosphere.

Over the course of three decades or so, it’s gone from fringe notion to generally accepted phenomenon — to the point that Stephen Harper’s Tories are building policy around it on everything from ice-breaking patrol ships for a warming Arctic, to federal rebates for fuel-sipping economy cars.

While no one can tie a specific storm to the global process, events like Wednesday’s deluge, courtesy of tropical storm Chantal, have brought climate change to the forefront of public concerns.

Anyone doubting that need look no further than the airline websites, where you can find the latest Earth-friendly scheme for the environmentally responsible traveller: carbon offsets.

Here’s how they work.

Let’s say you’re flying from St. John’s to, oh, let’s say Fort McMurray, to lend an ironic air to the equation. Your flight to Tar Sands City will fill the air with a certain amount of hydrocarbons, based on the fuel used, and the seats on the plane.

By ticking a box on your ticket purchase, you can pay an extra amount of money to purchase a carbon offset, with those dollars going to help fund an environmentally friendly project somewhere in the world which will reduce carbon emissions — a wind farm in South America, say, or a solar-energy project in Africa.

Critics suggest it’s just a marketing ploy — a way to appeal to travellers with a guilty conscience, making them feel better about jet travelling even as they pollute the skies.

Offset defenders argue the funded projects really do reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And not only that — they help make people more aware of the price that comes with fossil-fuel consumption.

Step back from the modern-day arguments, though, and the whole notion of offsets seems like something from an earlier time, from Medieval times, to be precise, when the Catholic Church sold indulgences.

The system of granting indulgences was complex, but simplified, it involved the church issuing indulgences for small sins, meaning a person could go about sinning daily, then buy an indulgence which would nullify those sins.

In short, you were able to soothe your guilty conscience with a cash purchase — peace of mind for a few pence.

Sound familiar, frequent flyers?

Perhaps it’s time for a second Reformation.

After all, the abuse of indulgences was part of what led Martin Luther to reject the Catholic Church — in effect, cutting out the middle man by arguing individuals were responsible for their salvation, not some church-sanctioned Indulgence.

A green revolution might have a similar aim: want environmental salvation? Then live greener yourself, rather than paying someone else to do it for you.

Anyone ready to nail a new doctrine to the passenger-jet door?

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