David A. Fahrenthold
Tuesday, Oct 7, 2008
This is strange territory. The Dow is down. Wall Street needs a bailout. But in the Washington area and across the country, there is still a bull market in environmental guilt.
Sales of carbon offsets — whose buyers pay hard cash to make amends for their sins against the climate — are up. Still. In some cases, the prices have actually been climbing.
In other words, when nearly everything seems to be selling for less, thousands of individuals and businesses are paying more for nothing, or at least nothing tangible.
Experts say this is possible, in part, for economic reasons: The financial crisis has not yet reached those upper-middle-class consumers who are willing to pay $12 to offset a cross-country flight, $80 for a wedding or $400-plus for a year of life.
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But there is also a cultural factor, the legacy of a complicated decade defined by a “green” awakening and a national splurge in consumer spending. Many people have learned to pay to lessen their climate shame — and, at least for now, they don’t think of it as a luxury purchase.
“I was feeling really guilty because I was basically traveling to three continents in the last month: ‘I’ve spent basically six days on an airplane. I’ve got to fix this,’ ” said Michael Sheets, 27, who lives in the District’s Logan Circle neighborhood.
So a few days ago, Sheets paid $240 to a Silver Spring-based vendor, Carbonfund.org, choosing its offsets because they were more than $100 cheaper than a comparable package from another offset seller. He got back an e-mail saying that the 52,920 pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions attributable to him for the entire year, including his trips to Trinidad, Thailand and Argentina, had been canceled out.
“I feel much better about it,” said Sheets, human resources director for an online-education company in Northern Virginia. “I don’t feel as guilty about flying to Vegas tomorrow for the weekend.”
This article was posted: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 3:57 am