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On carbon offsets, Wirecutter story doesn’t cut it

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When it comes to buying goods and gadgets, you could do worse than to follow recommendations from Wirecutter, The New York Times’ consumer-review website. 

The same can’t be said about their recent article, “We Wish Buying Carbon Offsets for Your Flight Helped. It Doesn’t.” In fact, their conclusion is bafflingly wrong: Paying to protect an area of forest to offset the climate footprint of your flight does in fact — demonstrably and verifiably — help.

Let’s look at Wirecutter’s two main claims.

A question of ‘permanence’

“In most cases, carbon offsets do not capture or reduce real emissions,” the author writes, “and they have a dismal record when it comes to actually averting future emissions.” 

Wirecutter backs up this claim by linking to a reference article from the website Carbon Offset Guide about “permanence,” a term that refers to the durability of a forest that has been protected for offsets. Permanence is a very real challenge — after all, why pay to protect a forest if it’s burned or cut down a few years later? 

But most offset programs…

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