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Selling Carbon Offset Certificates on eBay is Right up There with the Ethanol Scam.

April 27th, 2008 by Skip McGrath

The “Global Warming Crisis”? has spawned scams that reach from Wall Street to eBay. And, how you can help.

We have tried to follow US news while we are on our vacation in Italy. Although I have seen some stories on it, the global food crisis seems to be bigger news here in Europe than in the US.  I know that the poor in the third world have always had problems affording food, but in the past year alone, basic food grains such as corn, rice, wheat and soybeans have risen 30% and are up over 60% over the past two years.  The main culprit is worldwide bio fuels production and specifically US corn-based ethanol.

Stay with me a minute –I will get to how this all relates to eBay.

For years the US Government has been subsidizing the production of Ethanol with the total subsidies now exceeding a billion dollars –and ethanol is still not economically viable. Meanwhile the price of corn over the last few years has risen from $3.00 bushel to now over $6.00 and the futures market is forecasting $8.00 by this time next year.

The huge profits from corn entice farmers to grow less wheat, rice and other grains and shift production to corn thereby causing shortages of these other grains –the very grains that the third world subsists on.  According to the World Food Organization, about 25,000 third-world people starve to death every day so we can burn corn in our cars. And the really horrible thing is that it accomplishes nothing. Burning ethanol contributes just as much to Co2 emissions as burning oil –actually more, because ethanol is 15% less efficient than gasoline.

You can make ethanol efficiently from high-sugar plants such as sugar cane –Brazil has cut their oil imports by over 75%. But we are not allowed to import plentiful sugar cane so we can protect the small handful of sugar beet and cane farmers in the US who produce sugar that costs three times as much as it does in the rest of the world. So, since the first presidential primaries are always held in Iowa, we use corn.  I wonder: If the first presidential primary was held in Washington or Idaho, would we be making ethanol from potatoes instead?

Now on to carbon offset certificates.  This is fast becoming a larger scam than ethanol.  The theory is that if you do something that creates CO2 emissions –such as driving your car, heating your house, producing goods in a factory or flying a plane –you can purchase a carbon offset credit from someone who saves or reduces CO2 by engaging in activities like planting a tree or helping African farmers practice low-impact farming.  And yes you can buy these on eBay.

Here is an auction description from one such auction listing:

This auction is for 1 metric ton of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) greenhouse gas offsets to offset your carbon footprint. The purchaser of these offsets will be recognized by Clean Air Action Corporation (CAAC) as paid in full for greenhouse gas reductions and will be issued a certificate as shown below.

Multiple tons may be purchased by selecting the quantity desired when you “Buy It Now”. You have the option of receiving a PDF certificate via email, or a paper certificate via postal mail. There is no shipping or handling charge for email certificates.

These offsets are created by subsistence farmers in East Africa and India, participating in the programs of The International Small Group and Tree Planting Program (TIST). TIST is sponsored by the Institute for Environmental Innovation and Clean Air Action Corporation. For more information on TIST activities in these countries, visit http://www.tist.org.

This auction is not only a scam; it also violates several eBay policies. Let’s deal with the scam and I will leave it to you to spot the two major policy violations.

I suspect the Clean Air Action Corporation is the brainchild of someone who wants to make money selling the certificates. I don’t know about tist.org –maybe they are legitimate, but increasing subsistence farming does nothing to lower Co2 emissions.  Yes plants consume Co2 and produce oxygen as they grow. But when you harvest, process and eat them they produce not only Co2, but other greenhouse gases such as methane.
Now, can you tell which eBay policies the listing violates (hint: there are three). Please don’t write me with the answers. We only have limited internet time while traveling.

Here is another listing.

Just type 290224110464 into the eBay search box and you will see the listing if it has not been cancelled by eBay. This seller is planting trees in his backyard for each certificate purchased. I couldn’t put this description here because the seller copyrighted it, but this one violates at least two policies.

Both of these listings are from overseas sellers but I have seen them on eBay US from American and Canadian sellers.  I friend of mine tried this once just to see if it worked. He sold a certificate you could put on your SUV that offset you carbon emissions. He planted a tree (cost 30-cents each) for each $10 certificate sold. He had a 100% conversion rate.

If you are a regular eBay buyer or seller, you can relax because you are probably doing more to conserve energy and reduce Co2 than any of these efforts.  When you buy or sell online you are saving gas and reducing carbon emissions by the very fact of your activity. When I buy a camera on eBay or a book on Amazon that is one less trip I have to make. Since my nearest shopping mall is about 22 miles away, that is two gallons of gas I save with every trip.

So Go Green –Shop on eBay!  Oh yes – Let your congressman know you are tired of the ethanol scam. It might actually save some lives.

Skip McGrath

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