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Buying carbon offsets may ease eco-guilt but not global warming

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By negating all the Vatican’s 2007 greenhouse-gas emissions with carbon offsets presented to the Holy See by the company KlimaFa, “the Vatican will do its small part in contributing to the elimination of polluting emissions … threatening the survival of this planet,” the cardinal proclaimed.

No one was happier about it than Kiss Lajos. The stubby 65-year-old has presided as mayor of the scratch-poor farming village of Tiszakeszi in the Hungarian plains since the days of the Soviets.

For his constituents, who scavenge brush along the Tisza River for their home fires, the ceremony in the Vatican offered rare hope: The Hungarian company KlimaFa promised to hire hundreds of workers to plant thousands of trees near their village to suck up carbon on behalf of the Vatican.

It did not happen.

KlimaFa has not planted a tree on what it ambitiously dubbed “the Vatican Forest” in the Tiszakeszi countryside, even as the California promoter who started the company used the publicity to sell offsets on the Internet.

The Hungarian government, initially a cheerleader of the project, now does not want to talk about it. The company’s president in Budapest backed out of an interview. The greenhouse gases produced by the cars and furnaces and lights of the papal apartments in the Vatican were not neutralized by the offsets. And a Vatican spokesman says “the case is being studied to take legal action in order to defend the Vatican’s reputation.”

“They were duped,” says Jutta Kill, an analyst for FERN (Forests and European Union Resource Network), which tracks environmental scams. And the Vatican was hardly alone.

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