“There is a great opportunity here to be able to subsidize the reduction of emissions,” says Pete Davies, president of the retail operations of Terrapass, a San Francisco offset provider that helps farmers pay for methane capture systems. “We see farmers being able to do the right thing that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do. We’re excited to be a part of that.”
The appeal of doing something to help the environment has fed the rapid growth of offset sales.
“I buy them every time I fly,” says Matt Durden, a Reston, Va., attorney who figures he spends about $30 on carbon offsets through Expedia when he and his wife travel. He did not ponder the purchases long; they seemed a cheap and easy way to help the environment, he says.
Governments worldwide are contemplating mandatory offset programs, like that established in Europe under the Kyoto agreement. A top United Nations climate official predicted in 2006 that buying and selling carbon pollution reductions would become a $100 billion-a-year market, potentially the world’s largest commodities market.
Voluntary purchases are a small part of that, but even a small slice of such a big pie has created a burgeoning industry of offset developers, wholesalers, retailers, and promoters; the GAO counted at least 600 players in the US alone in 2008.