Do carbon-offsetting schemes morally offset emissions? The moral equivalence thesis is the claim that the combination of emitting greenhouse gasses and offsetting those emissions is morally equivalent to not emitting at all. This thesis implies that in response to climate change, we need not make any lifestyle changes to reduce our emissions as long as we offset them. An influential argument in favor of this thesis is premised on two claims, one empirical and the other normative: (1) When you emit + offset, the net result is the same as that of not emitting. (2) With emissions, the net result is what matters morally. I argue against both premises. The net result of emitting + offsetting is never equivalent to that of not emitting, and even if it were equivalent, the net result is not the only thing that matters morally. My conclusion is that although we should offset our emissions, avoiding emissions is morally preferable. This conclusion supports a stronger claim: that carbon offsets cannot relieve us of our duty to make significant lifestyle changes so as to reduce emissions and thus lesson our contribution to the harms of climate change.
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- Carbon offsetting
- climate change
- climate consequentialism
- climate ethics