Carbon credits are a way for individuals and businesses to offset the carbon emissions they produce by paying other people to produce less carbon. This means, essentially, that what someone is doing when buying this type of product is agreeing that there is a standard amount of emissions that can be expected in the world and shifting the distribution of those emissions around. In order to buy carbon credits as an individual, a person need only go to an online distributor. On the corporate level, trading with other companies is often involved.
In order to buy carbon credits, all someon needs to find is a retailer. There are many retailers willing to sell certificates that state that carbon has been somehow reduced in a specific quantity. Before investing, though, it is important to examine precisely how the carbon has been reduced. In many cases, preventing carbon from entering the atmosphere may not mean what the investor believes it to mean.
One of the major problems when deciding where to buy carbon credits is where that carbon is coming from. Many developers claim that a specific buyer prevented them from producing a certain amount of carbon, but if the developer could get along without those emissions, then chances are those emissions would never have been emitted in the first place. Businesses do not just release carbon into the atmosphere for fun; they release carbon in the production of products and during the necessities of business. Since the money someone pays for carbon is likely less than what that person could make for a product or service, it stands to reason that what a person is usually purchasing is carbon that simply wasn't produced, not carbon that was prevented from being produced, which is an important ecological distinction.
With this distinction in mind, if a person wishes to buy carbon credits in order to reduce the amount of carbon in the world overall, he or she must find a retailer who sells carbon that was actively prevented from being produced. The actual purchase process is relatively simple, often involving only a credit card and a name to print on the certificate. These products are not real objects in the world, but rather potentials, and it is the consumer’s job to make certain that what he or she is purchasing is precisely what it claims to be.
The industry of carbon credits in the way it has been presented to individual consumers is largely regarded as a racket. An individual who wants to buy carbon credits has no way of ensuring that the reduction in emissions his or her purchase represents has actually happened in the world. On a larger scale, the idea of shifting carbon emissions around to rightful owners is flawed and does not encourage an overall reduction in unnecessary carbon emissions. It is a much more productive strategy to invest in real reductions in carbon emissions, which often take the form of better technology and committed business practices rather than in imaginary quantities represented by certificates. Rather than buy carbon credits, a person might wish to offset carbon by investing in businesses that make the environment a priority.