One Person's Carbon Offset – Another's Child labor?

The ‘carbon offset’ child labourers – Times Online

“Pumping furiously on a foot treadle in the afternoon heat, six-year-old Sarju Ram is irrigating her impoverished family’s field, improving the crop and – without knowing it – helping environmentally sensitive holiday-makers assuage their guilt over long-haul flights to dream destinations.

But Sarju and her four brothers and sisters working flat out in a clump of trees that provide scant shelter from the sun illustrate a growing argument over claims that British environmentalists’ efforts to curb greenhouse emissions are inadvertently fuelling an increase in child labour.”

Carbon Offsets are a pricing mechanism setup where people can sign up to pay various companies to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by funding mitigation projects, such as planting trees, funding renewable energy projects, and in this case, paying money to farmers (and their families) to pump their water using a foot pump. Terrapass is one such well known company and there are many others.

I am not so sure I would characterize this as exploitative child labor. There’s plenty of that going around in conventional manufacturing in Asia, not to mention children being used to kill. Compared to this general egregiousness, the prospect of a farmer’s kid, who would be working on the farm anyway, biking away for half an hour so his family can get some extra money does not sound all that bad. Yes, the colonialistic aspects of the story hit me in the face and makes me want to condemn a practice where a rich Westerner pays a poor farmer to pedal away for hours so she can fly to the Galapagos for a eco-vacation.

But, in the end, these offsets do something. No, they will not do anything to slow (well, maybe a little, imperceptibly, perhaps?) CO2 emissions. Obviously, there’s no substitute to comprehensive worldwide carbon reduction strategy which prices carbon correctly, does not put barriers on technology transfer, and does not transfer greenhouse emissions from the US to Western Europe to China and India in the name of efficiency while doing nothing to ensure that that this manufacturing uses clean technology. Offsets make people aware of their actions, and choices they can make. This makes them (I hope) more likely to support major climate change legislation. It is more about attitudinal change than major change. But calling this child labor and exploitation is, I think, unwarranted.

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