Prime Time Crime  


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of May 14, 2007)

Some are going Green   Others are seeing Green


  By John Martin

According to a recent investigation by the Financial Times, Industry caught in carbon 'smokescreen, individuals and companies who have been buying carbon credits to offset their collective carbon footprints may be getting hosed.

The concept is this.  If someone is not in a position to reduce their emissions, or if they simply want to alleviate their guilt, they can buy their way to green land.  All they have to do is purchase carbon credits from any one of a number of new companies that pledge to reinvest in eco friendly projects, usually on the other side of the globe.

This way, one supposedly becomes carbon neutral and is instantly part of the solution to global warming.

But after some digging around, the Financial Times discovered widespread instances of people and organizations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions.   The investigation determined there is a lack of oversight and shortage of verification making it near impossible to assess what value investors are getting.

This should hardly come as a surprise.  Just as in every other social movement, there are always going to be hucksters and scammers ready to cash in.  And this latest rage, recently described as a green gold rush is an ideal opportunity for con men and hustlers.  Consequently, the carbon credit business is only going to become more risky and suspect.

According to Joe Levy, who wrote The Con Artist Handbook: The Secrets of Hustles and Scams, certain conditions provide ideal opportunities to take advantage of others.

One is to have a large number of devoted believers who are not interested in alternative hypotheses and are characterized by their lack of critical thinking and selective attention to evidence.  Clearly, there is no shortage of recent climate change devotees who are adamant the world is going to end unless we act now. Regardless of whether theyíre right or wrong, their enthusiasm and devotion make them that much more vulnerable.

Levy also stresses that the urge to conform makes someone an easy mark or potential target.  He notes that it is difficult to go against the wishes, attitudes and judgments of the majority.  So when others, especially high profile celebrities and authority figures, are on the bandwagon and bragging about purchasing carbon credits, itís easy to get hooked and want in on a good thing.

Also, just as bogus charities and sleazy televangelists have always done quite well playing to our sense of compassion and guilt during flood, famine and catastrophe, itís not surprising that scammers would see an opportunity to cash in on all that green good will.

A recent article in BusinessWeek, Another Inconvenient Truth, said this about the carbon offset industry, ďAs long as there are willing buyers and sellers, almost anything goes.  Right now itís no-manís land out there.Ē

Sounds a lot like the old Vancouver Stock Exchange, doesnít it?

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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