Tyler Cowen called his post on this, “Markets in guilt reduction,” which is a better title, but if I’m going to steal nearly an entire post (with attribution of course — I’m a closet academic!), I should at least make up a new title.
Besides, I’ve been claiming for years that “Environmentalism” is actually a religion, in the sense that environmentalists believe certain things completely on faith, maintain their believes in the presence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and engage in activities (sacraments) they claim “help the environment” in the absence of any evidence those activities actually help the environment or accomplish any of their purported goals. In fact, now that I think about it, Environmentalism is a heck of a lot less rational than a lot of actual religions I can think of. Iincluding my own, of course — we don’t eat pork, but we never claimed that refraining from pork “saves pigs,” in either the economic or theological sense of the word.
Anyway, now the Environmentalists are heading down the same road that proved to be a disastrous dead end for a Certain Other Religion — they are selling indulgences!
If you’re feeling guilty about driving your giant sport utility vehicle (but not so guilty that you’d ever give it up), salvation is at hand. For a yearly fee of around $80, a company called TerraPass will offset the damage your SUV does to the atmosphere by spending your money to reduce industrial carbon emissions and to promote the spread of clean energy. They’ll also send you a decal and a bumper sticker, so everyone in the neighborhood will know that your gas guzzler has been sanctified.
In other words, for $80 they will sell you a sticker which tells all your Environmentalist neighbors that you are a good Environmentalist even though you drive an SUV.
As Tyler points out, this could turn out to be a growth industry of sorts:
Of course we need not stop with SUVs. Have your life taped and recorded, and submit the results to certified third-party arbitrators (who, by the way, will safeguard your confidentiality). They will tell you how much of a cancer you have been to the body politic, and suggest offsetting charitable contributions.
Environmentalism is clearly at a lower stage of development than other religions, the last of which gave up selling indulgences about 450 years ago.
They are also being undercut. Randy Cassingham will sell you “Get Out of Hell Free” Cards at 10 for a dollar!
(No, Randy is not paying for this “ad.” Yes, I bought some of the cards. No, I haven’t had to use them. At least, not for their intended purpose. )