Killing Camels and the Business of Carbon Offsets

Last Updated Jun 14, 2011 2:23 PM EDT

Here in the United States, proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are often met with a feds-are-killing-the-economy stare. But in Australia -- a country anxious to shed the label of world's largest carbon emitter per capita -- companies are finding business opportunities. Like killing camels, for example.

Northwest Carbon recently submitted a novel proposal under Australia's proposed Carbon Farming Initiative to have camel culls approved as a legitimate method to reduce emissions. If approved, the camels would be shot by marksmen or corralled alive and transported to an abattoir for slaughter, where the meat could be used for pet food and possibly human consumption. Big industrial polluters would be able to buy carbon credits from Northwest Carbon to offset their emissions. Throw another camel ka-bob on the barbie!

Climate change's wild-west moment
It sounds ridiculous, and it ignores the big sources of pollution like emissions from coal-fired power plants. But this is the climate change industry's wild West moment. All schemes are welcome.

Northwest Carbon has cobbled together a business plan that satiates Australia's desire to cut emissions and solves its feral camel problem. In Australia, 1.2 million feral camels roam the outback and munch the landscape to the bitter nub. It's the messier conclusion to all of that foraging that has created the emissions problem. One camel emits about 99 pounds of methane into the atmosphere each year via burps and farts.

By 2020, feral camel flatulence is predicted to surpass 1.9 million metric tons of emissions in Australia. Northwest Carbon argues that killing the camels would reduce emissions and help combat climate change.

Carbon credits: a cash crop in the U.S.?
The U.S. lacks the same urgency to reduce emissions as its Down Under counterpart. And until Congress decides that climate change is real, there won't be an incentive to create a carbon offsets industry here. Still, the business of carbon offsets and "green" energy does exist. And most notably in the U.S. agriculture industry.

U.S. farmers are already being paid by the federal government to help solve our energy problems, although it's typically been directed at developing alternative fuel sources. Last year, the USDA kicked off the Biomass Crop Assistant Program, just one of several initiatives that will dole out more than $1.5 billion in assistance aimed at supporting the biofuels industry.

The Obama administration has even started a tiny carbon offsets program even though there are no cap-and-trade laws on the books and no chance in hell that Congress will take up the issue anytime soon. Granted, it's just a pilot project with 100 farms aimed at perfecting emission-cutting methods. But the administration is clearly planning for a day when a market for carbon offsets exists.

Photo from Flickr user Tambako, CC 2.0
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