EarthSky // Interviews // Food Posted Nov 30, 2008

Neil Sampson on how carbon offsets could be boon to forest owners

Photo Credit: Retinol
Photo Credit: Retinol

The president of a forestry consulting firm talks about the market for carbon offsets – tradeable measures of a forest’s proven capacity to store carbon. Find out how it works.


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Neil Sampson: The opportunity to demonstrate and sell carbon offsets from improved forest management and from forest protection is just now beginning to be experimented with in the United States.

Neil Sampson is president of the Sampson Group, a forestry consulting firm. He’s talking about the market for carbon offsets – tradeable measures of a forest’s proven capacity to store carbon. Here’s how they work.

Neil Sampson: We can say how much carbon was added to wood stock in that forest. We convert it to the carbon dioxide equivalent, and that becomes what we take to market.

The market for these ‘carbon credits’ might grow if polluters become legally required to purchase them, to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions. If so, this could change the face of forests.

Neil Sampson: When we commit people to manage for carbon, they make sure they fill in those areas of forests which are underdeveloped. And people will plant additional forest.

That not only means healthier forests, but less development – and more income for landowners.

Neil Sampson: It might make the difference between keeping the forest and needing to sell it.

Our thanks today to the American Forest Foundation, leading the way in conservation and education.

Our thanks to:
Neil Sampson
President, Sampson Group
Alexandria, VA

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7 Responses to Neil Sampson on how carbon offsets could be boon to forest owners

  1. Benjamin Napier says:

    Simply a wealth transfer mechanism. We already have forests. Forestry companies are planting so as to stay ahead of demand. Carbon offsets are just a new environmental/socialist scam.

  2. Mary Holland says:

    This world has a delicate balance. How do we know that the forests are not taking care of their own carbon that is given off by the dying of forests life. Polluters need to be held responsible. This just gives them a license to pollute. The planting of trees and the maintenance of forests is a good thing but let’s keep polluters feet to the fire to CLEAN UP!

  3. Dave Barnes says:

    Boy, not such good responses. This is a tremendous opportunity for people who are “doing the right thing” to get some incentive/reward. As to one of the comments about “This just gives them a license to pollute”, I’m sorry, but we have met “them” and they are “us”. When you switch on your lights you are aiding and abetting CO2 pollution!

  4. Hank says:

    The precedence that traded carbon offsets creates will be the unleashing of policy monster that will take on a life of its own far beyond the beneficent purpose originally intended.

    All CO2 impact models are based solely on economic productivity. It is important to understand that carbon offset trading is, at its core, a banking system. The currency is economic productivity. Who determines the value of an economy, growth, and distribution of the economy’s currency? Who determines who is required to pay in and can take out? Herein lies the danger of creating such a political machine – it requires centralized control at a global level.

    When we discuss legally forcing polluters to purchase carbon offsets, we are opening the gates wide open to the creation of carbon taxes that will be paid by the loss of American productivity and economy while other chief polluters such as China and India get a free pass (as mandated in the Kyoto Protocol). In other words, carbon offset banking proposes to reduce U.S. generated CO2 (through imposing limits on the U.S. economy) by passing the rights to pollute to other industrializing nations who are not held to any limits or standards.

    I am in favor of policy that holds polluters accountable in a way that they can’t continue to pollute by buying passes (or given free credits and loans) and then deferring the cost to America and other environmentally responsible countries. Carbon offset trading fails miserably to accomplish anything in the way of genuine environmental improvements.

  5. Bruce says:

    I believe one of the primary goals for requiring polluters to purchase carbon offsets is to use the free market system to stimulation the development of new technologies that would reduce or elliminate carbon pollution. In this scenario, a pollutor would be driven, through capitalizm, to inovate so they would no longer need to purchase carbon offsets. Their technology breakthoughs could be sold to other pollutors who also desire to avoid purchasing carbon offsets. This, in-turn, could actually stimulate the economy as a whole new carbon clean-up industry develops.

    In the 1980’s and 90’s, new regulations imposed on wood products industries were enforsed to stop them from poluting the air when they burned their wastes (i.e. sawdust, slabs, bark, etc.) Initially, the industry complained bitterly about being regulated. Non-the-less, these regulations forced them to find markets for all of their wood wastes. Today, this industry is making a profit selling their bark to be used as mulch in the lawncare industry. They are now using their sawdust to fire dry kilns (instead of burning natural gas) and using it to fire cogeneration plants which produce electricity which they use or sell on the electrical grid, thus reducing the need to burn additional coal.

    World history is full of examples of where are industries have turned lemons into lemonade. I believe we should at least give carbon offsets a chance.

  6. Jay Mac says:

    Carbon offsets are a joke. As a scientific site, I can’t believe the majority of people believe that human activity is the cause of global warming. In the face of data on volcanic methane vents and other natural gas vents, as well as other natural sources of CO2, the fact that there has not been a globally warm year since 1998 (per the UN) and 2008 was the coldest global temperature year in decades, the religion of global warming caused by humans can not be questioned!! Such good followers we make…

    Scientifically, the contribution of humans to global warming is statistically insignificant, but it can be used to line the pockets of the doomsayers and fund academic grants!

  7. Michael says:

    We assume that human CO2 production, or reduction of CO2 “sinks” is both controllable and significant. Looking at the whole system, let’s see how quickly we can make a difference…

    - Using U.N. numbers for 2004 (the latest complete set I have), human industrial CO2 production was 2.725 *10^13 Kg. I’ll asume the U.N. did not include CO2 production from agriculture, and use’s figure that agriculture contributes an additional 9% (disregarding the possible inflation for a politial motivation). This would be an additional 2.452 *10^12 Kg. I’ll also assume that the U.N. did not include the effect of human respiration, which translates to 7.73 * 10^11 Kg. This adds up to a grand total of 3.047 *10^13 Kg produced by humans annually. That’s a really big number! We really have to do something about that!

    - Let’s look at a single “competitor” in the race for CO2 production, and only focus on respiration. I have seen this statement for a long time, and in a large number of resources. I have searched for arguments attempting to discredit it, and have found none (granted, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence)…The statement is essentially that “the total biomass of termites outweighs the total boimass of humans 10 to 1.” Lets follow that statement to conclusion. Thanks to a study in the Journal of Insect Physiology, termites produce 50mL CO2 per hour per gram of body weight. Unlike mammals, this number does not change according to age or activity level. Assuming an average human weighs 45Kg and the human population is 6.492 billion, termites produce 2.711 * 10^15 Kg CO2 per year.

    - Humans produce 3.047 * 10^13 Kg, and termites produce 2.711 * 10^15 Kg CO2 per year. I am astounded by our arrogance! We assume that we can control the global CO2 balance, while EVERYTHING we do only generates 1.12% as much as a single type of insect. Where do we REALLY fit into the grand scheme of the CO2 cycle if we include all animals, insects, bacteria and geology?

    - I believe that we need to be good stewards of this planet, but we need to do the right things and we need to do it intelligently. So far we’re doing some pretty stupid things in the hopes to fix what we can’t and couldn’t have broken in the first place. The United States smartly removed Mercury from nearly every aspect of our lives…It took almost 40 years, but we were winning…And then, in the name of saving the planet, we reversed course and reintroduced it through the CFL light bulb. We listened to doomsayers and didn’t stop to think about the unintended consequences.

    - Whether you believe this planet is the result of Darwinian “happy accidents,” or some form of “intelligent design,” we have to acknowledge that it is a miraculous creation. Its complexity really is beyond what our minds can grasp. We need to set aside our arrogance and focus on the things that really matter, and we can really accomplish. If we responded with thoughtful, rather than panicked actions, we would have rejected CFLs and invested in solid state (LED) lighting. We’d not have reintroduced mercury into every home in America, and would have sped up the evolution of a far superior technology, whose “green” effect will overshadow CFLs without the danger of a toxic chemical. Right now, LEDs for lighting beat every other technology as far as efficiency and functional life span, and the gap is widening every year. It is true that they are more expensive, but no industry has ever demonstrated the effectiveness of economy-through-scale better than the semiconductor industry.

    - In all of the discussions about “alternative energy,” where are the discussions of “alternative storage?” We can NEVER achieve more than 50% productivity from wind or solar power (sorry all, nature’s working against us and we can’t change that). IF we really create the massive wind and solar plantations that are being discussed, how are we going to handle the other 50% of the time (like night)? Are we going to sit in the dark, or be so stupid as to use Lithium-Ion batteries? The chemistry of Lithium-Ion batteries is horrific! Lead-Acid batteries aren’t any better (Lead and Sulfuric Acid)…

    - What about Hydrogen fuel cells? Are we all aware that Hydrogen has the ability to escape nearly any container and also leave the atmosphere? Is this the new weight-loss plan for the planet? How many decades until atmospheric shrinkage or excessive Oxygen saturation becomes a threat? When that happens, we can’t fix that from Earth! The asteroid belt has the closest possible source of Hydrogen, and we haven’t figured out how to make that work. In a freakish turn of events, CO2 could possibly be our salvation until we figure out how to ass Hydrogen to the atmosphere…High oxygen concentrations are dangerous to both sides of the Carbon Cycle (animals and plants) faster than high CO2 concentrations. CO2 is the easiest (non-toxic) way to bind up Oxygen until we can make more water…Let’s not forget the issues surrounding how our solar system binds Hydrogen off the Earth, such as ammonia and methane.

    - As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Nothing comes for free, and we need to ensure that the “unintended” consequences aren’t worse than the problem we’re trying to fix (the cure might be worse than the disease). Looking at our relative impact, it would appear that we have some time to listen to the “heretics.” It is a bald-faced lie to say that “the debate is over,” and those who make such statements are harming the cause. It is remarkable how a scientific theory to explain something as complex as the global climate is fact! This concept spits in the face of more than 2000 years of scientific progress. Our heads should all be spinning, considering that scientists are now hosting the Inquisition. I have to wonder what current (or probable future) power and money is at stake, which would result in such an about-face. What of the “unintended” consequences are actually intended, and why?