When I was at school we learned about the mediaeval Christian practice of selling ’indulgences’. A sinner could partake of divine grace by paying a priest. This became a major source of income for some, and the practice degenerated into commerce.
Today some companies and individuals pay money for ’climate compensation’, to make up for their ’green sins’. Or they ’invest’ in social responsibility by enabling employees to do good work in their local community – possibly instead of eliminating social malpractice from their production or supply chain.
Is this a great idea to generate money for the climate-compensating organizations, so that they can plant more trees or invest more in energy saving? To have paid employees do good work in their communities? Or is it an invitation to ’sin’ more, as long as you can afford to pay?
Not a black-and-white case, in my opinion. The closest I come to a working principle is that these kinds of indulgences should be a complement to responsible daily practice, not a substitute: the most important thing is to do everything possible to establish more sustainable and responsible practices in your company or your lifestyle.
And by the way: that expression ’climate compensation’… also has a false connotation. It implies that if I only compensate for all my current ’sins’, that’s enough. It is not enough, because we have already collectively accumulated a huge debt. What we need, to secure a habitable future planet, is not compensation but active regeneration. Regeneration of our natural resource base, our social and human capital, and our antiquated and inappropriate economic systems.
Difficult? Well, I recall a quotation from an English lord, asked on his birthday how it felt to reach the age of 93. “Quite good really,” he said. “At least if you consider the alternative.” Let’s forget indulgence and focus on regeneration!