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Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

Media Matters

April 30, 2007

Tombers Muses on Carbon Credits and Indulgences…

Long ago, in that antediluvian age when I attended high school, I played the character of Tetzel in John Osborne’s play, LUTHER. Tetzel went around Europe raising money for the Pope by selling indulgences, a get out jail free card for sin. The blacker the sin, the richer the price. It was a clever way to raise money, encouraging sin and sinners while keeping the Pope in the lavish style to which he had become accustomed.

Tetzel was so good at selling indulgences, that he helped spur Luther into nailing his famous proclamation onto that church door, heralding the beginning of the Reformation.

It had been sometime since I had thought of good old Tetzel, who entered stage right, dragged by servants in a cart, spewing out four plus pages of monologue, extorting “the crowd” to pony up for indulgences to wash away their sins. It was my sister who reminded me of the character. A few columns ago I wrote about the green movement and that it had gotten quite a boost from Al Gore’s film, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. My sister responded, reminding me that George W. Bush lives in an ecologically friendly house in Texas while Mr. Gore lives in an enormous Nashville mansion that chews up energy at a very non ecological rate. I knew of this obvious embarrassment but did note the former Veep bought carbon credits to offset his polluting ways. She responded with the thought that carbon credits were probably the contemporary version of Tetzel’s indulgences. We commit our sins and buy our way out of them with money.

And, of course, it is true. Carbon credits are exactly that, contemporary indulgences which allow some of us to go on polluting the earth, guilt free. Recently the New York Times took up the subject, drawing the exact parallel my sister drew with those pre-Reformation indulgences. And it is the thing all the “cool” hip folks are doing according to all the cool hip magazines and newspapers.

With the world suddenly, ubiquitously promoting green causes [this month’s Vanity Fair is its second annual green issue, bio diesel is a rage and Nucor, the steel producer is taking out double truck ads to promote its steel recycling program] it is comforting to think we may be able to buy our way out from our consumption. A market is growing in carbon credits, so many dollars to pay to some cause that is doing something like planting trees or introducing algae into the oceans to offset our “sins,” the overuse of natural resources.

I am sure that some of these carbon credits are very like Tetzel’s offerings, not worth the paper they are printed upon while others probably do some good. There are ways to find this out, I’m sure. This is why God gave us Google, to find out things like this when we need to.

However, at the end of the day, it will not be enough to just pay off our sins without changing our ways. It is probable that all of us could cut our energy use by about a quarter by just being more careful – planning trips in our cars better, not wasting water [which, by the by, may become as scarce as oil so let’s not alienate our Canadian neighbors who have quite a lot of it], switching out incandescent bulbs for fluorescent ones. One can take little steps that are more concrete than writing a check to a carbon credit agency which may or may not be legitimate. Perhaps we can all plant an extra tree?

It is one of the interesting aspects of human nature – we often think we can buy our way out of the messes we help create. Unfortunately, there probably aren’t enough carbon credits working in the world to balance out all our SUV’s and other energy intense indulgences. We can do the carbon credits while we do more conservation also.

Carbon credits may or may not be worth the paper they are written on; you’ll have to do the investigating for legitimacy. However, as Luther taught us, Tetzel’s indulgences weren’t a get out of jail free card, only another symptom of something deeply wrong.