Recently I attended a forum on the possibility for local growers to sell agricultural carbon offsets to the Chicago Climate Exchange. Besides the possiblility of extra income, cabon credits would encourage the use of no-till, which preserves the soil structure, reduces runoff and water pollution, and improves biodiversity within the soil. Reduced tillage practices also imply a decrease in fossil fuel use ( it takes much less fuel to no-till corn than to run plows and harrows through the soil). Another environmental benefit of no till is that it favors the use of biotech crops that have superior environmental benefits. Crops resistant to glyphosate herbicide, and those that express the Bt insecticide trait are ideal in no-till situations, and require the use of fewer or no toxic chemicals.
Carbon credits represent a serious approach to climate change policy. As renowned climate economist William Nordhaus states in his review of the Stern Review on Climate Change “proposals resulting in increased fuel efficiency for cars, requiring high efficiency light bulbs, subsidizing solar and wind power ..are largely fluff.” Fuel economy standards can actually have lethal side effects. The National Academy of Sciences 2001 report on CAFE standards estimates that the lethal impact of CAFE related changes in automobile designs resulted in the loss of 1300-2600 lives per year.
Carbon credits effectivly put a price on carbon, which sends a signal to consumers about their ‘carbon footprint.’ Higher carbon prices would provide the incentives for the type of technological change necessary for dealing with climate change.