"We're going to be rich," Uncle Spud giggled as he waved a piece of paper under my nose. "I've got it all figured out."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"I'm going to start calculating people's impact on the environment and selling them credits to offset the damage they do when they go hiking," he said.
"You're out of your mind."
"Oh no," he insisted, "People are already doing this stuff and some people are making a lot of money at it. Haven't you calculated your carbon footprint and paid to offset the damage you do to the environment?"
"Breathe deep and concentrate," I told him, "you're having hallucinations."
"Not even," he said. "Al Gore told us all about this stuff and he's the smartest man alive. Sort of a modern Sir Isaac Newton in an earth-tone shirt and jeans. He invented the Internet and everything. I did like he said and calculated my carbon footprint. I'm a size 13. Because of the gas and electricity I use, I put about 12.27 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year where it causes global warming."
"I thought a carbon footprint was something our football team did to the opposition," I said.
"That too," he smiled, "But your environmental carbon footprint is derived from a formula you find on the internet to figure out how bad you screw up the planet. Just type in carbon footprint or carbon offsets and do a Google search to learn all about it. It's real easy."
"And what do I do when I know what my carbon footprint is?" I asked.
"You pay someone money to ease your conscience and make you feel better," he said. "It's called purchasing carbon offsets. You buy one unit of offsets for each ton of CO2 you put in the air. My 13 tons of pollution will cost me about $200 per year."
"And who gets the money when I buy carbon offsets?" I asked.
"There are lots of companies out there happy to take your money and give you a carbon offset," he said. "What they do is give you a certificate saying you're a good person and then they take your money and plant trees or invest in clean energy sources like wind and solar power projects. Or sometimes they just do clean energy research and advertising. And for just a few bucks extra, they'll plant a tree in someone else's name and send them a card telling them what a nice green person you are."
"And who regulates all of this and makes sure where my money goes?" I asked.
"So far, everyone is on the honor system," Spud smiled. "That's the beauty of it. And that's why we've got to get in right away before this whole scam falls apart."
"You think this is a scam?"
"Do daddy pigs bring home the bacon?" Spud giggled. "Way back in the dark ages there was a thing called 'the selling of indulgences.' How it worked was that you could give money to your clergyman instead of repenting of your sins. For a few bucks you could ease your conscience without ever changing your behavior. No churches do that nowadays. It was a religious scam. Carbon offsets are an environmental scam."
"Do you really think so?"
"It's a modern-day selling of indulgences," Spud smiled. "Rich people buy carbon offsets to ease their conscience about their energy wasting lifestyles, you know, the multiple mansions, fleets of cars, private jets, and heated swimming pools. The money spent is penitence for environmental sins. And once they've paid the money, they don't feel a need to repent and change their lifestyle. They've bought ecological salvation."
"It is a scam!" I gasped. "Who'd a thunk?"
"So here's what we're going to do," he whispered slyly. "We're going to devise a formula for backpackers so we can calculate their wilderness footprint. Then we will sell them wilderness offsets to make them feel better about the damage they do while hiking. We'll use the money to go on fact-finding tours to places like Hawaii where we'll study responsible wilderness hiking. We'll make millions and have lots of fun."
"Do you really think people will buy into this scam?"
"It works for Al Gore and his friends who have invested heavily in a variety of green industries that sell indulgences Ã¯Â¿Â½ ah, I mean carbon offsets. I'm telling you, he's the smartest man alive."