Saving the earth through the free market

What if I told you there was a viable, free-market-based approach to saving the earth?

Here’s how we do it: by selling carbon offset credits in the cap-and-trade market.

Since 1898, Berea College has maintained a forest along the borders of Madison, Jackson and Rockcastle counties. Today, this forest stretches to nearly 9,000 acres. Over the years, the forest has provided wood for our student crafts program and construction projects, clean water and recreation for the community.

Now, as of just this year, our forest has begun producing additional revenue just by doing what it does naturally, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The carbon it absorbs is sold in the form of credits to businesses with regulated carbon emissions. In California, for example, industries are limited in the amount of carbon they can release into the air. If they produce less than the limit, they can sell the difference to other businesses that are struggling to maintain these limits. The result has been an overall reduction in carbon emissions and a way to generate revenue.

Some people call this “free-market environmentalism.” And we are taking advantage of this market as well by maintaining our forested land. Since 2015, Berea College has sold carbon credits in the California carbon offset market. Berea College was the first college in the nation and the first forest east of the Mississippi to participate.

Deforestation is the second leading cause of carbon pollution, causing 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of cutting down forests for farms or real estate development, forest owners around the world can make money by keeping their trees, providing environmental benefits at the same time. In addition to income, participation in the credit offset market produces jobs, because the forests need to be intelligently maintained, rather than mindlessly clear-cut.

Entering the carbon offset market is a long-term investment. Trees are “carbon stocks” that increase in value over time, and landowners are asked to commit to maintain their forest for 100 years, though there are shorter term options. Landowners must also commit to annual monitoring and compliance verification. Insurance is available to cover unintentional losses, through fire, for example.

Because of our commitment to an environmentally sustainable future and to serving and working with Appalachian families, Berea College was thrilled to discover this opportunity. Our hope is that other forest owners will join us in this free-market environmental effort to combat climate change.