Offsets is often used to describe a purchase of a carbon credit by an individual or company that wishes to neutralise or ‘offset’ their carbon footprint. A key driver of the carbon market which nationally and globally aims to drive down greenhouse gas pollution to safe levels, the purchase of offsets has been beset by confusion and disdain. Artists have jumped into the debate, grappling with the rich layers of political and philosophical issues that arise in using markets and appealing to morals at the same time.
Public Smog is a conceptual work by artist Amy Balkin, which seeks to challenge the wisdom of carbon trading (and the trading of other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide). By purchasing these credits and presenting them as a public park in the air, Balkin confronts the economic notion of clean air as a public commons and the use of property rights to solve problems of air pollution. The work points to the difficulties inherent in communicating and addressing the issue of emissions reduction, and serves as a stimulating departure point for inter-disciplinary debate.
Natural Fuse is city-wide network of units each consisting of a plant, an electrical device (a lamp or radio), a plug, a fuse and water bottles. Designed by artist Usman Haque, the self-sustinaning network of units acts as a very tangible and didactic means for exploring our impact on the global environment in a local way. The units, given to individual householders, are are connected to each other via sensors and a web-based platform. The plants’ individual and collective survival depends on the actions of the set of owners in the way they use the electrical devices that are connected to them. A little like a carbon-trading scheme in reverse, the ability of the network of plants to store carbon is the limiting factor on the extent to which the energy consuming devices, for example, can be switched on. Interestingly, users can also opt to be selfish by continuing to use the device beyond the carrying capacity of the system. If they do so, however, they will kill someone else’s plant. An intricate lesson in science and morality, Usman’s work is still actively employed by a few selfless survivors in New York, USA, San Sebastien, Spain and Sydney, Australia.
World Offset is the work of American eco-visualisation artist Tiffany Holmes, and presents itself much like a campaigning website where people pledge different actions to reduce their carbon footprint. As more pledges are made the graphic above changes, so that at certain thresholds appliances are replaced by trees. Holmes is trying to present both the futility and necessity of our small actions, and the work is itself a statement against offsetting – preferring action to purchasing emissions reductions elsewhere.