carbon sin no more

Back in the medieval period, an adherent of the Catholic Church could absolve themselves of sins by purchasing indulgences.

Back in the medieval period, an adherent of the Catholic Church could absolve themselves of sins by purchasing indulgences.

The worse the sin, the more the sinner was encouraged to pay the Church.

In exchange, forgiveness was given by the now-wealthier religious body.

It is just pure coincidence that they happened to define what was and was not a sin, and the amount of the fine to be paid.

Of course the problem is that the sin has still been committed.

Paying a fine does not undo the sin.

All it does is ease the conscience.

The modern equivalent is paying a small fee for human-caused carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases emitted when a fossil fuel such as oil, natural gas or coal is consumed.

It is the main culprit behind human-induced climate change.

Paying a fee to offset or to compensate for carbon emissions is now the current rage among the environmentally trendy.

These fees can be paid in many forms, such as carbon offsets when flying to paying a carbon tax on fossil fuel purchases in British Columbia.

But what is a Yukoner to do when travelling within the territory by motor vehicle?

Should a person feel guilty about burning gasoline on a trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City, they can alleviate those feelings by purchasing environmental salvation.

This is what this particular columnist chose to do.

Due to work commitments, this columnist has to atone for two road trips to the former capital of the Yukon.

Given that there does not seem to be a government guide on this sort of thing, the following assumptions and calculations were used.

About 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide is released for every one litre of gasoline that is burned in a vehicle.

Assuming that about 100 litres of gas is used getting to and from Dawson, this causes about 230 kilograms of carbon dioxide to be released.

Most of the realistic carbon taxes are about $50 a ton.

This is what Norway and Sweden use, and if it is good enough for those fair northern countries, it should be good enough for the Yukon.

Doing the math, any return trip to Dawson would mean an $11.50-cent carbon dioxide sin surcharge.

But what to do with this money?

Since Dawson City was the destination, it was decided to give the funds to the Conservation Klondike Society.

This non-profit society operates the Dawson recycling facility.

Money to Conservation Klondike will help it recycle more.

This means less energy being consumed somewhere in the world to make products from raw resources.

This, in turn, eliminates fossil fuels from being consumed, and, in turn, this reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

It must be emphasized that there are many Yukon groups and businesses that directly and indirectly reduce and offset carbon emissions.

It is left to the reader to decide which to support.

Yes, paying a carbon offset or carbon tax does not negate the fact that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion was created.

The only true solution is to minimize the amount of fossil fuels being consumed.

But until such time as governments develop effective energy strategies, it is up to individuals to do what they can to ease their guilt carbon consciences.

Where possible Yukoners must reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Failing that, a few dollars to local Yukon groups that indirectly reduce these emissions will fill the role of the medieval indulgences.

To really be effective, it is up to government to implement carbon dioxide reduction strategies.

This should be the main focus of any energy strategy.

The Yukon government is inviting comments on its draft energy strategy. It is available on-line at

The deadline for comments is June 30th.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.

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