(CNSNews.com) - Al Gore is not profiting from his crusade against global warming, a spokesman for an investment firm co-founded by the former vice president said Tuesday.
Gore's London-based employee-owned company, Generation Investment Management (GIM), purchases -- but isn't a provider of -- carbon dioxide (CO2) "offsets," said spokesman Richard Campbell.
GIM is strictly an investment firm that considers how eco-friendly corporations are in assessing long-term sustainability, Campbell told Cybercast News Service by phone from London.
After Gore came under fire last week for high energy consumption in his Tennessee mansion, one explanation offered by his defenders was that he pays for carbon offsets.
The Tennessean newspaper then reported that Gore's company invests in projects to reduce energy consumption around the world, sparking accusations in other media outlets that Gore is making money off global warming by essentially paying himself for the "offsets."
(Climate campaigners have established a procedure which allows an individual, business or institution responsible for high levels of CO2 emissions to buy "offsets." They pay a levy that will go towards renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power or for planting trees - so-called "carbon sinks" that remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Thus, according to advocates, high energy users can be considered "carbon neutral," because they are making up for the amount of CO2 they produce by funding eco-friendly projects elsewhere.)
"That's a serious accusation of illegal activity," Campbell said Tuesday of the profiteering allegations.
"We do not invest in any activity of carbon offset. That's nonsense. We are a fund management business that does sustainability research," he added.
The confusion, Campbell said, arose because GIM pays to offset the energy use of its operations and the personal emissions of its 23 employees, including Gore.
So, the firm will cover the cost to offset the energy use at Gore's home, or his global jet travel, as it would the offset cost of any other employee, Campbell said.
GIM, which Gore started with former Goldman Sachs executive David Blood in 2004, uses the Chicago Climate Exchange and the British-based Carbon Neutral Company to cover the high energy use of GIM and its employees.
Just how lucrative the company is for Gore is unclear.
"Mr. Gore, as a private citizen, does not release his private income," Gore spokesman Kalee Kreider told Cybercast News Service in an e-mail response to questions about how much Gore makes from the company. Media inquiries to Gore's office must be put in writing.
The fact that Gore's Nashville home runs up electricity bills averaging $1,200 per month was publicized last week by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.
"If the issue is that severe that he fears for his children and grandchildren, he should get his own house in order as far as energy use," the think tank's president, Drew Johnson, told Cybercast News Service.
"I question someone more when he has so much to gain politically and financially by using scare tactics," he said.
'Shaming others into living differently'
Critics question the validity of offsetting emissions, in part because the system doesn't require those wealthy enough to afford offsets to conserve anything.
"I question if offsets are real or a way to get a certificate you can frame that says 'I'm a virtuous person,'" Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), told Cybercast News Service.
"This really is a class thing. Other than the rich, no one else can buy offsets."
Ebell said this means people like Gore "can continue to live exactly the way they want and shame others into living differently."
The conservative CEI has been a leading skeptic of the notion that human activity is causing global warming. But Ebell said that if Gore believes in it, he should act more like a leader.
"A leader leads by example," Ebell said. "A general doesn't pay someone else to lead the charge."
It can be difficult to know to what extent such offsets really work, said Ben Dunham, staff attorney for the liberal U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
"These personal offset companies really do invest in projects somewhere in the world," Dunham told Cybercast News Service. "The problem is you can never be sure a project wouldn't happen anyway regardless of the contribution."
Ted Dodge, executive director of the National Carbon Offsets Coalition, said advocates of this offset industry agree about the need to impose more regulations.
Currently, industry standards are set by the Chicago Climate Exchange - the only carbon offset firm in North America, Dodge said.
"This is not the answer to global climate change, but it's part of the answer," Dodge said.
"These are real offsets. This is a bridge to the future. It's not a real option to shut out fossil fuels now," he added.
The president of GIM's U.S. operation is Peter S. Knight, who served as Gore's chief of staff in the U.S. Senate and later as campaign manager for the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign in 1996.
Knight is a controversial figure. In 1999, Republicans on the House Commerce Committee asked then U.S. Attorney Janet Reno to investigate whether a $1 million payment to Knight from a Tennessee developer was an illegal contingency fee for helping get the Federal Communications Commission to move to the development.
Knight and the developer, Franklin Haney, said the payment was for legal fees for Knight's work on several projects. Reno declined to investigate.
Knight is traveling this week and isn't available for an interview, according to the Washington office of Generation Investment Management.
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