Luther and Carbon Credits

Last month marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. A Catholic Priest in Germany, Martin Luther, was critical of some policies of the Pope and wanted to start a discussion amongst his colleagues and the church in Rome. He had a list of 95 points that he hoped would start the discussion.

As was the custom in his day, Luther nailed this paper to the door of his church, which acted as sort of a bulletin board for all kinds of different announcements. They became known as “The Ninety-Five Theses“.

One church practice he was particularly upset with was called “indulgences”. Normally, in the Catholic church, one could confess his sins to a priest, and the priest would tell the person how to make himself right with God. Many times, this involves time spent in prayer or chanting certain phrases a number of times.

Confession as a means to absolution is supposed to be humbling and to remind the person that he is a sinner.

In 1515, Pope Leo X wanted to build his St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In order to finance it, he came up with the idea of selling absolution for cash rather than having the sinners be burdened by the need for inner reflection and humility before God.

These so-called “indulgences” were quite the hit, as they could be applied to almost any sin, including adultery and theft.

Soon, the church came up with an even more useful service. This was a type of indulgence that you could buy before you even sinned. In the case, for example, when you knew you could be getting in trouble during next Saturday night’s date. You’d buy these indulgences-in-advance to absolve yourself of sin before the fact.

The concept here is ingenious: First, create a service out of whole cloth (absolution) and require that people use the service. Finally, offer your mark a new service to monetize the first.

It was such a good idea, in fact, that half a millennium later the model is being replicated.

In this latest incarnation, the new priests are Al Gore and friends, the religion is the belief in man-made global warming, and the new indulgences are called “carbon credits”. The words are new, but it’s the same scam.

On a personal level, it works like this: If you fly in an airplane, the “priests” of climate change tell you that you should feel guilty contributing to the destruction of the planet. But they can offer you some absolution for your sin. They are called “carbon offsets”, and you can calculate the amount and pay for them online. Genius.

No need for feeling guilty when you get on that plane. Plus, you can claim moral superiority over the other sinners on the plane.

I think this is just an ingenious way to turn guilt into cash. It’s taken almost half a century of near-constant indoctrination to get the people believing in these myths, but their determination has really paid off. Al Gore and friends are finally profiting off of their hard work. They’ll get that cathedral built in no time.

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