Offsets or ecosystem services?

In the United States, the current carbon market at the Chicago Climate Exchange buys offsets or "pollution credits" as some have called them. The amount of carbon sequestration purchased is directly related to emissions of carbon into the atmosphere by industries, for example. As the trading price of carbon offsets increases, presumably emissions will go down, but then so will the purchase of offsets.

The "pollution paradigm" of climate change limits the opportunities for addressing or solving the issue, in part because fossil fuel emissions make up such a small fraction of the annual flux of CO2 into the atmosphere (less than 3%). But if we look at the whole carbon cycle, the opportunities open up. In this view, carbon storage as organic matter in soil is a valuable ecosystem service to society at every political scale, from sub-watershed to municipality to region, nation, and world. Since we need such services not just once, but on an ongoing basis, the way to integrate such ecosystem services into our various economies is through ongoing rental.

Various conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, have demonstrated the rental concept. However, if yearly payments could be made on the basis of measured soil organic matter, rather than merely the withdrawal of the land for economic use, we would see much more wildlife habitat created, more grassfed beef raised, better water quality, a more secure income for landowners based on stewardship, and perhaps less conversion to monocrop grain production.