Carbon credits: indulgence or commutation fee?

The ability of wealthy individuals like Al Gore to purchase what amounts to rights to pollute by buying carbon credits is a repulsive moral dodge, demanding us to consider useful analogies. One comparison that has occurred to many is the sale of Papal Indulgences that so infuriated Martin Luther. Taxprof picked up on this analgy in commenting on the "get out of jail free" card for pollution guilt that was part of the gift bag given to all Academy Awards presenters.

This year's Oscar goodie bag contained gift certificates representing 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gas reductions from TerraPass, which describes itself as a "carbon offset retailer." The 100,000 pounds "are enough to balance out an average year in the life of an Academy Award presenter," a press release from TerraPass asserts. "For example, 100,000 pounds is the total amount of carbon dioxide created by 20,000 miles of driving, 40,000 miles on commercial airlines, 20 hours in a private jet and a large house in Los Angeles. The greenhouse gas reductions will be accomplished through TerraPass' [program] of verified wind energy, cow power [collecting methane from manure] and efficiency projects." Voila, guilt-free consumption! It reminds us of the era when rich Catholics paid the church for "dispensations" that would shorten their terms in Purgatory." [hat tips: Instapundit, Clarice Feldman]
But I think there is another good analogy, much closer to hand, both geographically and temporally.

During the Civil War, it was possible for well-to-do men who were drafted to pay a $300 "commutation fee" and escape the draft. The move sparked much public outrage, creating the impression that the war was a "rich man's war" and probably contributing to the disgraceful draft riots in New York City, which led to the lynching of African Americans.

It seems to me that the purchase of carbon credits is a direct imitation of commutation fee. I don't expect to see SUV-deprived soccer moms lunching the wealthy outside of fixed base operator terminals at haunts of private jet-setters like Teterboro and Santa Monica Airports,  but I do expect public revulsion to rise and rise, as sacrifices demanded of ordinary people are evaded by the wealthy. The war on global warming seems very much a "rich man's war."

Everyone who preens about personal enlightenment by virtue of a "position" on global warming should sign a green pledge to reduce actual personal carbon emissions, not just pay a commutation fee in the form of carbon credits.  Anyone who emits more CO2 than the average citizen does should be subject to relentless ridicule. They can no more claim virtue than could Civil War-era draft evaders who paid their $300 bucks claim moral parity with wounded veterans.