Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

William R. Travis

Second Advisor

Max Boykoff

Third Advisor

Lisa Dilling

Fourth Advisor

Gregory Simon

Fifth Advisor

Thomas Veblen


This dissertation examines how forests get absorbed into carbon markets, and climate change mitigation schemes broadly. It asks: How is a forest carbon offset made? What are the specific political, technical, institutional, environmental, and policy-based factors that contribute to the creation of a tradable carbon offset credit? The research opens the black box of ‘carbon offsets’ by asking how, and by whom, such offsets are made. It explores the dichotomy of how a mechanism designed to mitigate climate change works as an administrative tool, verses how, and if, it works to physically address atmospheric carbon concentrations. To answer these questions data was collected in three research phases: 1) Through expert interviews at professional conferences around the world, including the United Nations, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Red Cross, etc.; 2) Via field research at multiple forest carbon projects, including the Farm Cove Community Forest in Maine, and the Alto Mayo Protected Forest in Peru; and 3) Via participant observation in professional carbon accounting training courses through Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. The results of this study indicate that developing and managing forest carbon offsets requires such intense administrative processes that the related conservation is often too far removed to accurately quantify its impacts on atmospheric carbon pollution. Forest carbon offsets do, however, serve a number of needs unique to individual stakeholders, including facilitating flows of conservation finance, balancing administrative carbon budgets, and re-envisioning financialized forest management amid a collapsing pulp and paper industry in the US.