In East Africa, financially strained governments increasingly experiment with voluntary, market-based carbon offset schemes for enhancing the public management of protected areas. Often, conservationists and governments portray these as ‘triple-win’ solutions for climate change mitigation, biodiversity preservation, and local socioeconomic development. Examining such rhetoric, this paper analyses the rise and decline of an integrated carbon offset and conservation initiative at Mount Elgon National Park in eastern Uganda, involving a partnership between the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and a Dutch NGO, Face the Future. In doing so, the paper reveals the ways in which the uncompensated dispossession of local residents was a necessary precondition for the project’s implementation. Although external auditors expected the project to sequester 3.73 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) between 1994 and 2034, conflicts forced the scheme to cease reforestation in 2003. Noting this rapid decline, we problematize the ways in which Face the Future and other carbon market intermediaries represented their activities via project documents and websites, obscuring the violence that was necessary for the project’s implementation. In so doing, we argue that the maintenance of a ‘triple win’ spectacle is itself integral to the management of carbon sequestration projects, as it provides consumers with a form of ‘ethical’ use value, and greatly enhances the capacity of carbon market brokers to accumulate exchange value by attracting ‘green’ investors. Consequently, what we term a ‘spectacular failure’ manifests in at least two ways: first, in the unravelling of the heavily mediatized spectacle of harmonious, profitable conservation, and, second, in the deleterious nature of the consequences that accrue to local communities and ecosystems alike.