I’ll be green so you don’t have to
Carbon offsets: guilt-free polluting or short-term solution?
Climate change is widely regarded as one of the most serious environmental threats facing the planet. As we transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, one way people are trying to make a difference in the short-term is through carbon offsets, a puzzling term that leaves many asking, “What are those?”
Carbon offsetting is the act of mitigating one’s own greenhouse gas emissions by paying someone else to help reduce emissions overall. For example, one ton of carbon dioxide, or CO2, is emitted when you travel 2,000 miles on an airplane. When you book a flight, many carriers now give you the option to donate to a renewable energy project to make up for your portion of greenhouse gasses that will be emitted during the flight. In contrast to emissions trading, which is done on a large scale by industrial corporations, carbon offsets are usually purchased by individuals or companies as a way to balance out certain “unavoidable” carbon releases in the course of doing business or traveling.
“Carbon offsets are definitely a worthwhile thing to do,” says Russ Cartwright, operations manager at Reno’s Independent Power Corporation. “It’s an important way to look at renewables. … Be sure to strongly consider your choices so you get the biggest return on your investment.”
What’s it matter?
CO2 is the No. 1 greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. When you use electricity, you produce CO2. While the average global citizen produces 4.5 tons of CO2 per year, the average U.S. citizen produces 21 tons of it.
Benefits of carbon offsets
Carbon offsetting increases the amount of energy produced from renewable sources and counteracts government subsidies to oil and gas companies. It provides much needed funds to renewable energy projects and emissions reduction technology, everything from reforestation in Nicaragua (The Carbon Fund, 240-293-2700) to wind turbines in Colorado (www.nativeenergy.com).
Drawbacks of carbon offsets
The U.S. market isn’t regulated, and fraud is possible. Some say that carbon offsets are just a way to ease the conscience while paying extra for something that should be avoided in the first place.
Read the well-researched “Clean Air Cool Planet Consumer’s Guide to Carbon Offsets” at www.cleanair-coolplanet.org. It says: “With dozens of providers in the carbon-offset retail market and more entering all the time, it is quite difficult for potential purchasers to understand what they are buying and what they should look for.” This guide will point you in the direction of the most reputable and effective providers. Each provider offers a variety of investment options, such as in education, energy efficiency, or sustainable development in local communities. The guide also supplies easy-to-use online calculators to estimate your own carbon footprint.