What is a carbon offset?
A carbon offset is an investment in a renewable energy project that offsets the carbon emissions you create in your day to day life. For example, you are taking a vacation to Europe, so you book an international flight. Flying is particularly heinous when it comes to carbon emissions. Flying on an international flight can produce more carbon emissions than all your other activities for a year. Before you leave (or at the airport) you decide to buy a carbon offset i.e., invest in a carbon reducing project like solar or wind or tree planting etc. How is that done? You can contribute directly to projects you know are worthy or use third party online websites and retailers that do that for you. We list a few at the end of this article.
Is it worth it?
A review of opinion on carbon offsets reveals that most believe they are worth purchasing with a couple of caveats. Make sure that the organization you are buying from is legitimate and that their projects are ones you want to invest in. Also, make sure the project needs the money and that your contribution will actually increase the reduction of emissions of that project. Today there are several agencies and organizations that monitor, evaluate and certify renewable energy projects and third-party carbon offset retailers. Here are a few; Climate Action Reserve, Green-e.org, Gold Standard. Verified Carbon Standard You can also read reviews by journalistic sources like the New York Times or Politico that have examined the credibility of these organizations.
However, buying carbon offsets does not release an individual from his or her responsibility to be a steward of the earth. In other words, it doesn’t mean you can drive a monster pickup truck or Hummer because you give money to someone to plant trees. A carbon offset was not designed to be a guilt reduction tool.
I take that back. No one is a saint here. If you do own a monster pickup then, by all means, go buy carbon offsets for it. It would help and put you in touch with the carbon the thing coughs up.
So, let’s go buy a carbon offset.
I used Terrapass.com. Judy and I are going to Phoenix for Spring Training in March. We bought a round trip ticket and together we are producing 3,700 Lbs. of carbon. (We know that because TerraPass computes it for you.) We will offset that by making a contribution to the projects supported by TerraPass. Here we go.
1. Type in Terrapass.com
2. Click on the carbon calculator tab on the left side of the page
3. Click on individual calculator
3. Click on the airplane logo
4. Put in the destination for round trip (Milwaukee to Phoenix round trip) and then click 'next' on the bottom. You will see the cost of the offset on the right side of the page along with the lbs of CO2 your flight will use to get you to Phoenix.
5. If there are two of you going click "+another flight", repeat the flight information and then click next.
6. You will see that we need to buy $18.81 worth of offsets. Now click 'buy offsets' and give them your credit card.
Done. You've just saved the environment and all its creatures (including us). You can also offset your car, your home or your waste disposal in this manner. For that matter, TerraPass gives you any number of ways to purchase carbon offsets.
Where does the money go?
In the case of TerraPass you can go read about their projects on their website. If you prefer to contribute to projects other than theirs, you can try another carbon offset retailer. There you have it. Not all that expensive. It would be better, of course, if we hadn’t flown at all.
You are now a carbon offset expert. Here are a couple of places you can buy them but there are many more. Do your homework.