Carbon offsets have been compared to purchasing an indulgence (i.e., donating money to a church) to erase the stain of a sin.
We are all sinners in the carbon confessional, to the tune of about two metric tons of CO2 per person per month. The largest piece of greenhouse gas emissions U.S. citizens contribute to climate change is generated by from airplane travel. But many of our daily habits have a carbon footprint too: driving, using cell phones or AC, cooking, eating meat, using plastics and having the Amazon delivery truck stop at your house.
Climate change is a cancer of our biosphere. Of course, anyone with cancer would first want to know how to eliminate it, not just how to medicate it. So not flying, not driving, and eating local plant-based foods are the first line of attack on the carbon cancer.
The palliative medicine for the climate-changing cancer embedded in our lifestyle is carbon offsets. We can buy solar panels for India or biogas stoves for Kenya to reduce the carbon there to offset the emissions we’ve produced at home.
Soothing the moral urge to compensate for the pleasures and conveniences of our lifestyles is easy to calculate and simple to purchase offsets for. Projects around the globe are certified for effective use of funds to offset carbon. Terrapass.com has a simple calculator. Terrapass estimates the cost of one month of carbon offset for one U.S. person to be $15. GoldStandard.org, whose umbrella org is World Wildlife Fund, is a clearinghouse for certifying carbon offset projects.
The questions arise: Are offsets the right thing to do? Or will they breed complacency in reducing our carbon footprint? Will the money we give make a difference? Will the recipient of our fees actually spend our dollars in addition to what they were already doing? The concept of “additionality” is one measure in the certification process.
The International Air Travel Association (IATA) says that Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from planes by up to 80%. These fuels are currently used in less than 1% of flights. The transition to SAFs is at a snail's pace with a projection of only 2% by 2025. Thirty years is the projected timeline to achieve sustainable air travel. Interestingly, thirty years is about the lifespan of planes which airlines already own. Electric-powered planes are not expected until 2040 yet Tesla’s electric multi-axel semi trucks are already in production.
Good practice: Buy Certified Carbon Offsets to cover air travel.
Better practice: Buy offsets which are Gold Standard Certified to cover your personal carbon footprint of 2 metric tons of CO2 per month.
AND stick to striving for minimal carbon footprint in the choices that you make each day.
Best practice: Live more locally. Join Climate Scientists Who Don’t Fly. Don’t drive. Go vegan. Shun plastic. Ditch your cellphone. Hang clothes out to dry. Turn off the thermostat. Thank a tree. Plant a tree.
AND consider becoming net carbon negative by purchasing some offsets beyond your own carbon footprint.