Sunday, November 4, 2007

Carbon Offsets Skeptics

I just got back from a trip to New York City from San Francisco and purchased carbon offset for my flight.

Here's how it works:

My round-trip flight contributed 3170 lbs. of CO2 to the atmosphere. The $34.55 carbon offsets I just purchased buy wind-generated electricity, which replaces electricity that would have emitted 3,170 lbs. of CO2 to produce. The wind-generated electricity company is only allowed to sell carbon offsets for that clean electricity once, and they are the only ones allowed to sell it. Otherwise it doesn't work.

Pretty confusing, huh? No wonder people tend to be skeptical about Carbon Offsets. My skeptical friends used to just frustrate and annoy me. But then I thought, maybe I can learn something from their reaction. Maybe there is a better way to describe Carbon Offsets that make them more intuitive and less "scary."

Here is my suggestion:

One day, I was thinking about the efficiency measures I’ve taken in my own home, and wondering what I could do next. I realized that I’ve addressed all the low-hanging fruit, and at this point, the investment of resources is big compared to the CO2 savings to be gained.

Then I thought of my friend, who lives in a poorly insulated, drafty house. I could save more CO2 by paying to insulate and seal her house than I could by spending the same amount of money on the next project in my house (never mind how socially awkward that would be!).

That is the concept behind carbon offsets.


After you’ve reduced your CO2 emissions as much as you can or are willing to do, you buy carbon offsets so that other people can reduce CO2 emissions. The bigger the pool of CO2-reducing projects to choose from, the more CO2 you can reduce with the same amount of money.

Of course, you have to trust the organization that distributes the funds to make good choices and not cheat (sell the same offsets more than once). Many of the large environmental groups certify offset providers, which gives you confidence that your money will be wisely spent on real offsets.


Try this on the next skeptic you run across and tell me if it works!

4 comments:

TheCunningRunt said...

Brilliant, Karen! Despite being a committed Greenhead, I never could wrap myself around the "offset" concept. Guess I just hadn't heard such a succinct analogy before!

Karen said...

Yay! I'm glad it worked for you!

Leslie said...

Great explanation. Do you recommend any specific group? There are quite a few offering carbon offsets and I am never sure which is best.

Karen said...

Here's a great review of 5 offset providers.

Reader beware: don't despair as you read through the beginning of the article which explains in detail the ways in which offsets can "go bad" (be sold twice, be sold for projects that would happen anyway, etc).

http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2006/10/10/gies/