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Carbon offsets are becoming an increasingly popular way for individuals and businesses to participate in solutions to Global Warming. The basic idea of a carbon offset is to figure out your personal contribution level to the global warming problem from such activities as driving, flying, or home energy use. This contribution is called a "carbon footprint." This term is named after carbon dioxide, the principal Greenhouse gases. You can aim to balance out your carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets. The offset purchase funds reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through projects such as wind farms, which produce clean energy. As more clean energy is produced, this displaces energy being created from fossil fuels. By funding these reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, you balance out, or offset, your own impact by an equivalent amount. Carbon offsets help you to take personal responsibility for the environmental consequences of your activities.
- Identify sources of carbon dioxide production in your daily life. For most people, one of main sources of carbon dioxide emissions is driving. Cars and trucks are responsible for 25% of all U.S. carbon emissions. In addition to your transportation emissions, other sources of carbon emissions include your household energy use, products that need to be shipped long distances, and air travel.
- Reduce Your carbon footprint directly as much as you can through conservation. Conservation is easier than you think, and often pays for itself through energy savings:
- Calculate your “carbon footprint,” the sum of carbon emissions from all your carbon-producing activities. The method of calculation depends on the activity. For example, if you know the average MPG of your car and have a rough idea of how many miles a year you drive, you can figure this out yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of online calculators that make it even simpler. See sources and citations below for examples. There are significant variations in the way these calculators work so it is worth spending a little time to investigate the methodology used in each case to find which one is right for you.
- Understand how offsetting works. The growing industry of offset providers promises to balance out your carbon impact by ensuring that somewhere else on the planet, an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide is going to be reduced as a result of your offset. Generally speaking, except in the case of reforestation projects, which actually reduce emissions currently in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide isn't literally removed from the atmosphere; rather emissions of new carbon dioxide are prevented. In either case, the environmental benefit is the same. Different offset providers have different ways of reducing carbon. Furthermore, the projects they sponsor for carbon reduction can pop up anywhere on the planet, from methane reprocessing in Minnesota to wind farms in India.
- Find a quality provider of carbon offsets. Because carbon offsets are fairly intangible, you need to take precautions to ensure that your purchase is actually having the intended impact. Here are some issues to look out for:
- Are the projects certified and verified by third-parties? This ensures the offset projects meet stringent requirements and are backed by reputable third-parties. A variety of excellent standards exist including the Clean Development Mechanism, Green-e Climate, Environmental Resources Trust, Voluntary Carbon Standard, WWF CDM Gold Standard, Chicago Climate Exchange, Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard.
- Is the offset provider's portfolio audited? Like a financial audit, this ensures your money was used for the purposes you designated.
- Comparison sites such as Carbon Catalog and EcoBusinessLinks can make it much easier to evaluate the options available.
- Buy the offset! Most offset providers sell through the Internet, so you’ll be able to buy with a credit card and get confirmation of your new clean-living, clean-driving status within minutes.
- Seeking a quality carbon offset? A quality offset is determined by the third-party certification backing it. There are several standards to look out for including the Voluntary Carbon Standard, VER+, WWF Gold Standard, Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard, Green-e, Environmental Resources Trust. It is also now possible to buy Certified Emission Reduction (CERs) from certain retailers. These are offsets derived from projects which are approved and monitored under the United Nation's Clean Development Mechanism. Buying offsets with these certifications helps to ensure your offset is real, verified, additional, and meet the most rigorous standards and are backed by leading organizations. Beware of any offset that does not meet any standard at all.
- After certification, look for price to maximize your impact, project types (renewables, reforestation, etc.), locations (US, international), for-profit vs. non-profit, and other social, community and environmental project benefits.
- Should I support tree planting projects? While some experts dislike tree planting projects, climate scientists know that deforestation is responsible for about 25% of global climate change, making reforestation and avoided deforestation critical parts of the solution to climate change. Organizations like the California Climate Action Registry, Voluntary Carbon Standard, Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance, Environmental Resources Trust, Green-e Climate, US Department of Energy, and UN Kyoto Protocol, the world's foremost authority on climate change, all support carbon reductions from tree planting projects.
- Airplanes contribute 3% of global carbon emissions, and that number is rising every year. Online travel agencies such as Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia and airlines like British Airways, Virgin and Continental now offer the opportunity to purchase an offset when you buy your flight tickets.
- Tell your friends about what you’ve done and encourage them to think about doing the same.