Posts Tagged 'offsets'

Carbon Offsets: Theory

Yeah, finally- I fly out in four days  (:D!).

Ahem.  Today, theories of offsetting carbon- what counts?  Do you have to buy ‘offsets’ specifically? Why not just donate to environmental projects and call it a day?  How does one decide how much to give?  What do you mean by ‘offset’ anyway?

Think it might help to answer my last question first.  A carbon offset is a financial transaction where you pay some person money to do something that will cancel out the “extra” carbon you’re creating by doing what it is you want to do.  So the total amount of greenhouse gases released in the world doesn’t go up at all when you do that thing you want to do.  It only really works, though, if by paying someone an offset, you reduce ghg emissions that wouldn’t have been reduced without that payment.  Your payment should spur new emissions reductions.  Wikipedia has some more information here.

So, ok, in order to really offset emissions, you have to figure out how much you’re emitting by doing a thing, then you have to find someone to pay some money to, to remove that amount of emissions from the earth.  Plenty of companies will take your money for this, and there are plenty of projects out there that claim to offset your emissions based on donations.  But they don’t all actually work.  Business Week enumerated some examples of shady deals in 2007.  There are third-party verifications of offsets out there, but they’re not always accurate- even the Kyoto Protocol’s standards, CDMs, seem to have funded some sketchy projects in hindsight.  If you pick a project or just pay an offset broker, do your homework.  That’s why they invented the internet.  Double check everything.

For what it’s worth, No Impact Man, who’s wrestled with this much longer than I have, likes E+Co offsetting projects.

Right, so, it’s simple to find someone who will tell you how much money to give them to maybe, possibly, make your carbon go away.   It’s slightly harder to double-check them.  But that definition of “offset” is clearly too easy, and maybe you weren’t bored by this post yet.   Let us mull other things.

When I first blogged my offsetting intentions, intrepid commenter bullmooser suggested I look into ways to fund projects that would not just offset ghg emissions, but look to find ways to make flying more sustainable in the first place.  Fund research for electric planes or magic baggies to put over engines to capture the emssions or something.  I really like that idea, but it’s certainly harder to verify that your contribution did the equivalent of ‘offsetting’ that way, especially since it will take at least years for the technologies to come to fruition.

And what if you just used the money to start a vegetable garden instead, and home-farmed your way to lower emissions?  Again, less third-party checking on that, but it would help out, and make your life more sustainable in more ways than just emissions.  You’re going to have to grow a lot of tomatoes before it starts technically canceling out a flight, though.  Plus, just like brokered offsets don’t count unless the payment has specifically triggered greater ghg reductions, for personal offsetting, you’d want to start a new ‘project’ in response to emissions-heavy plans you’ve made.  My personal offsetting would be going vegetarian for a bit, then.

With a personal offsetting project like one of those, the necessary lifestyle changes force one to directly acknowledge the consequences of an emissions-filled life.  It seems more real, and respectable.  Like doing your own laundry instead of paying someone to do it for you (even though the people you pay make it smell so nice and always get it cleaner).

I’m gonna go with a mix of easy and verifiable offsets, and personal offsetting projects.  That works best for me.  If you find a mix that works for you, I’d be interested to hear it.  I’ll put up another post about whatever offset I do end up buying later.

Plane Tickets: Putting the Guilt to Use

While sick and babbling at you the other day, I mentioned my tickets to New Zealand.  Not just the ravings of a madwoman:  I have plane tickets to New Zealand.

I’ve always wanted to get out and see the world, but I wanted to pay my own way, and go in as untouristy a manner as possible.  So I waited, saved, and assumed a better time would come along.  It didn’t, but now I have a passport and a twenty-fifth birthday approaching, and it’s now or never.  Well, probably not ‘never’, but definitely later.  I emailed an old friend in NZ for some advice a couple weeks ago, and, having been promised hiking and penguins, bought the tickets Sunday.

Let me digress for a moment to direct you to the new link, Cr!key Creek.  It’s my kiwi friend’s blog on water issues- focus on NZ, but he gets around.  Along with all the other parts of this trip I am completely excited about, hanging out with a  dude who’s done so much work on sustainability ranks pretty high.

But see, now I have a dilemma.  I’m flying halfway across the world twice.  This is a big ol’ suckerpunch to my environmental changes.  According to Terrapass, by flying roundtrip from Washington to Auckland, I’m responsible for 7,120 lbs of carbon emissions.  That’s like driving my car (Civic Hybrid) around for a year (also according to Terrapass).  Actually, hey, I thought it was going to be more like driving a Hummer to the moon.  Not feeling quite so guilty now.

Well, either way, that’s a pretty big negative impact on the environment, which I need to do something about (blog being all about channeling the guilt to environmental use, yup yup).  But what!?

Rhetorical, I’ve already decided what I’m going to do.  But first let’s talk about the “not going” option.

The simplest way to not rack up this carbon guilt is to not go to New Zealand.  Stay home, find some pictures of it online, and email the kiwi when I want to chat.  Going to New Zealand to bum around and walk on mountains is purely a privileged, selfish act.  Money would be better spent donating to local food shelters while I spend the two weeks volunteering to muck out the Anacostia.  This is all true.  But I don’t feel guilty about that at all:  I’m stoked about every part of this trip.

Mine is not an abstemious sustainability.  Perhaps you guessed from the frequent Salvation Army trips.  I want to do as much and live as well (according to my idea of well) as I can with as little as I can manage it on.   I get that lots of environmentalists aren’t comfortable with that balance, and why, but I am. So let’s recap the guilt nuances:  trip to NZ, sweet, impact of ghg emissions, lame sauce.

Here’s how I’m going to use this:  first, I’m going to offset my carbon.  Yup, can’t buy a green conscience, but if I can afford the tickets, I can afford to support serious emissions-reduction programs.  I will look for programs that actively remove emissions and donate enough to cover my flight.  I’ll report back, of course.

Second, my time in NZ will be spent environmentally.  Start with supporting the local economy- no chain hotels or restaurants, no ‘Made in China’ junk for the folks back home.  I’m researching B&B’s to stop in along the way.  I’ll tread lightly on the mountains- pack in, pack out, pat the trees soothingly, etc.  I’ll use public transport as much as possible (apparently they have a great national bus system, so no need to rent a car).

And third, I’m using the promise of this trip as a carrot for my efforts.  Literally.  I’m going vegetarian, starting as soon as I’m done with the Sha Cha chicken delivery leftovers, until I get on the plane.  Doesn’t seem so daunting now- though I will draw a line at pizza (I’ll try for all-veg but if it’s plain cheese or pepperoni only, like I’m locked in a room for 12 hours with nothing but a cheese pizza and a pepperoni pizza, I’m eating the pepperoni, but it’s not going to come to that), and food other people make for me in good faith.  If I go home and Dad cooks me shrimp, I’m having some shrimp.  (Dad cook me veggies.  Mom will help.)  But I promise 98.9% vegetarian intake, at least.  It’ll be easier with a reward at the end.

So that’s how I’m going to deal with that.  For the interactive part of this feature:  whatcha think?

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