To quote the famous muppet, Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green.” Indeed, learning how to extricate yourself from a mad world swamped with single use plastics and dirty energy is almost impossible. People have gone to huge lengths to try and lower their carbon footprint, from giving up traditional comforts and literally going to live in a cave, to making drastic lifestyle changes in order to live zero waste.
These are commendable things to do, but not everyone is willing to give up their comfortable lives in order to disappear into a jungle—and it may not be the best way forward to begin with. We need to learn how to reduce our carbon footprints both individually and globally, and that takes time and experimentation. Unfortunately, the planet doesn’t have time.
Whether you’re a large corporation looking for a way to take action now, or a family that understands the need to put the breaks on your carbon footprint right away, you can do so. You can use carbon offsets to reduce your carbon footprint down to zero, or even less than zero, in order to give yourself the time you need to lower it naturally.
What is a carbon offset?
Let’s say you have a keurig machine and you use a K-cup every morning for your coffee. You never plan to change. You use this every day, and you throw the cups away. Your spouse sees this, and starts setting your coffee up for you every morning, with a reusable cup instead.
Even though you’re the one that’s drinking the coffee every morning, you would not have reduced your carbon had your spouse not chosen to set the Keurig for you with a reusable cup, so your spouse is the one who reduced the emissions.
Carbon offset companies work just like this, but on a larger scale. They might create projects that prevent carbon from being emitted, such as clean burning stoves that don’t need coal. They might also create projects that sequester carbon, such as planting trees.
The idea is that although you are responsible for your carbon, you can also be responsible for its removal. By taking responsibility, you can balance out your own carbon footprint.
Not all carbon offsets are created equal
Carbon offsets are worthless if they don’t actually offset your carbon. Some companies are simply out there to make a buck, and take your money without doing anything at all. Some companies do fund real projects, but they aren’t transparent about the situation. An example of this might be different people protecting the same acre of rainforest.
A carbon offset must be from a project that would not have happened otherwise. It also needs to be permanent in order to count. That way you aren’t funding a christmas tree farm to uh…plant more trees. Mysteriously, more trees are needed on the same plot every year.
Luckily, it’s easy to tell a deceptive company from a real one. Look for third party certification. Third party audits come from places like Climate Action Reserve, Verified Carbon Standard, Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standard, Verra or the American Carbon Registry.
If you don’t see verification, feel free to ask questions. You might be the nudge they need to get verified.
Is this the answer to global warming?
I contacted https://www.carbonfootprint.com/ to ask what the world would look like if everyone used carbon offsets. They were quick to let me know it is not the complete answer. Everyone still needs to reduce their carbon footprint as much as they can, and then use carbon offsets from there.
The environment needs help right now. If you know you have a long way to go, a carbon offset can help you take responsibility. It simply can’t be the only step. You must also work hard beyond this to improve your carbon footprint outside of offsets.