Carbon offsetting is beneficial to the environment

by Guest Contributor on September 19, 2007

in Climate Change

wind farm Carbon offsetting is beneficial to the environment
This is a guest post by Matt Feldman of Carbon Neutral Digest.

One of the major issues, or myths, surrounding carbon offsets is that it allows people and companies to pollute and then, just for a few dollars, “balance it out.” My take on this conundrum is that it doesn’t matter if this belief is factual or just an urban legend of the modern times, there is still some benefit for the environment.

So let’s paint a picture of the worst polluter you know. Mr. A drives an H2, he leaves all their incandescent light bulbs on 24 hours a day, he has the temperature set in is house to 68 in the summer and 80 in the winter. I already know that you hate this guy because I do too.

One day Mr. A sits down in front of his computer (which he leaves on 24/7) and finds a carbon offset provider that he likes and offsets his carbon. Mr. A spends $150.00 buys Renewable Energy Credits, plants trees, or helps build a wind turbine. Mr. A, in a small way has helped make the world a little better by funding one of these offset projects. Yes green nerds, I am not fond of every offset project that is out there. Some offset projects are better then others but for this example it doesn’t matter. If Mr. A. does nothing else, he has helped to do something positive for the environment.

Mr. A. has taken the plunge; I believe the next logical step is he has started thinking about his carbon footprint. Most offset providers have a calculator that allows you to tally your electric, heat, car, travel carbon production. Some providers even give you national household and individual averages of carbon production to gage yourself. Mr. A. now knows that he is extravagantly producing carbon. Since he just offset his carbon it may make him think about ways to reduce his carbon foot print too. He may use compact fluorescent light bulbs, turn the lights off when he isn’t in the room, or take a bike ride instead of driving. See folks, the seed is planted.

Now you have planted a seed in someone that is not a green nerd like us. Mr. A. may talk to his friends about how great he felt offsetting carbon. Mr. A. plants seeds in his friends. Mr. A’s friends give money to projects, reduce their footprint, and tell their friends. Pretty soon, there will be no room for wind turbines, CFLs will sell out, and all the methane gets captured. People, I am painting a horrific world out there.

Now let’s take a more realistic look at the average person who carbon offsets. There has never been an international, multi-site, double blinded study to examine this person who offsets, but Terra Pass did take a little glimpse into which this person might be, and it is down right shocking. To me it seems like the average Terra Pass user has already reduced as much carbon as they can and wants to go the extra mile.

Here are a few statistics:

26% ride public transit to work
24% ride bike to work
64% installed compact fluorescent light bulbs
6% have solar panels
86% watch their thermostat settings at home

Wow, this sounds like a bunch of green nerds like you and me! This really might put to bed the myth of the person who buys carbon offsets as an awful polluter!

You can read the full survey at the Terra Pass blog here.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

half pint pixie September 19, 2007 at 10:38 am

I guess the thing with carbon offsets is, the worst polluter I know is not Mr. A, it’s multinational A, and when offsets are used by multinationals, ,it’s just greenwashing.

Yes there is an environmental benefit, but the cost is still there, and by offering a way to “pay” for the damage you’re doing, in a way, it makes the damage seem that bit less damaging, like “oh well that’s already offset”.

I think unfortunately that carbon offests, while a good idea, will not have the overall beneficial effect that we would like to see.

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Hayley Jones September 19, 2007 at 1:53 pm

Carbon offsetting is certainly not the answer to the world’s environmental problems but I would agree with Matt that it is not part of the problem. He makes a valid point about being a starting point for many people and I think it is also something for people to consider for parts of their lives where they find it difficult to reduce the carbon footprint any further. We should all be saving energy and reducing carbon output as much as we can but we are not going to all suddenly stop driving cars, flying, using electricity etc. At least there is the option of carbon offsetting in addition to saving energy.

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Matt September 26, 2007 at 2:49 pm

Stating that carbon offsetting is ‘good’ for the environment is a flawed argument, any action that promoted the business as usual approach is the wrong one.

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