No matter how sustainable and green a lifestyle we try to live we all have a personal carbon footprint. Your daily commute in the car, annual holiday abroad, keeping your home warm – they all emit an amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. One recent development in the fight against climate change has been the trend of carbon offsetting, which effectively cancels your individual carbon footprint with a green, carbon free investment in a sustainable system or project.
But how does carbon offsetting work, and how can you offset your personal carbon emissions each year? More importantly, is offsetting carbon emissions a long term solution to the problem of climate change or merely giving people an excuse not to change their ways?
What is Carbon Offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is a way to help make your CO2 heavy activities greener. This is achieved by offsetting the unfriendly action – such as flying in a plane, or driving 20 miles a week – with an environmentally friendly action that is calculated to balance the CO2 emission. Alternatively, you can pay a carbon offsetting service, who will calculate how much your emissions cost and contribute to a sustainable project across the world.
The most common example of an offsetting project is the planting of trees. Trees act as a combatant of CO2 emission, as they turn CO2 into oxygen during photosynthesis. Afforestation can help turn around the effects of climate change by replacing trees that have been lost.
How Can I Offset My Carbon Emissions?
There are various services available to help offset your carbon emissions. One example is Climate Care which will calculate your emissions and then invest your payment into a range of green projects. It costs, for example, around £10 for a family of four to offset the emissions created by a return flight from London to Spain. £40 will cover the average energy emissions from the average UK home use, equivalent to five tonnes of CO2.
Your money will then be invested in various different projects that help create sustainable and energy efficient systems. One example is providing communities in developing countries with efficient cooking stoves to replace open wood fires, which are inefficient and create dangerous smoke, which creates health problems.
Other projects include the funding of wind turbines in India, energy efficient lamps in South Africa and restoration of a rainforest in Uganda.
Is Offsetting a Solution to Climate Change?
Carbon offsetting, while having its benefits, isn’t an answer to climate change itself. Changing our habits in the long term to lead a lower carbon lifestyle is more beneficial than compensating with a green gesture. However, becoming completely 100% carbon free is an unrealistic prospect for most people. So carbon offsetting is certainly a good way to support sustainable projects around the world and ‘pay’ for the unavoidable amount of CO2 we emit on a daily basis. According to David Miliband: “Offsetting isn’t the answer to climate change. The first step should always be to see how we can avoid and reduce emissions – through thinking about how we use energy in our homes and businesses, and the way we travel.
“However, some emissions can’t or won’t be avoided. That’s where offsetting has a role to play. It’s a way of compensating for the emissions produced with an equivalent carbon saving.”