Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carbon Offsets

Shock. Confusion. Guilt. These feelings blew through me like an extreme weather event after I calculated my carbon footprint for 2007 (which came in at a grotesque 11.2 tonnes!). You may understand my pain having done your own calculations. One way to assuage our guilt over our global warming contribution is to purchase carbon offsets.

Carbon offsets are a fancy term for a self imposed tax for bad behaviour or an investment in renewable clean energy based on your difficult-to-avoid fossil fuel lifestyle – depending on how you like to see it.

A carbon offset IS NOT a ‘get out of jail free card’. By investing in clean energy we are not neutralizing our carbon footprint, despite what some carbon offset companies like to boast. The danger with this thinking is that it implies we can continue to pig out on carbon so long as we pay for it.

Carbon offsets are effective when combined with a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As I reduce my footprint year by year I help strengthen the renewable energy sector through carbon offsets. I calculate my annual greenhouse gas footprint, set a goal to reduce it and purchase offsets based on my annual greenhouse gas contribution. For my 2007 carbon footprint of (gulp) 11.2 tonnes of greenhouse gases, I paid $380 to Planetair, an offset company based in Quebec. Next year, I anticipate paying less due to reductions in my carbon footprint.

There are a number of carbon offset companies. The ones to look for are certified Gold Standard. Certified companies meet key environmental criteria and focus exclusively on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Gold Standard Carbon Offset Companies
The following companies are certified Gold Standard:

Based in Canada. Works with My Climate.

My Climate
Based in Switzerland

Sustainable Travel International
Based in the USA

Climate Friendly
Based in Australia

Based in Germany

For more information, visit the David Suzuki Foundation site and a Comparison of Carbon Offset Vendors

Alternatively, you could always support an energy retailer that invests 100% in renewable energy in your province/state or offers this option. Bullfrog Power is an example. Other retailers like Summitt Energy are planning to offer this as well. You pay a little extra per month for clean energy but you are investing in a sustainable future

In the News

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GreenTopaz said...

Guilt free ones:

sarap said...

I noticed you were talking about carbon offsetting, and I thought you might be interested in a new documentary that has just been released that examines the impact of carbon trading around the world.

The Carbon Connection looks at two communities affected by one new global market – the trade in carbon dioxide. In Scotland a town has been polluted by oil and chemical companies since the 1940s. In Brazil local people's water and land is being swallowed up by destructive monoculture eucalyptus tree plantations. Both communities now share a new threat. As part of the deal to reduce greenhouse gases that cause dangerous climate change, major polluters can now buy carbon credits that allow them to pay someone else to reduce emissions instead of cutting their own pollution.

What this means for those living next to the oil industry in Scotland is the continuation of pollution caused by their toxic neighbours. Meanwhile in Brazil the schemes that generate carbon credits gives an injection of cash for more planting of the damaging eucalyptus tree. The two communities are now connected by bearing the brunt of the new trade in carbon credits. The Carbon Connection follows the story of two groups of people from each community who learned to use video cameras and made their own films about living with the impacts of the carbon market. From mental health issues in Scotland to the loss of medicinal plants in Brazil, the communities discover the connections they have with each other and the film follows them on this journey.

40 minutes | PAL/NTSC | English/Spanish/Portuguese subtitles

More information at

Cheryl McNamara said...

Thanks for sharing sarap.

I too am nervous about corporate carbon trading. Like anything, in the wrong hands it can be mismanaged and make matters worse than without them.

If managed well, carbon offsets should provide the right market signals that make greener choices more economically appealing to industry and companies than polluting choices.

For more on the debate, visit the following links:

The Case For Carbon Trading:

The Case Against Carbon Trading:

Does Cap-and-Trade Reward Big Polluters?