Saturday, March 23, 2019

Are Carbon Offsets Part of the Solution? The Answer? A Qualified Yes, If You Do It Right...

Climate Change. What A Big Ugly Problem We've Got Here.

Climate change. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling it, and it's not a good feeling. I hear voices of worry from my green-minded friends. Weather disasters everywhere. Floods. Droughts. Fires. Storms. We talk about how much trouble we're in. Trouble that is now already affecting all people, everywhere, although not evenly. How some really bad things are on the horizon for all of human society. We share feelings of despair and depression about how little is being done.

The only way I know to fight feelings of despair is to get together with other like-minded people, share ideas, and see how we can together and separately take action. I always come away feeling better. Hopeful.

You can meet these people and groups in many places. I found my group in my church, South Church in Andover: South Church Green Team. Two other local churches that I know about are active: West Parish in Andover has a Green Team (West Parish Community Action). North Parish in North Andover has the Climate Justice Task Force (North Parish Climate Justice).  All three churches have large solar PV arrays generating their electric power!

Most towns have environmental or sustainability committees: North Andover Sustainability CommitteeAndover-Green-Advisory-Board

You can get involved in activism with national environmental action groups like, Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy. You can take action by participating in political protests on the streets. Vote. Encourage your friends to vote. Always vote with climate change at the top of your list. (On that last point, I could go on with a whole discussion on why climate change is the only issue that really matters, both for your future and your kids. BTW, "your future" applies even to people in your 80's and 90's!.)

Direct action starts with our own life choices. Drive an energy efficient car. Or even better, take public transportation whenever you can. Switch to GreenUp electricity. Make efficiency upgrades or install solar panels on your home.

The Problem Of Where We Are Now

But when thinking about our life choices - what we buy and how we live - here's the problem - 

Our own actions to reduce our carbon footprints can only go so far, given that the US is an energy intensive consumer society.  Even if you personally use very little, the entire structure that supports your life in this country has a significant per-person carbon footprint. The average American adult has a carbon footprint of 16.6 metric tons. Even an adult with a very low carbon footprint is still going to have a carbon footprint in the 6 to 8 metric ton range.  (See details here:

The problem is that the safe emission level is just 0.6 metric tons per person!  (MIT study Science Daily Apr 2008),

As an American, it is almost impossible to make changes in your life to meet that level. But before you change your life, here are two big things to do first:

1. Vote with climate action as your #1 candidate priority. Political action is the only way to make large scale societal systems change. As Bill McKibben put it: "As individuals, the best action we can take is to stop acting like individuals!"
2. Don't be afraid to bring it up, when the opportunity presents itself, with family and friends. Gently, since it is often a sensitive topic politically, but some discussion is the way to make #1 above start to happen.

Now back to the few big things you can do in your life:
1. Choose the "all renewables" option from your electricity generator.
2. Go vegan or vegetarian, or eat meat less often. I started with vegan lunches for several years, before going almost all vegan (I eat eggs, and meat on holidays with family).
3. If you're buying a car, make your next car a more efficient hybrid or an electric.
4. Fly less or not at all.
But these changes would still leave most Americans far above the 0.6 metric tons per person allowance. What else can we practically do? 

How Carbon Offsets Can Make A Difference

The only solution I see in the short term is to buy carbon offsets. I've now started doing this on an annual basis. It turns out it's not that expensive. Here is how you can do it too.

Here is my research on carbon offsets. I found these reputable offset options, with links below. I'm sure there are more.

Part 1: Carbon Offsets for the Average American Family

Here are three organizations that support carbon offset investments. These organizations follow a rigorous international  standard the projects have to adhere to, as part of documenting and tracking the benefit of the offset.

I used to estimate my family's household and yearly living usage. I came up with approximately 25 metric tons. This is a good deal lower than the average American household. It's about half since we have solar panels (PV and hot water), a super insulated house (the addition is constructed with insulated concrete forms, all new windows, a high efficiency boiler), a hybrid car, etc. We don't fly much, most years not at all.

The cost to offset this carbon footprint is around $217. That's it! Even for the average American household of 4 that produces 45 or 50 metric tons, it would still only cost around $400-$450 to offset their usage. 

As a step to protecting a livable world, for ourselves and our children, this sounds like something all of us could do.

Part 2: Carbon Offsets for an Airline Flight 

If you want to just start by focusing on airline flights. Here's an example for a round trip flight from Boston to London.

The miles calculation shows that the effect of this example flight generated approximately 1.3 to 1.7 tonnes equivalent of CO2 (per person). The "tonnes" is a metric ton, 1000 KG or 2200 lbs. Some sites give slightly different numbers, but they're in the ballpark to each other.

These sites have a couple of choices for funding projects that will remove this from the air. The removal part is over time, of course, calculated by the number of tonnes of CO2 removed per project per year.  

It's actually not that expensive to offset this example flight. The choices I found are $12 to $16! The variability is due to the different projects or how the exact CO2 number is calculated.

But not very expensive!

There is talk of making every flight offset the impact. Hopefully that will happen soon.

At Cool Effect, you can type in the number to get it to calculate the offset cost. Based on hours this site calculated 1.32 tonnes for a 7 hr flight.

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