Carbon Offsetting: An attempt to increase positive business public relations or a way to actually help solve the issue of greenhouse gas emissions?

I always wondered whether when I clicked on the “offset my carbon footprint” option when booking flights whether or not the 6 euros (or the relatively low addition to the overall flight cost) was actually worth while…

Did the money actually go towards offsetting my carbon footprint or was it a scheme to make me feel as if I was doing something good when the reality was that the money wasn’t helping the environment, or worse it was actually being counter productive?

By definition “Carbon offsets are measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) and may represent six primary categories of greenhouse gases:[5] carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).[6]

One carbon offset represents the reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.”

There are two markets for carbon offsets, and both have both good and bad elements.

On a larger scale big companies, governments, or other large entities buy carbon offsets in order to comply with limits placed on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. This exists to comply with obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, and the Emission Trading Scheme.

On a much smaller scale,  individuals (like me and you when we choose to fly) or smaller companies,  purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources.

This money is then supposedly put towards financial support of projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short- or long-term.

I always thought that the money might be spend on planting trees and thereby offset the carbon footprint that way but there are a number of reasons why tree-planting to offset carbon production is not a viable choice, but mainly because trees reach maturity over a course of many decades and it is hard to guarantee the permanence of the forests and because often in an effort to cut costs, some tree-planting projects introduce fast-growing invasive species, that end up damaging native forests and reducing biodiversity.

So instead the 6 euros you choose to pay to offset your carbon footprint on an individual level typically goes towards renewable energy sources such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams.

Carbon offsetting has gained momentum and appeal on both an individual and corporate level, and the Kyoto Protocol was set up to keep a check on governments and private companies, who can now earn carbon credits that can be traded on a marketplace.

Basically, organizations that are unable to meet their emissions quota can offset their emissions by buying CDM-approved Certified Emissions Reductions.

So basically you can buy your way out of having to reduce your fossil fuel consumption…

While the scheme is at least raising awareness to the fact that companies need to measure and effectively be charged for the damage they do the environment, this doesn’t actually solve the problem…

One website outlines the element of the ridiculous in the scheme., makes a clever point by drawing a parallel between the scheme and infidelity…

 “When you cheat on your partner you add to the heartbreak, pain and jealousy in the atmosphere,” the website explains. “CheatNeutral offsets your cheating by funding someone else to be faithful and not cheat. This neutralises the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience.”

Others liken it to those who use religion as a way to be forgiven so they can go out and commit more sins…

On a global scale it’s a money business where companies can buy themselves more tickets to produce more emissions…

On a personal level it comes down to the question…Does the money I am spending actually achieve any carbon savings as promised? Truth is no-one can say for sure…

But here some questions we do have answers for…

Why is the offset price so low…can 6 euros really offset my long haul overseas flight?

The carbon offset price is low because there are all kinds of ways to reduce emissions very inexpensively, and so yes theoretically even a small amount can make a difference.

Why do different companies quote different carbon offset prices for the flights of the same distance?

Companies quote different offset costs because often they estimate the impact on the environment using different measures.

If carbon offsets do work, shouldn’t these projects be financed by governments anyway? Are the two really related?

“Even if offset projects do work as advertised, some environmentalists argue that they’re still a bad idea. If we’re to tackle climate change, they argue, the projects being rolled out by offset companies should be happening anyway, funded by governments around the world, while companies and individuals reduce their carbon footprints directly. Only in this way – by doing everything possible to make reductions everywhere, rather than polluting in one place and offsetting in another – does the world have a good chance of avoiding runaway climate change,” such critics claim.

However, those who support carbon offsetting programs say that the projects that are invested in with my 6 euros are long term, and may actually offset my carbon footprint 3 or 4 times over, meaning I might not only offset my footprint but reduce it even further…

The truth is I am not sure if this is the right message to send, that we can buy our way out of the pollution we cause, and yet, when I see the option on the flight website to offset my carbon footprint I click yes, and I pay the 6 euros, because well, I am hoping it ends up doing even a small amount of good.

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