Rolling your own carbon offset scheme

Before going any further here, I want to make it clear that I’m well aware of the shortcomings of carbon offsetting, wonderfully satirised by the folks behind Cheat Neutral. However, carbon offsetting is undeniably better than doing nothing. And as sustainable as you might try to be, it probably isn’t enough. The World Resources Institute have calculated that we should be aiming for a maximum limit of two tons of CO₂ emissions per person, per year. And yet it is calculated that the average EU citizen incurs 9.1 tons of CO₂ emissions. The average US citizen emits about twice as much as this.

To stay within the two ton limit as a citizen of any developed country is almost impossible. Many of the factors that contribute to our collective emissions are effectively beyond our control. An apt example of this is the recent research revealing that the average carbon footprint of a pre-packaged sandwich is more than one kilogram of CO₂.

The motto of myclimate, a leading carbon offsetting organisation, is to “do your best, offset the rest”.

However, sceptics would rightly question the efficacy of donating to an organisation like myclimate. How much of the money that goes to them actually ends up just being spent on bureaucracy, third party agencies etc? Well, myclimate pledge that at least 80% of compensation payments will be used directly in climate protection projects.

As much as I support the work and aims of myclimate, and would certainly recommend them to anyone who wants to do something about their carbon footprint, I’m keen on more fine-grained control over reducing my own.

Fortunately, myclimate’s carbon footprint calculators are open for anyone to use. As are a host of others from the likes of the WWF, Carbon Footprint, Carbon Independent, and The Nature Conservancy, to name but a few.

What I like about myclimate’s calculators, such as their flight calculator, is that they provide a financial cost for the CO₂ emissions that you’re incurring. I’m not suggesting that this amount is perfect, but it gives you something to go on. Armed with this knowledge, you can make the equivalent financial contribution to an organisation of your choosing.

For me, this would preferably be an organisation whose primary activity is planting trees. And for my money, there’s no better organisation than Trees for Life, an award-winning charity engaged in restoring Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest. See this fantastic TED talk by the charity’s founder, Alan Watson Featherstone:

Having initially intended to make ad hoc contributions to Trees for Life, I ended up deciding instead to join as a member as a Friend of Dundreggan. It’s a higher level of contribution than I had initially intended, but I can afford it, and better to contribute too much than too little.

This by no means makes me feel that I now have nothing to worry about and am doing my bit. It is simply a small gesture, and hopefully a step in the right direction. I encourage you to do something similar.


Featured photograph: “The Galápagos Islands” by “Ricky Arnold/NASA” is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

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