Let's start at the beginning: too much carbon is the main cause of global warming. Unfortunately, everything we do in modern life produces carbon, and every individual produces it within their household. This is known as your personal 'carbon footprint'.
As for things that grow your carbon footprint, you probably know about the big ones: using a petrol (or even worse, diesel) car, taking a flight, using gas energy, etc. (no judgement here, I personally can't afford an electric car right now, and the same goes for switching to an electric boiler - we're working on it though), but there are some other things that grow your carbon footprint too. Things like eating a meat-heavy diet, getting takeaways, having children (again, no judgement here, but logically, along with taking a flight, having a child is one of the worst things you can do for the planet, which is why so many teenagers are now pledging to have no children).
Carbon offsetting is the idea that you can reduce your personal carbon footprint by investing in projects that focus on reducing carbon in the world. For example, a lot of companies will calculate your carbon footprint, then plant enough trees (for a price) to offset your carbon usage. Wonderful! You might say, why don't we all do that? Well . . .
There are some big problems with Carbon offsetting, and it is a controversial subject. I have provided a brief overview of some of the issues below, but if you want to read more of an in-depth piece, head to this article on the Guardian's website:
1. It is shown that most people who carbon offset go on to use produce more carbon than most, as they have assuaged their guilt and believe they can now do whatever they want
2. Planting trees is not a good solution. There are many reasons for this. Some companies will not take into account the local area, and so plant trees that are not suited and die quickly, or plant foreign species. Another reason is that when you plant a tree, it is often 'protected' with strong, durable plastic, which doesn't get removed and doesn't degrade. You can read a bit more about this problem, and the pros and cons of carbon offsetting, on the website Ethical Consumer, or by reading the book Wilding by Isabella Tree, which first introduced it to me.
3. Other companies invest in biogas, which, although a clean form of energy, is not always produced in the best way
4. There is some argument about whether companies always offset what they say they will.
Therefore, if you're looking to carbon offset, it's a good idea to do your research on what the company will do with your money. If, like me, you would like to plough on with carbon offsetting, then there are a few things to consider first:
1. Are you carbon offsetting as part of a sustained personal programme to reduce your carbon output and become more sustainable, or are you doing it out of guilt? If the former, go for it, if the latter you might want to have a re-think, carbon offsetting will not solve the world's problems, but it may work as part of a bigger solution.
2. Where will you invest your money?
Ethical Consumer recommends a couple of places you could put your money, into wind or solar power, or a DIY offset, where you fund a small independent project likely to have a good impact on carbon, or give money to a charity project. Read more on that here. There is also the Gold Standard website, an accredidation scheme for offset initiatives, though there are problems with this scheme too, you can at least be sure that most projects on this website will have a positive impact on carbon levels.
3. How much will you offset?
To calculate your personal carbon footprint, head to the WWF website and do their questionnaire. Once that's done, consider offsetting more than you produce, which could have a bigger positive impact.
After all of this research, I still chose to carbon offset as I believe I am doing it for the right reasons, and because I am trying to reduce my and my businesses carbon footprint however I can, not just through one method but through many.
For those of you who want to know, I ended up working out that I produced 10 tonnes of carbon a year both in my household and business. I decided to offset 12 tonnes by investing in a wind farm in India. This cost £86 through the Gold Standard website.
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Thanks for reading!