Carbon offsetting is very trendy right now. Just last week my boyfriend purchased a wind power offset. I was sort of surprised as we’d never discussed offsetting, and asked him what his motivation was. "It’s for the electricity that I use, this card makes government purchase wind power." The thing is, we live in Seattle, where electricity pretty darn green already and there’s a program for utilities customers to contribute to directly.
Via the 9Rules Network I ran across Darren Stuart’s suggestion on the Web2.0 Show that websites developers become carbon neutral and that not only is it a good thing for the Earth, but it’s a great for marketing. A lot of people chimed in right away with "Oh yeah…I’ll plant a tree! Great!!" kind of stuff. A quick search for “carbon neutral website” indicates the trend has already begun (at least it has in the UK).
There’s more to offsetting than planting trees
I was both excited to see that environmental responsibility is becoming so mainstream and at once dismayed at this continual emphasis on mindless offsetting. Like most political and scientific issues, the devil is in the details. Many early offset companies actually hurt more than helped, through poor planning and lack of follow through. The validity of tree-planting offsets remain questionable both as to the long-term effectiveness of successful programs and the lack of ability to guarantee said trees will remain healthy and protected long enough to do any good in the first place.
And then there’s basic concept of carbon offsetting. Many have criticized the practice as allowing people guilt-free passes for ongoing irresponsible behavior. I agree that it should be only part of a persons efforts to do their part. I mean if you’re driving an unnecessarily gas guzzling car, indulging in excessive and unnecessary trips or think recycling only has to do with your computer desktop then purchasing a bunch of offsets shouldn’t be your only focus! I’m already gritting my teeth at the inevitable trend of smug “carbon neutral website” banners on the sites of people who’ve never even bothered recycled their hazardous electronic equipment.
Now, lest I wreak of smug myself, I must announce: I am no saint. I don’t own a car, I walk to work, I bus or bike whenever it’s reasonable. I recycle avidly (including compost and proper disposal of hazardous materials) at work. But I must admit, I don’t recycle at home as well as I could because our landlord doesn’t offer options (or take opinions!) so it’s not convenient. I borrow my boyfriends gas hungry work truck usually only when I need it, but occasionally when I’m just feeling lazy. I indulge in long, hot showers. And more I’m sure. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to offset and especially if you’re going to toot your horn about, research your options and choose responsibly!
Should you purchase offsets? And if so, which ones?
The Wikipedia entry ‘Carbon offset’ is currently very informative and cites a plethora of references, both skeptic and optimistic. This should keep you busy for a while and help you determine whether it’s the right choice, or the first choice for you. The article Shifting Into Neutral by Emily Main on National Georgaphic’s Green Guide web site should help you understand the basic differences in available offsets. Then head on over to TreeHugger.com for the latest on carbon offset providers.