Cycling home with a Â£5 quarter-kilo of Fair Trade coffee, I found myself thinking about carbon offsets. These are financial instruments in which an individual or group pays someone else to reduce the carbon emissions they would otherwise have produced, so as to offset the buying individuals own carbon emissions. Al Gore used them to make the production of An Inconvenient Truth carbon neutral. They were also used by The Economist to make their Survey on Climate Change (Subscription required) carbon neutral. At the end of the opening article, they explain:
This survey, which generated about 118 tonnes of carbon dioxide from flights, car journeys, paper production, printing and distribution, has been carbon-neutralised through the Carbon Neutral Company. The cost was Â£590; the money was spent on capturing methane from an American mine.
According to the calculator at climatecrisis.org (the site set up by Al Gore to accompany his book and film), my annual carbon emissions are about 1.6 tons, including two trans-Atlantic flights a year. Not having a car and living in a shared dwelling makes a big difference, even if all our power is coming from the huge coal plant at Didcot.
At the rate The Economist paid, I could offset that for Â£8. It might be a worthwhile thing to include in my thesis. My only problem with it all is that it is hard to tell which of the many websites that sell offsets actually provide what they claim. There has been a kerfuffle recently about dodgy wind power cards. Does anyone know of a reputable place where I can offset those 1600 kilos of carbon? This site looks like a possibility.
Obviously, paying for the offsetting of your own carbon isn’t an adequate response to the issue of climate change (any more than buying Fair Trade coffee is an adequate response to global poverty), but it couldn’t hurt. It is also a potentially useful demonstration of how seriously you take the problem
[Update: 5:00pm] According to the company The Economist used, one round-trip flight from London to Vancouver generates 1.7 tonnes of CO2. As such, it would seem appropriate to offset at least four or five tonnes a year, to cover electricity, heating (however St. Antony’s does it), and travel.