Carbon offsets

Bug on a flower

Cycling home with a £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 £590; the money was spent on capturing methane from an American mine.

According to the calculator at (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 £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.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

11 thoughts on “Carbon offsets”

  1. That would be much appreciated. I already take donations to cover the costs of running the site (not that they have been anywhere close to doing so). If people prefer, they are most welcome to donate to my carbon neutralization.

    Buying 9.51 tonnes worth would be about £80, and would cover my emissions for the two years of the M.Phil, based on lower than neutral emissions due to never driving (except the very occasional bus trip to London).

  2. You do have a birthday coming up, no? Perhaps people could donate a couple of Pounds to the carbon neutralization of you / the thesis.

  3. You’re paying an awful lot for your fair trade coffee – the co-op in summertown (and presumably at their other branches) have own-brand fair trade coffee for about half the price.

  4. They should make people who buy SUV’s should pay a hefty carbon neutralization fee. This is such an interesting idea, but I fear that most ordinary people have not heard about this. More publicity would certainly raise some awareness.

  5. “According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, oil company ExxonMobil ‘has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.’ The report compares the tactics employed by the oil giant to those used by the tobacco industry in previous decades, and identifies key individuals who have worked on both campaigns. Would a ‘global warming controversy’ exist without the millions of dollars spent by fossil fuel companies to discredit scientific conclusions?”

    Scientists’ Report Documents ExxonMobil’s Tobacco-like Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science

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