You may have been hearing a lot about carbon offsets or carbon credits lately. They’ve become a must-have for individuals and organizations that want to fight climate change and show their green credentials.
Everyone from banks like HSBC, to rock bands like the Rolling Stones, to almost 500 NHL players are purchasing carbon offsets.
But what are they? And do they help solve global warming?
As we make the transition to lower emissions, some of us have unavoidable activities that create greenhouse gases, like flying. Carbon offsets are just one of the tools available to help us compensate by making reductions somewhere else.
The concept is simple. A carbon offset is a credit for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions generated by one project, such as a wind farm, that can be used to balance the emissions from another source, such as a plane trip. Because greenhouse gases know no boundaries, it doesn’t matter where the reduction takes place.
For example, I still have to travel by air, which creates a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. (I’m working hard to cut down on my flights, taking trains and buses and giving talks by video conferencing). But for the flights I can’t avoid, I calculate the emissions using an online calculator and then purchase carbon offsets.
It’s important to choose offsets carefully. Those that carry the Gold Standard label are independently audited and regarded as the highest quality. They help fund new renewable energy projects.
But as with anything new, there’s been some misunderstanding around carbon offsets. They’ve been criticized as “papal indulgences” or “buying your way out.”
I see it differently. First of all, carbon offsets are not an excuse for not reducing emissions, but are instead a way to deal with emissions that you aren’t able to reduce yourself.
In the fight against global warming, the use of market-based tools — like carbon offsets — is here to stay. The world’s leading economists, including Sir Nicholas Stern, say that for us to reduce the use of fossil fuels, we must place a price on carbon to take into account the negative climate impact it has. Carbon offsets are a step in that direction. By voluntarily purchasing offsets for your emissions, you are recognizing the true cost of using fossil fuels, and helping to make clean energy sources more competitive.
Carbon offsets are not a silver bullet, but global warming is such a big problem that it requires a whole range of solutions. Carbon offsets are just one of them.
Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.