Carbon OffsettingThere are many different government plans from around the world that might cut carbon. But there are also plans for individuals to help compensate for the carbon they’ve pumped into the atmosphere which is where carbon offsetting comes in.

It started to become popular a few years ago, when people had trees planted to compensate for their emissions. That was a good idea, as an attempt to become carbon neutral – but there’s a significant flaw in the theory.

People can offset their emissions, but they’re doing nothing to cut those emissions – it’s as if planting some tress is all they need to do, rather than actually change their lifestyles.

Types of Carbon Offsetting

Tree planting was the main form of carbon offsetting, whether for reforesting areas or planting new forest areas. They capture carbon – which is the aim, after all – but they also provide shade and habitats for animals. It can also be a relatively cheap way of making yourself carbon neutral, at least in theory. If you arrange to have trees planted in a developing country, you can have 900 planted for around £45. That’s more than enough to offset the annual carbon emissions of a UK resident.

Although CO2 gets a bad press for its contribution to climate change, methane is another major culprit, with a potential for global warming that’s 23 times greater than carbon dioxide. So there are offset schemes that contain methane produced in landfills, industrial waste, or from farm animals (cows are big offenders). There are processes by which methane can be converted to electricity or heat.

There are several other schemes in place, like one that places treadle pumps on farms in Third World countries, which they can use in place of diesel pumps, although it seems to have only enjoyed limited success. But this is just one of many schemes that bring clean technology to developing countries.

There are more official, government-backed schemes that tie into bigger, international ones, which are quite complex.

Using Carbon Offsetting

You can remove the guilt of that plane trip to Florida with carbon offsetting. But there have been instances of fraud in the past, and if it’s something you’re exploring, then you need to be sure the company you deal with (and this is a definite growth industry) has independent certification, at the very least to be sure the offsets are properly measured.

The Problem With Carbon Offsetting

Although carbon offsetting can help work towards carbon neutrality by offsetting the carbon used in, say, a plane journey, that carbon dioxide has been pushed into the atmosphere in the first place when it’s quite possible that the journey wasn’t necessary in the first place.

In other words, carbon offsetting doesn’t encourage conservation, and cutting back is the real solution, although it might not allow people to live exactly the same lifestyles as before. There’s no doubt that carbon offsetting is a good thing, however. It can reduce carbon emissions in areas around an offsetting project. Other schemes bringing clean technology to developing countries, which helps the spread of low-carbon technology.

So long as we don’t think of carbon offsetting as the solution to our problems, and use it sensibly, it’s very worthwhile.