How and why to buy carbon offsets

Washtenaw Climate Reality

You know your carbon footprint is too big, and you’re working hard to reduce it. Carbon offsets can have a role in your overall “carbon strategy.” Here’s a quick guide that you can use individually, as well as for your company, school, or any organization.

I’m ready. Let’s do it!

If you already know that you want to buy carbon offsets, but you just want to know how, this section is for you.

  1. Go to the CoolEffect website. The Make a Difference section near the top lets you buy offsets.
  2. Tell it how many tons you want to offset:
    • The default is 16.6 tons per American.
    • To enter a different value, click the Already Know Your Output? link.
  3. Click Offset Now and enter your payment information.
Default Interface in CoolEffect website to buy 16.6 tons of carbon offsets for $149.73.

And that’s it! You’ve contributed to Cool Effect’s “additional and scientifically validated” offset projects as part of your fight against climate change.

Before I buy them, can you tell me more?

What is a carbon offset?

The concept of carbon offsets is pretty straightforward. This NYT article describes it this way:

Carbon offsets compensate for your emissions by canceling out greenhouse gas emissions somewhere else in the world. The money you pay to buy offsets supports programs designed to reduce emissions. Those might include projects to develop renewable energy, capture methane from landfills or livestock, or distribute cleaner cooking stoves.

Do carbon offsets really work?

While the concept may be straightforward, the details can be complex. A common question is whether carbon offsets are “legit” – and how can you tell? Again, the Times:

To make sure your money ultimately goes to worthwhile projects, look for certifications by auditors or standards groups like The Gold Standard or Green-e.

In deciding where to purchase my own carbon offsets (which I finally did today to offset my 2020 footprint), I relied heavily on an article by Richard Kim and Benjamin Pierce, UPenn faculty members who wrote up recommendations for their scientific organization. They include a discussion regarding whether carbon offsets are a “good idea,” ultimately concluding that they have a positive role as part of an overall carbon strategy, while individuals and organizations also pursue direct carbon emissions reductions.

After reading Kim and Pierce, I went ahead and purchased 30 tons of offsets from CoolEffect. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is a genuine step in the right direction. And you get this cool certificate:

A certificate issued by CoolEffect, after I purchased 30 tons of carbon offsets from them.

I still have more questions…

This post presents pretty basic information, and there’s a ton more to learn about carbon offsets (no pun intended!). If you want to get into it more, check out the Kim and Pierce article as a starting point. They provide a good, objective summary, as well as links for further reading.

How have you used carbon offsets? Let us know!

Have you purchased any carbon offsets? To offset your own carbon footprint? Or perhaps to help your event or conference go carbon neutral? Let us know what you’ve done so we can learn from each other. Thanks, and take care!

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