You've got your bags packed full of all-natural sunscreens and bugsprays, a map of the local markets you can't miss and a trail guide for the nature hot-spots you'll be checking out while you're there. It sounds like it will be the perfect eco-friendly vacation, but there's still a problem. You have to get there, and getting there will take a lot of carbon, not exactly living up to your green vacation ideal.
So carbon offsets are the answer, right? Carbon offsets are provided by organizations who allow clients to invest in green activities (like reforestation or clean energy development) to offset the impact of their carbon use.
There's been plenty of controversy over carbon offsets and whether or not they're a valid way to combat global warming. Scams have surfaced about companies getting funding for carbon-reduction programs they were already running, rather than starting new projects with the extra money. For instance, your money could go to a company that's already turning a profit building wind turbines they would have created without the extra offset funding. These controversies have spurred an industry-wide call for "additionality." Additionality assures consumers that the funds from their carbon offsets go toward a new project that wouldn't have happened without the purchase of an offset.
Still, carbon offsets aren't the answer to global warming, even with the promise of additionality. It's argued that offsets are just a tiny bandage on a seeping, open wound, just there to make purchasers feel better about their wasteful lifestyles without having to make any sacrifices.
But we know that carbon use is generally unavoidable, especially when traveling. Offsets, if done right, can help reduce your net amount of carbon emission. So have no fear carbon-conscious voyagers! Just heed these guidelines to do carbon offsetting right.
Find a reliable organization
There are various alliances and organizations that are set out to legitimize offsets and make sure that you're not throwing your money away. You want to know that your dollars are going to pay for projects that make a real impact, and that's what The Gold Standard, the Voluntary Carbon Standard, the American Carbon Registry and the Climate Action Reserve do. Each organization researches and ensures credibility of specific projects. Buy offsets from companies working on certified projects, such as these:
Terrapass funds certified wind farms, and projects that harvest methane from farms and landfills as a source of energy. You can purchase packages to offset carbon use for an average family, car, home, flight or individual. Carbon footprint calculators help users determine how much energy you use in a typical year (or for a typical wedding). Then, you can purchase offsets by tons of carbon, or make your own custom packages. Approximate cost: $12 per ton of carbon.
Sterling Planet encourages clients to reduce their energy use, switch to renewable energy and purchase offsets for all carbon still used. Sterling Planet supports certified projects around the world that remove carbon from the atmosphere, like tree planting; that produce energy without releasing of greenhouse gasses, like solar panels; and that eliminate greenhouse gas sources, like landfill gas recovery. Sterling Planet offers carbon offsets for big and small businesses, colleges and universities, government agencies and individuals. Approximate cost: $20 per ton of carbon.
Carbonfund.org allows users to choose what type of certified project their offset funds, either renewable energy, energy efficiency or reforestation. Businesses or individuals can calculate their carbon footprints and purchase offsets accordingly, or purchase the pre-calculated offsets for flights, cars, homes or apartments, events and weddings. Approximate cost: $10 per ton of carbon.
Don't use more carbon because you're buying offsets
One major, and legitimate, argument against carbon offsets is that they ease the guilt of travelers and encourage them to travel more. It's important to remember that offsetting your carbon use is not as effective as limiting it in the first place. Flights and road trips are always hard on the environment, so go somewhere close to home, or try a staycation instead.
Include your entire vacation
Getting to your destination doesn't mean you're done using carbon. Don't forget to include all of the extra indulgences when you're calculating your vacation carbon emissions, like the rental car, the hotel room and the dinners out. You can also choose to offset your carbon use at home as well as on vacation.
Try an alternative approach
Instead of (or in addition to) buying offsets, try doing extra things at home to even out your total carbon emissions. Driving to the beach this weekend? Turn up your air conditioning a few degrees before you go. Buying an extra freezer for the garage? Plant an extra tree in the yard (but don't forget to take care of it, trees need water too). These things won't completely offset the extra carbon, but they'll help. And they'll help reinforce the idea that carbon emissions are a consequence of many everyday decisions.
So although purchasing carbon offsets can't eliminate the effects of your original carbon use, that doesn't mean they're not worth it if you keep these suggestions in mind for your next vacation. Bon voyage!
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