Alternative Carbon Offset Idea

Traveling has one of the biggest green house gas (GHG) impacts during the holidays as we fly, drive, train or bus across the country to spend time with our families and friends.  While you may be able to leverage technology as an alternative to some business travel, nothing can replace being there with your family at the holidays.  So what do you do about traveling for the holidays?

First, you should try to take the most efficient form of transportation time and money permit, but since most of us can’t drive a Prius instead of fly, like Ed Begley, Jr. does, we have to find other options.  One such option is Carbon Offsets.  Also, I’m not sure I’d survive driving from Boston to Denver for a wedding this winter with two five year-olds and an infant.

Carbon offsets are a formalized way that people can assuage their guilt for producing carbon.  If you are not familiar with carbon offsets, you can find out more about them at places like TerraPass and the Carbon Fund.  In general I am a big fan of putting a price on carbon (CO2 and other GHG emissions) and until a carbon tax or cap and trade system is in place, things like carbon offset programs are a form of voluntary price hike for carbon.  My big hesitation about the different carbon offset programs is how do I know if the money is going towards actual and effective projects that offset the carbon dioxide emitted from my activity.  I have purchased a few small offsets in the past, but with an uncertain feeling around whether they made a difference.  Could I do better investing the same money into energy efficiency improvements myself?  What I have settled on doing is instead of buying an offset through one of these companies, I see what it would cost to offset my flight and then put that money into a savings account for doing green projects around the house.

For example, from my recent business trip to Denver, I calculated the cost of offsetting the flights by going to the My flights from Boston to Denver and back (including Radiative Forcing) generated 1.71 tons of CO2 and purchasing an offset would cost $17.10 or about ten dollars per ton of CO2.  So I moved that amount into my personal offset fund. Once I have enough money for the TED 5000 home energy monitoring system I’ve been eyeing, I’ll purchase it and set it up.  In the past, I’ve used this fund to finish replacing our incandescent bulbs with CFLs.

As an alternative to the alternative, you could also donate the money to a good cause to help them with a sustainability improvements.

Happy Greening!

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  1. Jon, this is a great idea. As I study more and more about offsets, I’m beginning to find they are more of an overconfident commodification that will allow the large emitters of our world to delay clean energy investments. The Corner House has a great critique of offsets: as does

  2. I saw the funniest thing today. I was looking at the website of an organization that asks you to pay to join to help fight climate change. They have benefits for members. The benefit that was being advertised was a 10% discount on carbon offsets from TerraPass. You’re either paying for a carbon offset or your not, it’s not like the energy is going to cost less because you’re a member!

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