What is carbon offsetting?

You might have heard carbon offsetting talked about by celebrities flying private jets, or businesses talking about being more eco-friendly. But what is it and how do you do it?

Number crunching

Carbon offsetting is calculating how much CO2 you produce during a certain activity (e.g. flying, driving, public transport) and then funding a project designed to reduce carbon emissions by the same amount elsewhere, such as renewable energy or forestry. For example, imagine you’re on a return long-haul flight from London to Australia with a short layover in Abu Dhabi. Each person on that flight adds about 2.63 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) into the atmosphere. So to reduce that carbon, you can donate to schemes that cancel out that CO2 by investing into projects tackling climate change. 

So how do you do it? First off, calculate the carbon dioxide you’ve emitted for the activity you want to offset. There are lots of carbon footprint calculators online, like this one, which helps you figure it out. After you’ve got your result, you can go to websites like Gold Standard or Carbon Footprint and choose a project you’d like to donate to. There’s everything from building solar water heating in India to cleaner and safer stoves in Malawi and much more. You’ve now cancelled out the carbon dioxide from the activity you’ve done, making it now carbon neutral!

Just a quick fix?

So now you know what carbon offsetting is and how to do it. But there’s a few caveats attached. It’s good to do, but don’t use it as an excuse to not reduce your own emissions from the start. Carbon offsetting can be great, but we should do it alongside proactive lifestyle changes. Cutting down single-plastic use and eating less red meat are two examples of ways to reduce our own personal emissions. 

Also, when donating to carbon offsetting projects it’s better to donate to projects that increase renewable energy, provide clean water, and education projects, rather than tree planting. Trees don’t reach their average carbon storage capacity until they’re between 15 and 35 years old. That’s far too long given the climate emergency we’re already in. And that’s presuming the trees will still be there, which isn’t guaranteed as this year’s forest fires have proven.

Carbon offsetting is a great way to reduce your own personal emissions by giving to charities that can help reduce CO2 elsewhere in the world. But it shouldn’t be your sole way to be eco-friendly, and it’s important to research the right projects beforehand.

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