Are Carbon Offset Programs Effective? Things to Consider

Are Carbon Offset Programs Effective? Things to Consider
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Carbon offsetting started coming into vogue for the environmentally conscious about five to ten years ago, and now the practice represents a noticeable trend in the world of trying to restore mankind’s footprint on the planet. The original idea for most carbon offset programs was to plant a tree or some type of large vegetation to account for a person’s emission or carbon output. Transportation was a key example, with people paying for so many trees to be planted to offset their use of a car or plane in a given year.

Today the practice has spawned all kinds of carbon offset services, but like charities people need to pay attention whom they are giving their money to.

Things to Think About

There is nothing wrong with people wanting to restore whatever they have consumed from the planet. If everyone practiced the philosophy, the planet would likely find itself in a decade or so with an abundance of restored resources versus depletion risks. However, like so much of modern life, people are often unable to do the work themselves, so the idea of paying someone to take care of the offsetting offers convenience. However, this approach to responsibility raises a number of issues, including:

  • Is offsetting only practiced by those who can afford and wish to pay for it?
  • Is it an excuse to keep on polluting when prevention can be far more effective?
  • How is the offsetting service bought actually verified or confirmed to offset a person’s carbon production?

There is no question that a business model has developed around carbon offsetting, which in itself begs the question of how effective the approach is at actually removing carbon. Many of the smaller operations simply find an existing activity, call it a carbon offset, and then ask for money from environmentally conscious folks to abate their own carbon use. However, in practice, no actual carbon offsetting is occurring.

Further though, how effective is carbon offsetting if it’s only initiated by those who feel they can afford to pay for the offset, especially if they go and produce more carbon again? There are a lot of people using and producing carbon who can’t or won’t fit the cost of an offset into their personal budget. So the effectiveness of the approach begs the question as to whether offsetting in general is a waste of time.

Make Sure the Program is Reputable

While there is no actual auditor of carbon offsetting programs nationally, people can focus on use programs that follow a gold standard model. While trees may have been the initial model, gold standard offsetting is focusing on funneling financial support into renewable energy projects such as wind farms and solar panel farms. This is seen as far more beneficial to the environment since it contributes to a shift in consumable power use for the future. Those organizations that meet this kind of approach received a Gold Standard certification from an independent Swiss non-profit dedicated to reviewing offsetting programs and their viability.

Carbon offsetting can be useful, but those who want to pay into it need to do their research and confirm what their money is actually doing. If not, the money paid is better spent as a donation to a local charity for the homeless.