Hello there. I am Terry and I am a full-time undergraduate based in Singapore. I take photos, write a blog and design websites.

And no, I'm not a teddy bear.

Going Green? Not At All…

Does Carbon Offsetting Work?

This post about the act of carbon-offsetting is inspired by two articles: Lost In The Forest by Adam Smith (29th January 2007) and Greenhouse Airlines by Bryan Walsh (12th February 2007). You can click on the image above to view the less compressed JPEG version. The above image is highly optimised for web viewing, hence it is being rendered in a lower quality.

Well this post is all about discussing why carbon offsetting doesn't really work much although it does bring about some benefits to the environment. Due to the bulk of the post they've been tucked neatly under the Read More link ;) Looks like I have one more cause to promote besides the Stop Smoking cause! Let's go green (and start reading…)

1. What is carbon-offsetting?

According to Wikipedia:

Carbon-offsetting is process of reducing the net carbon emissions of an individual or organization, either by their own actions, or through arrangements with a carbon offset provider.

The act of carbon-offsetting will help to reduce the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere. However, the effectiveness of the method has been questioned.

Companies like Treelfights.com calculates the amount of greenhouse gases an individual or business generates by flying, driving or heating and lighting a home or office. Customers then voluntarily pay that firm to invest in projects that will cut carbon emissions by an equal amount.

Quotes from articles about carbon offsetting

For example, you can pay a certain amount of money to offset the amount of carbon dioxide you've procued during a trans-atlantic flight. And the money can be used by the firm to plant trees that will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

Quotes from articles about carbon offsetting

The idea is very appealing – hence making carbon-offsetting business a booming one. In 2005, consumers and businesses worldwide paid $43 million to offset 6 million tons of carbon dioxide.

But does carbon-offsetting actually helps to improve the environment by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? This is where the crux of the problem lies.

2. Why is it bad?

The very first negative effect of carbon-offsetting is that it makes us not guilty of polluting the environment just because we have the money to help to offset the pollution we've done. It is just like saying sorry after slapping somebody without giving any reason – the damage has been done, and saying sorry (and in the case of carbon-offsetting, paying money) will not help the situation. Carbon offsetting will just make us pollute even more since we are confident that as long as we keep paying we can do as much harm to the environment.

Quotes from articles about carbon offsetting

At the same time, it is hard for scientists to determine how much carbon dioxide can be absoprbed by trees over a period of time due to multiple influencing factors. But it is 120% sure that planting trees is unable to keep up with carbon dioxide emissions:

Quotes from articles about carbon offsetting

The situation becomes even more problematic when this misconception that "as long as I pay everything I've done will be offset" becomes extremely widespread and coupled with the growth of the airline industry. Look at the statistics below and you'll get the idea:

Quotes from articles about carbon offsetting

Although airlines contribute to only 1.6% of carbon dioxide emissions, these gasses are produced at a higher altitude hence it has a greater greenhouse effect than the same amount of it when produced at ground level. More over, the airline industry is growing.

The worse case scenario is already happening – carbon emitted by air travel currently has no technofix. On ground, batteries and hydrogen are alternative fuels to cars and other fossil-fuel consuming machines. But in the air, the same aircraft models will almost certainly be flying on the same keroses fuel for decades.

This is because over the past few decades the efficiency of fuel usage has been greatly improved and there is no better and more efficient substituent for kerosene to power airplanes. Statistics also say that a transatlantic flight produces approximately 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide for each passenger – a person using a SUV on a frequent basis throughout the year produces the same amount of carbon dioxide. This shows that carbon emissions by airline is a very significant problem.

Quotes from articles about carbon offsetting

Tony Blair is right – it is impossible to stop people from flying. There are rarely any better and possible substitutes for flights. Of course you can hop on a train when commuting from Boston to Washington, but when it comes to commuting between Tokyo and New York, the only fast way is by airplane.

3. What should we do?

The most important thing – choose other methods of reducing carbon emmisions rather than sticking to the act of carbon offsetting. The act of carbon offsetting is like kicking mother nature in the butt and then saying sorry, which obviously does nothing to improve the harm you've done. This is what a few green organisations have to say:

Quotes from articles about carbon offsetting

It is best for us to start conserving now before it's too late. It does not cost your life to turn of the shower when you're soaping, to use a wet cloth to clean your car instead of using a hose of running water, to switch of electrical appliances when not in use, to raise the air-conditioner temperature to a few degree Celcius higher… although they produce very insignificant energy savings, accumulating them over time while making energy conservation as a personal habit can help to cut down your carbon emmissions significantly.

4. I want to say…

Feel free to speak up! You have the right as well as the power to say what you think about carbon-offsetting. Join in the discussion :D thank you!

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