As an outspoken carbon offsetter, this past Sunday and Monday I found my inbox filling with emails from friends about the NYT Week In Review cover story on Carbon Offsets. The Times article compared carbon offsets to indulgences offered by the church and suggested that the industry needs a Martin Luther to come along and spark a reformation.
The overwhelming message from the article, offered up not only my skeptics but also my some environmentalists is that carbon offsetting is just a feel-good consumer action that people can take while driving around in their SUVs and flying from coast to coast.
Tom from TerraPass (where I have purchased carbon offsets for air and car travel) responded on the TerraPass Blog with a thoughtful piece that compares offsets to recycling.
The offset industry is in its infancy, but even when it is mature, the idea is not for offsets to solve the problem of climate change alone, they are part of a broader solution that of course involves conservation and other changes in behavior. Already my measuring my carbon footprint from air travel has resulted in me combining trips wherever possible, and has influenced, in part decisions about where CivicActions is holding its next retreat.
So don’t be a hater! See carbon offsetting for what it is, part of a broader solution. It represents something that we all can do to have an impact (like recycling, or using reusable bags or water bottles or coffee cups). There will always be people who point out the shortcomings of any of these strategies in an attempt to either maintain the status quo or push for even more drastic change (I’ve seen recent articles that say you need to reuse a reusable ceramic coffee mug over 100 times to break even with disposable cups, as if a ceramic mug won’t be used thousands of times!)
The thing that is important in all of this nay saying is that when taking these baby steps, you need to make sure you are using reliable companies. Clean Air – Cool Planet has a consumer guide to carbon offsets that rates the best firms specializing in carbon offsetting.