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Decrease Your Carbon Footprint With Carbon Offset Credits

For your next birthday, how about a gift card full of nothing? With new carbon offset gift cards, charitable giving reaches new heights – rather than donating in lieu of a gift, you’re actually giving a gift that takes something from the receiver. It’s a funny concept that’s hard for capitalistic society to grasp: donating our hard-earned money to subtractsomething from ourselves. The more we spend on flying, driving, socializing, – let alone simply living – the more we can offset the impact these actions have on the environment. How? By paying them off.

The essence of carbon offsets is for an individual to donate to clean energy technologies with money equivalent to his or her CO2 usage. It is an invisible, but valuable exchange. For instance, running an average American household for two months comes out to a ton of CO2 emission. This ton of personal pollution can, for example, be absolved by moving 145 SUV drivers to hybrids for one year.  By donating as little as $100 a year to clean energy initiatives, Clean Air-Cool Planet claims the average American household can become “carbon neutral,” that is, convert its carbon use into dollars that go to pay for positive, carbon-free change.

The carbon offset market is intent to point out that counterbalancing your carbon output is not “feel-good” environmentalism, and investors should use caution. Carbonfund.org notes that consumers must reduce their CO2 emissions as much as possible, but a total elimination of the individual carbon footprint is impossible. For the leftover carbon use we can’t erase, there’s offsetting. Yet within offsetting, there is yet to be implemented an across-the-board market standard, and this puts consumers at risk when buying such an invisible commodity. The standard of excellence to look for in choosing a method of offsetting is, for one, something called “additionality.” Additionality means that the company is using the donated money to promote clean energy that could not have been accomplished without the donation.

For instance, a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Boston equals $9.44 in calculated carbon use. To effectively offset this waste, a company should put that entire amount toward a project that would not have been possible otherwise: in this way the return is directly proportionate to the carbon emitted by the consumer. Furthermore, the David Suzuki Foundation points out that not all offsets are created equal. Tree planting, a popular offset choice due to its low cost, does not address the dependence on fossil fuels, has a slower return, and is not as effective as donating to a solar or wind initiative.

Clean Air-Cool Planet’s Consumer’s Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers suggests that once consumers have reduced their carbon output as much as possible they should then calculate their remaining carbon use. Carbonfund.org provides a nifty calculator to instantly figure the carbon used for flights, car trips, electricity use, and even events with out-of-town guests and hotel stays. Your total carbon use put into dollars can then be donated to one of their sponsored projects, all of which are third-party verified to ensure additionality as well as permanence. The list of projects, which includes wind and solar energy, methane landfills, and conservation, promises to use the offsets to promote sustainable, permanent energy efficiency rather than band-aide fixes.

Many organizations are catching onto this idea, particularly in the travel sector. EasyJetparticipates in a carbon offset program that allows you to pay a couple of extra dollars on top of the flight to offset your airborne carbon use. Sustainable Travel International advocates travelers to offset their CO2, part of a trend in the responsible travel sector that goes beyond the now-standard eco-vacation. Carbon offsets may appear, to the weary environmentalist, to be yet another gimmick aimed at our consciences. It is not without its criticism: for instance, planting a tree in an unnatural climate with a credit card does perhaps worse for the climate crisis. By investing wisely and cutting all-around carbon emissions, however, the offsetter can feel safe in his or her decision.

Carbonfund.org makes it easy to offset in a safe way, but for buyers seeking to invest elsewhere, the Consumer’s Guide provides the buyer with stringent guidelines on how to be sure the offset is indeed offsetting as efficiently as possible. Buyers are advised to ask the provider about their dedication to additionality, transparency, permanence, and education. Once a provider is carefully chosen, the buyer should be sure to communicate with transparency about his or her carbon footprint and to watch his or her investment over time, as the provider and the carbon market change over time. (Source:http://www.theclimategroup.org/news_and_events/top_ten_tips_for_purchasing_carbon_offsets/)

So this Christmas, go to Carbonfund.org and purchase carbon offset gift cards for your friends and family. Time will tell if it will become all the rage in charitable giving. Lowering carbon emissions generated over the holiday season is a challenge, and stuffing stockings with a bunch of nothing is in some ways worse than coal.

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