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  • Writer's pictureJessica Day

What are Carbon Offsets and What Do They Mean For You?

Can we invest in enough green spaces to counteract our carbon footprint?

The carbon drawdown window is closing and reports keep getting more and more alarming. Climate experts are calling for dramatic change: the cessation of carbon-based transportation, a dramatic re-structuring of land use and overhauls to our personal lifestyles. You can see leaders and mentors making dramatic efforts in this cause. Activist Greta Thunberg will travel to the UN Summit on climate change on a carbon-free yacht, Denise Rojas of GreenPowerScience flash cooks using a Fresnel lens (what’s that?), and others are trying even wackier things.

But if you can’t travel to your next event on a sailboat or cook using a pizza box solar oven then you’ve got to prioritize the change that you can make as you reduce your carbon footprint and find ways to offset what you can’t change yet. And remember that it’s in that order – reduce as much as you can first and then consider purchasing carbon offsets (essentially greening activities that are the equal and opposite equivalent of generating emissions) from a reputable source to help you close the gap as you continue to reduce your emissions. But know that buying carbon offsets alone will not be enough to halt the damage incurred from climate change.

According to the Drawdown, here are the most impactful personal decisions you can make today:

1) Source your energy from carbon-free or renewable options. Even if you don’t have a community choice aggregation program, your regular power company oftentimes offers a carbon-free option. Upgrade to it – it doesn’t cost that much more and it’s an investment in the renewable grid. This is easy and sometimes just a few clicks away. In Albany, we have EBCE and you can opt up to the 100% renewable option for just a penny per kwh more. Have you already done that? Great! What’s next?

2) Adopt a plant-rich diet. This means going vegetarian (or even better, vegan) as often as possible (even if it’s not full-time). Why does this matter? Because our current meat consumption disrupts green land use and feeds our global population inefficiently. The good news? This change will often save you money and it feeds more people globally! OK – so I’m now enjoying my Beyond Burger. What’s next?

3) Adjust to carbon-free transport. Walk, bike, or use public transportation as often as possible and the next time you think about buying a vehicle, consider an electric one. There are tons of incentives to switch to electric vehicles including rebates, tax breaks, and carpool access. Plus they’re just the coolest! And if you’re going to use rideshares like Lyft or Uber, request an electric vehicle. The emissions caused from empty rideshare drivers circling waiting for fares actually increased transport emissions in the Bay Area in recent years. All right, I’m getting my steps in. What else?

4) Keep your home efficient. Upgrade to electric or efficient appliances. Heating and cooling are key culprits in our emissions battle and all the energy we use powering our homes adds up. So turn things off when you’re not using them every day, don’t overheat or overcool, and when the time comes to replace old appliances, switch to energy-friendly ones. Great – my house is an energy-efficient machine. Now what do I do?

5) Think about how things are getting to you. We all love that Amazon two-day shipping, but shipping at high speeds is contributing to our carbon footprint. So start by buying local (don’t you just love shopping on Solano anyways?). And do you really need that special order item in two days? If you can wait a little longer, do so. Sounds good – I can be patient.

All that in mind, you might not be able to adopt all of these behaviors all of the time, but knowing what to prioritize might help. Finally, when you’ve reduced all you can (FOR NOW), you can look at purchasing some carbon offsets for you, your friends, or your family. Start by calculating your footprint with this handy, super-thorough personal climate footprint calculator (it’s pretty cool that this is a UC Berkeley invention). Then think about how and where you can offset those tons of emissions.

The Ethical Consumer recommends Gold Standard VER projects on the Gold Standard website. Or giving to educational projects including Skeptical Science (which largely tackles climate sceptic misinformation). The NRDC has recommended Green-E for reputable carbon offset programs. The good news is they're priced well right now (I was able to offset my carbon footprint for a couple hundred bucks).

So remember, start by organizing your energy use, eating plants, driving fewer miles, don’t overheat or over-cool your home, and shop local. And then know that high-quality carbon offsets are available to eliminate the last traces of your carbon footprint. They also make nice gifts.... for anyone - no matter if they're a climate skeptic or not.

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