What is this carbon offset game and how do I play?


Our sister site, Earth Moment, lets you shop all your favorite online retailers, and purchases carbon offsets on your behalf ? at no extra charge to you.

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You've probably heard these guilt-inducing buzzwords by now: carbon footprint and carbon offset. 'What is this miraculous means by which I can reduce my personal assault on Planet Earth?' you might be thinking. 'Can I actually offset all the carbon dioxide emissions I'm responsible for?' you're saying to yourself. Well, it's actually pretty easy and affordable. Take me to your carbon offset leader!

A carbon offset is something you buy. It's a voluntary investment in an activity that leads to the reduction of Earth-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere. You can choose to spend anywhere from $5 to $5 million on offsets, and the project benefitting from your donation is usually up to you.

The most popular types of carbon offsets are those that plant trees (reforestation), support activities that help us use less fossil-fueled power (energy efficiency, conservation), or invest in power systems that don't rely on our dwindling fossil fuel supplies (renewable energy

). Some offset programs also invest in technologies that help prevent methane ? another potent nasty that heats up our lives ? from entering the atmosphere (methane capture).

The following organizations sell carbon offsets directly to consumers, and feature handy carbon calculators to help you determine your environmental footprint. All are certified by an independent agency that makes sure your dollars go where they should. (Learn more about the green-e certification program.)

  • Carbon Fund offers a range of pricing options to offset specific activities, such as driving or flying, or you can donate the dollar amount of your choosing. Approximately $5 offsets 1 ton of CO2. (For a frame of reference, you could prevent 1 ton of CO2 from entering the atmosphere by turning your thermostat down 2 degrees for four straight years.)

  • Native Energy invests in projects that benefit Native American communities and sustainable farmers. It costs about $12 to offset 1 ton of CO2.

  • TerraPass focuses on the CO2 created by travel. One neat feature is the ability to offset the amount emitted by your make and model of vehicle or the number of times you fly every year. It takes about $10 to offset a ton of CO2.

  • The Conservation Fund is dedicated to protecting America's landscapes and waterways. They sell reforestation carbon offsets for about $5 per ton of CO2 emitted.

And here are a couple of other innovative ways to rack up carbon offsets:

  • Earth Moment is a free portal that lets you shop at all your favorite online stores ? such as Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kayak or DirectTV ? and donates money to Carbon Fund every time you make a purchase. You pay nothing extra for your goods and services. Just make sure you log in to Earth Moment first, then browse for products or go to the store of your choosing. Click here to see a list of all the stores that have partnered with Earth Moment. This innovative e-commerce site is half owned by the publisher of Mother Earth News and Mother Earth Living.

  • The major travel Web sites ? Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz ? allow you to purchase offsets for the amount of CO2 that will be created by the travel you book through them. They contract with The Conservation Fund, TerraPass and Carbon Fund, respectively.

Carbon offsets have proved somewhat controversial to hard-core greenies. The idea of buying global warming indulgences just doesn't sit well with those who advocate lifestyle changes as the answer to our climate catastrophe. But others argue that they are an easy way for people to make a difference and help drive market demand for green power and other industries that are working to stem the tide of climate change before it's too late. What do you think? Are you enlightened? Get on your soapbox, vent, opine, or just contribute rational thoughts to a positive dialogue by using the comments section link to comment area below.