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

You've probably heard these guilt-inducing buzzwords by now: carbon footprint and carbon offset.

| November/December 2007


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.

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.

dave cordone
11/12/2007 12:00:00 AM

I agree with J Cottrell.Mother Earth News -- an Icon of independent living and individual action... should be doing everything possible to FIGHT the selling of Carbon Offsets.It is simply insane to allow this amazing scam to be perpetuated via the Mother Earth News.The Earth has it's natural cycle -- for instance -- why isn't MEN reporting on the THICKENING of the Antartic Ice Mass?The planet reverses it's magnetic poles every so often, the Ice Age was created by Tectonic Plate Movement, ocean currents change and affect weather.We are not capable of beating Mother Nature -- which should not be news to this publication. This country is 99% unoccupied... as a pilot and extensive traveler what needs to happen to to decentralize and give the shorelines up -- whether it is the shores of the Mississippi, the lowlands of Florida, the lava flows in Hawaii with 200,000 homes in the path of an ACTIVE volcano... why not just allow building of homes in the center of the Truck Lanes of the national highway system?Rebuilding the dikes of New Orleans was an incredibly stupid thing to do... HELLO, the majority of the city is 7 to 9 feet below sea level... We have such stupid thinking at work... everyone screaming to rebuild New Orleans, so that monsterous pumps chew up incredible energy, every second of every day, to pump out a city that is below sea level, already destroyed, to rebuild it for the next category 4 or 5 storm to flood it again.You can bet that there will be plenty of people offering Carbon Offsets for the continuing operation of those pumps...Mother Earth News, be responsible and start pushing hard but logical policies or become known as a tool of partisan politics.I came back to MEN for solutions, not indoctrination in sound bites that make energy hogs like Gore -- rich.

j cottrell
11/11/2007 12:00:00 AM

I still find it hard to believe that Mother Earth News is buying into the Al Gore SCAM! While I agree that we ALL should do our part to save energy (and the earth), buying into this scam is outrageous. Scientist have proven that his "the earth is hotter" is pure bunk. The earth has only warmed up less that 1 degree in the last 100 years! Yes, we do have cycles where the summers are hotter and the winters are colder but we have NOT had the predictions of Mr. Gore come true. (Remember his prediction of MORE hurricanes, etc.?) Just because he says it, doesn't mean it's true. (Does anyone remember that it was Al Gore who was "wasting" tremendous amounts of energy in his OWN home? Does anyone remember that it is President Bush who has the energy-saving products in his home? But, of course, you never hear about the our President's efforts to save energy!) The earth will survive. I liked a lot of the comments. It shows there are bright people other there who do NOT buy into all this bunk! This is just a way to charge the U.S. citizens more taxes!

j w_1
11/8/2007 12:00:00 AM

OK. I have a carbon footprint. I am not exactly sure of its size, but I know that it is there. What I would like to see is the impact of real, everyday trade-offs. For example:If I wish to read a newspaper everyday, how many trees would I need to plant in a year. Or how many miles should I reduce my driving.If I drink 5 soft drinks a week in 20-oz bottles, what might I have to give up to be carbon neutral.I recently started telecommuting from home several days a week. Based on my average drive to and from work, what has that done to my carbon footprint.I agree that contributing $5 or $50 or $5M so someone else can pollute is just too abstract to have meaning in real life.

patricia finley
11/8/2007 12:00:00 AM

I hear a lot of comments about what the government should do -WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT. Go back and read the Constitution and the Declaration. We created this monster and it is up to us to do something about it not wish upon a star...We can's say oh I want government to take care of us and then complain when it doesn't. We can't have government take care of everything. We as citizens first need to decide how much we want government involved and then decide what we are going to do to make that happen. The government is a huge bureacracy-but we created that because we wanted government to "take care of us" when in reality "we should be taking care of us. So we only have ourselves to blame for this mess and it is time we rolled up our sleeves and started taking responsibility and not pass the buck. Then next time you say government- stop-look in the mirror and realize we the people are the government like it or not.

stephen lucasi
11/8/2007 12:00:00 AM

Regarding carbon footprints... I recently bought an electric bicycle and have driven 300 miles in the past month on it, commuting to work. Now some may say, "Yeah, but the electricity produced by coal-burning plants to power it??" It still HAS to be less polluting than drving my car to work. Chilly in November? Yes. My small way of trying to reduce my carbon footprint? Yes.Recycling, wood-burning stoves, solar powered heating units, 'cycling' to work, all of these help, don't they? I am doing these things and trying to make those around me aware of them as well. If we would all do a little bit - driving less or combining trips, cycling, or how about this radical idea - WALKING. We, and the earth we love would be a lot better for it, don't you think? As an added bonus, we would be sticking it to the people who find it alright to charge us $3.00 plus a gallon for fuel... Happy walking!SJL

jessa lillge
11/6/2007 12:00:00 AM

I don't have a problem with or feel duped by "playing the carbon offset game". While I'm not one of the countries elite, or the rich of the rich, I still know that every little bit helps, and the choices I make can impact the choices my husband makes which can impact the choices our parents make, and our siblings make, and our friends make, and then their friends make and their families make. As one person put it, the big-money will lose out to the majority. If we all felt the need to change and all bought (and insisted on buying) fuel-efficient cars for example, they'd make less and less hummers, and more and more hybrids. "One person alone can run fast, but many people together can move farther"PS - Read the book "Ishmael" - it will revolutionize your way of thinking - and maybe living. It did mine :)

jim stevens
11/6/2007 12:00:00 AM

Mother Nature is doing just fine. We, the people of Earth, are the ones fairing poorly. You see, Mother Nature knows how to take care of herself. Mushrooms are an example. They are seen growing on dead trees eating them away into compost for future growth. Mother Nature is slow to completely compost a tree but she has all the time in the world. Mother Nature will, in the end, recycle Planet Earth. And if she has to, she will do it at the expense of mankind. Do what's right.

carmen ortiz
11/5/2007 12:00:00 AM

I totally agree with Tparish. I wanted to mention that there are large groups that are doing something. If you join groups such as the Audubon Society and Wildlife Federation you will get occasional notices asking for your help forwarding emails to government official to protest things that damage the environment. A few hundred thousand email make a difference. When the government stuck their nose into regulating organic produce, they wanted to allow things like sludge (toilet waste among other things). I've been using organic methods since the first issue of Mother Earth and I can assure sludge is not something any real organic grower would use. One day I was shopping at Whole Foods when I saw a notice asking support protesting that and other ridiculous things "our" government wanted to allow. I joined in with more than 100,000 other people and as history can confirm, the more objectible sections were taken out. That's not the only time emails have worked. By the way, not all organics are really organic. I would suggest you buy from local organic growers that will allow you to go verify the methods they use. Anyone is welcome at my micro farm.

wes hagen
11/5/2007 12:00:00 AM

Several years ago, a local senior planner, responded to my development comments with "What's economics got to do with it?" The reality is economics drives just about everything. We now are in a world economy that competes for resources. Americans are also biggest candidate for "The Biggest Losers". We are gluttons and it is obvious to the rest of the world.Recently I heard that it would take 5 earths to support the worlds population at the average level of Americans. If true, it can't happen. We got our so now the rest of the world needs to go on a diet. Hipocracy!Blaming government or business is popular, but not the cause. Politics is about getting reelected.....power. Business is about profitability. We vote in elections and every time we go to the store.A $.50 gas tax would reduce consumption, but would get you voted out. Everyone want someone else to pay.Look in the mirror.wes hagen

m kindberg
11/4/2007 12:00:00 AM

It sounds good that we all get to gather and work for a united goal,but if the dived populist cant get to gather now in lesser matters where will it go?we may survive if it is handled state by state person by person and the word is might.To day we see both party's pushing us toward socialism. we fight over abortion,ones sexual choice.What in the world are we concerned with these items ? We are in a big pickle we do have something going on in our environment we will run out of fuel,yet we have people who have stop drilling for oil and gas.And other thing.This group of people are the real threat.We can all live the mother earth way.let our pollutions ride bikes and walk to work.Carbon offsets just bunk.

tina parish
11/4/2007 12:00:00 AM

I think there are a great many people who all want the same thing in the end. A clean planet. We all have our different ideas on how to do this. I believe that we need to get together, despite any differences and become a force to reckon with. There is power in numbers. Everyone just needs to remember the end goal.

carmen ortiz
11/3/2007 12:00:00 AM

Before I comment on the carbon offset, I would like to say that anyone who thinks global warming is not happening must live in la-la land. I live in Minnesota, in an area that was zone 3 a few years ago. I had tomatoes ripening outside until a week ago. Before they would not have made it past early September. As to the carbon offset game, I think this is a way for some people to make easy money off fools. The problem can only be solve if we stop electing millionairs whose only concern is making money and helping their own kind get richer. As long as the government does nothing to stop the major polluters the problem will not be solved. I try to use and pollute less, as well as use sustainable methods for growing food because every bit helps but I know that for the damage we have caused and are still causing to stop, something drastic has to happen. I hope Mother Earth (the original one) will continue to step in and do something to stop us. I have no doubt that the planet will survive after we are gone, the problem is how long will we.

dave cordone
11/3/2007 12:00:00 AM

Carbon Offsets only accomplish the same thing that casinos accomplish. They remove money from people that want to feel good for a few minutes, then they wake up and things they hold near and dear -- are gone.So what is the real solution?ZPG -- Zero Population growth. As people drop their bodies and move on, the carbon producing population declines -- problem solved... reducing population solves virtually all of our planet wide problems in just a few generations.In Japan, each year a car get older -- it gets far more expensive to get its plate renewed, this causes the population to have more and more efficent cars or fund the government to deal with the problems created by old tech.With ZPG, instead of tax codes that give discounts for large families, should be reversed. Yes, the rich will be able to have larger families but I simply don't care.So much of poverty is based on the idea that sons and daughters will support you in your old age -- that day has passed. Carbon Offsets = SCAM = not good for the environment = JOKE -- on you...

m kindberg
11/2/2007 12:00:00 AM

I feel that this is another political feel good political correct bull.The earth is not going to die man does not have the power to do that.But we are doing a good job polluting,And hurting the environment WE will never solve the problems as long as our government is directed by the very ones who are causing the current pollution problems.Global warming is a political football today. Going back about 30 years ago we were going to have an ice age,this was the cry of the ones who are clamming that warming will dry us up and blow us away.Follow the money trial, when the money drys up so will global warming just as the ice age did.I do have a way to cure the problem.FORCE THE GOVERNMENT TO DO ITS JOB. NOW. not twenty years from now,pollution can be cleaned up very fast just stop polluting.

robert walsh_2
11/2/2007 12:00:00 AM

First of all I am a environmentalist who practices daily conservation.The global warming game is a hoax, a scam, a con perpetrated by a ruling elite who intend to use the taxes raised to further enslave the "useless eaters" (that means the rest of us).Peak oil is a scam to artificially raise oil prices. The oil companies have made larger profits since the peak oil story, than ever before in history.Do yourself a favor and look up in the sky some day. Perhaps you will see what seems to be a contrail from a high flying jet aircraft. Perhaps you will remember years ago when these contrails lasted only a minute or so. Now they stretch from horizon to horizon, and last for hours.Maybe if you see these lines in the sky you will wonder why the sky gets muddy and slimy looking.Perhaps also you will take the time to Google the term, "chemtrails" and learn about the "open skies treaties" that enabled this. While you are at it, google "HAARP".When are we going to read stories of how the military dumps poisonous chemicals into the ocean?When I see stories in the media about these topics I may start to take seriously the environmental movement. This movement had me hooked for many years.I'm glad I've opened my eyes to the real truths of the world.There are a lot of good meaning folks in this world and perhaps this website is included in that number. We've all been duped all our lives.It's time we all wake up and grow up.Thank you for your time.Robert Walsh

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