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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

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.







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