Carbon offsetting is the newest way to show that you care about our planet, and with summer approaching, some of you may be considering offsetting to ease the guilt of your summer get-away. Is it worth it, however? How much can carbon offsetting be said to truly save the environment?
Carbon offsetting is a government supported plan, in which people pay money in order to support green schemes in exchange for their production of carbon dioxide. Current schemes operating include the reforestation of Kenya, Nicaragua and Guatemala, as well as more local projects such as tree planting in the UK and investing in green energy production.
There can be no doubt that carbon offsetting does not cause harm to our environment. Money raised from this scheme is used to plant more trees which will soak up carbon dioxide. Added to this, investment in green energy is not only admirable, but a necessity for the future. However, not everyone agrees that carbon offsetting is the way to save the world.
The head of Greenpeace’s climate and energy campaign, Charlie Kronick, has described the scheme in a Greenpeace statement as a “neat accounting trick” that does not help to stop global warming. He worries that offsetting will actually encourage people to make “unnecessary journeys” as it eases the guilt of using fossil fuels. He believes offsetting can do “nothing” to stop the carbon dioxide – once it has been put into the environment, it is there to stay. Instead of focusing on offsetting, he urges the government to reduce emissions in the first place.
Most of us produce more carbon dioxide than we should, and few choose to offset it. Calculating your carbon footprint to figure out the damage, however, can be eye-opening. Without the intent to donate to offsetting schemes, it can still be used as an incentive to reduce your emissions, which everyone agrees is a step in the right direction. Personally, I hadn’t considered myself to be either overly green or overly wasteful – I cared about the planet, obviously, but I knew that I was far from being an eco-warrior. The extent of my carbon footprint, however, shocked me.
As a student, it can be difficult to calculate, especially if bills are included with your rent. Therefore, I left out the household energy use portion of my footprint, instead calculating the impact of air travel, shopping habits, and use of buses, taxis, trains and cars. As I had left out electricity, I thought my score would be fairly low. Not so. My total came to 10.27 tonnes of carbon dioxide produced in one calendar year. The country average is 9.8 tonnes. Scarily, in order to combat climate change, the worldwide target per person is only two tonnes per year. Considering a return flight from Manchester to the south of France can produce 0.477 tonnes – nearly a quarter of your yearly allowance – this seems particularly low. To offset this you could pay anywhere between £3.84 to fund green energy, to £12.25 to plant a tree within the UK. Not exactly a consistent pricing strategy – just how much do the supporters of offsetting think a tonne of carbon dioxide is worth? It’s not clear.
Now, this wouldn’t be an article about green issues without a little bit of preaching. So here it comes…
You might think that, as a student, there is little you can do to change your carbon footprint. Certainly, if you are living on campus, bills tend to be included and things such as central heating temperature are probably out of your control. There are small things that can be done, however.
- Turn appliances off. Simple and obvious, but worth reiterating. Standby uses power too, so turn off at the plug if possible.
- Make use of your recycling boxes! If you don’t have one, ask the head of your college.
- Invest in an airer and hang washing out to dry in your room. Cheap ones can be picked up for around £10, and considering it will save you at least a pound every time you do a load, it could save your pocket as well as the world.
- Keep an eye on your mobile phone while it’s charging – as soon as the battery is full, unplug it. This could also extend the life of your phone’s battery. The same applies for laptops.
- Only fill the kettle with as much water as you need. You’ll get your cup of tea quicker.
- On holiday, use a bike to explore instead of a car, and ask for room towels to be washed every other day, rather than daily.
Preach over. So we can see that while carbon offsetting is not obviously harmful, it is doubted as to whether it can be seen to help the fight against global warming. Most experts agree to reduce emissions is much more useful. Hopefully, some of this will convince you to make a few changes. If you need more convincing, however, try calculating your own carbon footprint at www.carbonfootprint.com – you might be surprised. I was.