I’ve found that the biggest hurdle I face in having my personal actions align with my low-carbon-footprint values is travel, specifically when it’s outside the range of my bicycle or my own two feet (and I’ve been known to walk a LONG way). My family lives in a different province; I love those guys and I love going home to visit when I can. According to Google Maps, making a human-powered journey to see them would take 330 hours by foot or 88 hours by bike, not taking into account things like hills, lunch breaks, sleep… Or, I can fly there in approximately two hours! Which is what I did last week, and what I have done numerous times since moving to the west coast.
I also have a truck. Yeah, I know, a strange decision for a girl who adamantly professes our need to collectively lower emissions. But it makes it so much easier to access those wild places found up BC forest roads (or transport three different boats and five people for a paddling trip!) when my soul needs a break from the city. What I’m getting at here is that I am not perfect—most of us aren’t—and acknowledging our everyday hypocrisies is a great way to grow. Living in the Vancouver Area means that I currently pay an extra 35.89¢ in carbon and motor fuel taxes per litre of gasoline (this rate varies across the province). BC has had a revenue neutral carbon tax since 2008, with negligible effects on the economy and disproportionate success in reducing emissions, attributed to a shift in the culture of energy use as a positive side effect of increasing awareness of climate change.
I know I certainly avoid driving anywhere I could reasonably (within an hour or so) bicycle too out of convenience alone, and am reaping the benefits of more exercise, more money staying in my pocket, and feeling positive about my decisions. More good things! Now, regardless of the success BC has had, carbon taxes remain a nuanced and contentious issue. I won’t pursue this tangent any further—it could be a separate article in and of itself!
I’ll get back to the task at hand: buying carbon credits.
Firstly, what are they? A carbon offset is a way to compensate for your personal emissions by funding carbon dioxide savings elsewhere. Often these funds go towards projects in developing countries that allow them to progress in a more sustainable way, providing benefits in areas like education, jobs, food security, health, and biodiversity. Good things, and from a social justice standpoint, necessary—developing nations are generally disproportionately affected by climate change while not having contributed to the problem to any great extent.
Secondly, it’s easy!
Less is a Canadian offsetting company that recognizes offsets as an imperfect solution to the complex issue that is climate change. They advise a three-step approach to reducing our environmental impacts with offsetting considered a last resort, when we can’t otherwise reduce, conserve, or switch to green alternatives.
All I had to do was input point A and point B, tick a box for round-trip and choose whether I wanted to offset high-altitude impacts or not (high-altitude emissions are more harmful because they trigger chemical reactions in the atmosphere that have a net warming effect), and voila: I had traveled 2411.2 km and produced 0.466 tonnes of emissions. I was then given a choice between “buying” Gold Standard-certified emission reductions (CERs) or VER+ Standard-certified Canadian offsets. The former funds international projects that meet the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism protocols, of which current featured projects include a Solar Cooker project (to replace traditional coal stoves) in rural communities of Henan Province, China, and a biogas wastewater treatment plant that captures methane in Thailand. The latter funds Canadian projects, including a landfill gas management system in Fredericton that eliminates 45,000 tones of CO2 every year and employs 50 people. That amounts to $1,080,000- $1,440,000 worth of offsets!
In university, I took a class on energy where I was tasked with calculating my carbon footprint over one month. While I don’t remember all the categories I included and the semi-complex math involved (it is possible to calculate how much CO2 you respire whilst cycling- although I wouldn’t recommend that degree of nitpicking), I do remember that there were websites that could do a simplified calculation for you in about ten minutes. If this is the kind of thing you find nerd-y pleasure in, Less also has an option to buy by the tonne to offset your everyday emissions footprint! And of course, if you’re like me and have a million questions, Less has a fairly comprehensive FAQs page and a Chat Now feature (yes, I used it…).
Cool Effect is another website offering carbon offsets, neat in that it allows you to choose the specific project you want to contribute to, ranging from wildlife sanctuaries in South Carolina to biogas digesters in China, each with its own per-tonne price tag. As a registered nonprofit, buying offsets through Cool Effect is also tax deductible! And large corporations are catching on, with The New York Times and Twitter both pledging to offset staff travel.
My trip home wound up costing me $11.74. That’s about the equivalent of going to the movies or buying a six-pack. Not a huge price to pay for a cleaner conscious! But, while carbon offsets are a great way to minimize our impact and help develop green infrastructure, they alone are not a solution—they’re just another tool in our toolbelt.
What can you do to lower your carbon footprint?
Check out other OPP articles about travel and reducing your carbon footprint!
Latest posts by Brooke Forbes (see all)
- Is Ice Cold Really that Cool? - February 12, 2020
- A Low-Waste Guide to the Holidays - December 13, 2019
- Not Just Science as Usual: Getting Back to Our Roots is Good for the Planet - November 7, 2019