“Americans produce an average of 21 tons of carbon a year, about four times the global average, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council” (Washington Post, 2018)
Calculating (and Offsetting?) your Carbon.
One of the best things you can do is calculate your carbon emissions. It really rams home how much carbon one can generate with particular activities, at home, traveling, etc… Then you can learn to avoid that behavior. (And there are so many examples being put into this blog of what you can replace that behavior with!) And that is what I threw my full weight behind – using carbon calculators to learn how to avoid certain behaviors. I certainly learned how to avoid flying when I found out that one set of trips over the fall of 2017 wiped out 25 years of my being vegetarian. Aie. I now take the train as much as possible.
There is also what is called “offsetting” of trips. Offsetting is where you can make a donation to a climate-fighting nonprofit to “offset” that carbon emissions you just generated. However, when you give money to an organization, there is always loss of money for overhead, other administration, etc. – and there is no guarantee that the money will wind up where it really needs to go. Further, buying offsets puts all the pressure on our wallet – and not on the airline or car manufacturer/company that we are using. Yes – we are the one making the trip, but they have a large part in generating carbon emissions by encouraging the use of fossil fuels, etc. By encouraging us to buy offsets, they don’t have as much of an incentive to fix the airplane doing the polluting,” Geiling, 2014, Smithsonian Magazine:
However, as the LAST RESORT – if offsetting, please donate the equivalent cost of that C02 (or more than) to a cause that prevents C02 output or that sequesters it. Here is a nice article by the Natural Resources Defense Council on what to consider when you buy carbon offsets: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/should-you-buy-carbon-offsets. Two key points include: 1) they should be third-party certified (all ones mentioned here are); 2) the action should be permanent; and 3) the action should be in addition to something that would have been done anyway. (Geiling, N. 2014, NRDC, Smithsonian Magazine).
Some carbon calculating (and offsetting) sites.
- Native Energy has not only travel calculators, but household and business calculators, as well as carbon-calculating software for businesses. The travel calculator lets you map multiple trips.
- I could have sworn when I first started offsetting that the group focused on Native American solar and other projects. Now it seems to be a Vermont-based company with some Native American staff focused mostly on global projects. My only choice for my carbon offsets for a round trip to Texas ($28 for 1.59 tons) went to an Ethiopian clean water project, which, by providing water filtration, prevents people from having to use wood to boil water.
- The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) calculator – is based on your general carbon lifestyle, and you can’t calculate a trip. Also, the offset form is divorced from carbon calculator. But TNC is a good group.
- MyClimate calculates flight distances for you, but for cars, you have to calculate the distance, and oh, convert from liters and kilometers if you are I. The U.S.. They do have a number of C02 prevention and sequestration projects to choose from for compensation.
- CarbonFund.org has a simple calculation tool, which pre-calculates the “carbon cost” and connects directly to an offset tool. However, it does not include small regional airports. Their train tool also doesn’t work (somehow I doubt it is only 2.2 miles between Washington, DC, and New Orleans, roundtrip.) Also, the car calculator is for annual mileage, not trips.
- Others I am still looking into:
- https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx (calls itself the most popular…)
- Delta and United are now providing a carbon calculator and offsets to customers.
- University of California, Berkeley’s Cool Climate calculator.
- https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator (based on energy units, not trips.)
So far, I think Native Energy is the best (has mapping tools) for those of us in the US, but we’ll see; it seems to be generating higher carbon numbers than the others, thus requiring more money for offsetting. It will be important to research their calculations.
Other useful articles.