Carbon offset – It’s about the net effect

After more or less settling into Berlin, I decided to visit the friend I made during my Vipassana meditation course. While booking my train and bus tickets, I was prompted, through Bahn.de and Flixbus respectively, to pay extra in order to “compensate” for my carbon footprint. Of course, it triggered the tree-hugger in me and I decided to pay 35 euro cents more for my bus ticket. (I was still too stingy to pay extra 1 euro for my train ticket but 35 cents was change loose enough.)

Flixbus carbon offset option.png

Initially, I was excited because I thought that I am paying more for them to adopt a different type of fuel, for example. But after researching about Atmosfair, I realise that they are an organisation that focuses on projects that reduce the carbon impact on the environment. They obtain funds through travel-incurred carbon emissions and use the money to invest in green projects. These projects can be as unrelated to travel as setting up clean stoves in Lethoso.

Here are some ways of being sceptical about it:

  1. Shouldn’t the projects be directly related to the source of CO2-producing object that you have subscribed to?
  2. Does paying = harm undone?
  3. Is it supposed to make my consumption guilt-free? If it does, do I therefore consume more?

It is, in essence, a re-packaged way of donating to a charitable organisation. Except, it points out the fact that you were responsible for a similar harm, and therefore, need to make amends.

But if we look at it positively:

  1. There aren’t any available solutions right now that directly address the problems caused by train or air travel. Fuel consumption through bus travel could, potentially, be converted to electricity. But that’s also part of where the research lies.
  2. Harm is definitely not undone. But if I injured someone by accident, I’d rather also take on his medical fees than not do anything about it.
  3. And no, I wouldn’t get myself into more accidents.

Which is why organisations operating on the principle of carbon offsets need to be extremely mindful about the projects that they obtain funding from, as well as the projects that they implement with the funds.

I liked that Atmosfair does not obtain funding from private car travel, on the basis that individuals should be encouraged to switch to electric cars instead of continuing their carbon-emitting ways, guilt-free – thinking that they have “compensated” for the harm done. The projects executed are also directly the result of the funding; that are otherwise not executed without the funds.

Also, I believe the type of projects matter – simply reforesting and planting more trees is probably too convenient an initiative. It is a deep topic – yes, trees do absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But what about the conditions that these trees are planted? They need to fit in with the ecosystem. And it is not simply about an area deforested, and another reforested somewhere else.

Organisations peddling with carbon credits, be it on a country level, or an individual level, need to audit their initiatives constantly.

Criticisms aside, there is still merit in flagging a harm done than not. It is part of public education. Like checking the box that I accept the terms and conditions to Facebook’s privacy policy – I may not know if it respects my privacy; but I know there is a policy I have consented to.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. tacomob says:

    Hi Earthleng, thanks for reminding me to do our annual carbon footprint offset for me and my family. I have done this over the last few years via http://www.carbonfootprint.com/
    They have an useful “carbon footprint calculator” to compute the amount of CO2 my lifestyle might/would have emitted. Then I donate the suggested offset amount. I usually choose the option to plant trees in Kenia.
    Does it help? I don’t know.
    Does it make a difference? I don’t know.
    Does it make a difference to me? Certainly yes. It simply makes me feel good (isn’t that the best reason to spend money on?)

    Liked by 1 person

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