Wednesday, November 21, 2007
It was an ordinary Monday morning. I put on my corduroy jacket and walked outside. A flock of robins pecked for worms in our un-raked front yard. Our next-door neighbor walked by with her dog and waved.
That's when I saw it—the recycling bin. We'd forgotten to put our recycling bin on the curb two weeks ago, so Sunday night, we piled our recycling bin high and neatly arranged the overflow recyclables in paper bags next to the bin, miles from a trashcan. But the trash collectors must not have understood. All of our carefully saved newspapers and bottles and cans were gone—everything except what was in the bin itself.
I was overcome by anger and a strong sense of guilt. Guilt seems to be an inevitable companion in my journey toward a more sustainable lifestyle. But I shouldn't beat myself up. There are more than six and a half billion people on this planet. It seems unlikely that my rerouted recycling will result in immediate catastrophe of global proportions.
We all must simply do the best we can by trying to use less and having a lower impact on the planet through our everyday choices. To make up for the things that are an inevitable part of modern life—such as driving, flying and using an air-conditioner—we can buy carbon offsets to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.
When power plants burn fossil fuels and cars burn gasoline, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The increased presence of carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun. On a large scale, this effect multiplies to cause global warming. Carbon offsets allow ordinary consumers to invest in projects such as renewable-energy generation and energy-efficiency initiatives to offset their contribution to the pollution. Carbon offsets are especially important to consider in the South, where lawmakers and utilities are opposing the push for renewable energy and greener power sources, even as the Bush administration has finally acknowledged the threat.
Online carbon-offset services allow you to calculate your specific carbon footprint by entering information about the type of car you drive, your average utility bills and the flights you commonly take. Most send you a bumper sticker so that you can impress your friends with your environmental stewardship.
Three carbon-offset companies are considered most reliable. Check out terrapass.com to invest in wind energy and biomass. For as little as $29.95 per year, you can offset the pollution from a small car. Another popular site is nativeenergy.com, where environmental scientists combine wind initiatives with methane-harvesting projects on farms. Offset the emissions of a small car for $3 per month.
The best-known company is carbonfund.org, which offers an easy-to-understand breakdown of the science of climate change. Their projects include renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation. Through the end of the year, carbonfund.org and their partner, Volkswagen, are reforesting land in the Mississippi Delta to offset the emissions of anyone who buys a new Volkswagen. For everyone else, it costs $17.25 to offset the average annual pollution of a small, high-mileage vehicle.
Purchasing carbon offsets is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to feel good about what you are doing to make the world a greener place. They are handy for reducing guilt about that must-have cultural experience in Ireland or Greece. Carbon offsets make excellent holiday gifts or wedding favors. But the best solution to pollution involves combining offsetting with reducing your usage in the first place. So just because you buy carbon offsets, buying a fleet of Hummer limousines still shouldn't be a feel-good experience.
Purchasing "carbon units" reminds me of purchasing "indulgences" to stay out of purgatory.
Maybe in some causes its a hoax and in others it is an honest attempt to counter some of the destructive things we do. Its probably better than doing nothing. Like recycling. Some could say it is a hoax because it requires consumption first. I think things like this can be effective if they are done in conjunction with reduction.