Carbon Offsets: the Solution to Climate Change?


So I live abroad and I travel by plane quite often to visit my family. I know that by flying I’m creating tons of carbon emissions, and I also know that flying is the largest piece of my carbon footprint cake.

So I get a free guilt trip along with my plane ticket.

Well, my family is waiting for me to visit and I can’t really avoid the plane part (hi, trans-European railway project, I’m looking at you πŸ‘€). But there is a way to compensate for the guilt and the greenhouse emissions. What a time to be alive.

⚠️ Disclaimer: the topic of carbon removal is controversial because it gives big polluters an excuse to keep polluting “rEsPonSibLy”. To achieve net-zero emissions and get us out of this climate mess we’re in, we (and by “we” I mean especially big corporations and wealthy countries that account for like 80% of global emissions) need to first reduce and then remove. There’s no net-zero without both things, end of story. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.


What on earth are carbon offsets?

We use carbon offsets to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and compensate for one human activity that created pollution by doing good in another way – planting trees, corals, investing in carbon removal technologies,…

They have become quite popular as a way to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity, but until quite recently they were rather reserved to the corporate side of things – meaning that maybe you were not aware that your plane ticket came with an extra charge to offset your flight’s emissions, but the airline included the offsets as a part of their services.

Think about them like toppings you get on a nice gelato. Only that the gelato might be a plane ticket or even a piece of clothing. And the sprinkles and chocolate sauce are these climate credits given for rural development, tree-planting programs, or clean energy investments.

Read more: The Controversy about Your Carbon Footprint Explained

Where can I find them?

You can find a few companies (from clothing to airlines) that use them as a way to compensate their emissions and reduce their carbon footprint, or even as a tool to become carbon neutral, like the fashion brand Reformation (carbon neutral since 2015) with their campaign Carbon is Cancelled.

But you don’t need to buy new clothes or go on holiday to buy offsets. There are also organizations that let you purchase climate credits to contribute to a project of your choice – you can find a few very cool programs here.

Their goal is to help you compensate for the greenhouse emissions you create with your lifestyle or with a part of it – how much you use your car, how carbon-heavy your diet is,…

And did you notice I keep using the word “compensate” and not “eliminate” or “erase”? This is because these carbon emissions you want to offset have been created or will be created no matter what. You’re just trying to repay the Earth with carbon removal somewhere else. It’s like a “sorry for making you warmer by driving an internal combustion car, here you have a tree” postcard.

So the whole idea is that we should already be doing our best to reduce our carbon footprint and use the offsets as extra help.

And yes, this applies especially to big polluters, but individuals can use them too for peace of mind, and to do their bit. Any climate-positive change you make in your life will be greatly appreciated by Mama Earth and all its earthlings, so don’t be discouraged.

Read more: How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: 9 Easy Ways

And why should I buy carbon offsets

I know a couple of people who have gifted their loved ones a star for their birthday – you know, they pay to name a star after them.

Read more: How to Buy Carbon Offsets and Where to Find Them

If people pay for that, why wouldn’t you pay to conserve our actual planet? – just asking idk.

There are so many reasons I could go on and on for days, but mainly:

  • You’re making up for the CO2 that you unavoidably create. Maybe you take public transport to get around, which already helps a lot. But those emissions are a part of your footprint still…but you have places to go, and you need to get there somehow, right?
  • You’re investing in clean energy projects. Many of the offsets translate into planting trees, but these will have effects in the long term (10-20 years, when the trees are fully grown). That’s why there are other programs that help you invest in clean energy installations for areas in need, or even in some cases in wealthy countries.
  • You’re helping rural communities. Many of these projects are based in countries of the global south, which translates into extra income for small farmers and some extra help taking care of their environment.
  • You’re investing in the future. For the environment, the communities involved and the whole planet.

BONUS REASON: they can be as cheap as 9$/10€ for a ton of CO2 WHAAAAAAT?! C’mon, that’s the price of a frappuccino, you can do it!.

carbon offsets to compensate greenhouse emissions created by air travel

And this is how you find trustworthy carbon offsets

I already did my research so that you don’t have to and listed some the programs that look great in this post.

But in case you want to find a different one, here you have some handy tips to help you find legit and non-scammy carbon removal programs:

  • Transparency is key. Make sure you can find yearly reports that verify that they’re actually doing the work they claim to be doing. Also, they should be transparent about the amount of emissions they have saved, how the money you give is invested, and a long etc. They also should list the projects they’re working on.
  • Make sure they are verified and certified. A third party can confirm that the person or program receiving the money is real and is using it for the ends they promised.
  • They have to be permanent. The seller must guarantee that the trees they’ll plant won’t be cut down in 10 years, or that the wind generators installed will be actually used.
  • They must be additional. “Additionality” is a tricky concept, but let’s say that the GHG reduction thanks to the offsets has to be added to the business-as-usual scenario. This means that the reduction must be real and that the company/landowner that receives the money cannot use those CO2 credits as wiggle room to pollute elsewhere.

So what are your next steps?


What do you think?

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