To Offset or not to Offset

To Offset or not to Offset

I have started this post over and over again, trying to figure out how to best summarize my decision to purchase carbon offsets for my flights. It is a complex topic and one I wanted to know more about before putting pen to computer screen.

After slogging through the literature I have come to learn that carbon offsets are a complicated, multilayered cupcake, baked with a mixture of scientific research, extrapolations, best educated guesses, a myriad of opinions, several cups of standards and regulations, a couple tablespoons of risk, a teaspoon or two of controversy, and a smear of hope flavoured frosting. All for an intangible product that I will never be able to hold in my hands but am to trust is helping the environment. It is a lot to ask of the average consumer, but I am going through with it anyways.


This is what I have done to make sure that my money has the best chance of actually doing some good:

Lots Of Reading
I mean lots. I trust the work done by the David Suzuki Foundation, so I used their website as a springboard, following a trail of links until my ears started leaking carbon offset facts and opinions onto my pillow at night. You can find the link to a lengthy research paper comparing carbon offset standards via the David Suzuki Foundation’s website here. There is also a link to a pdf guide for purchasing carbon offsets on the same page. The target audience of the guide is Canadians, but it could still be useful, eh?


More Reading
Google searches galore whenever I was feeling masochistic enough to type those 2 words into the search field. Here’s a wikipedia article I came across, long but not too bad. There are many variables involved when evaluating the projects that produce the final carbon offsets set loose on the market and I wanted to understand them better. Things like additionality, permanence, leakage, co-benefits, double counting, project share pitfalls, … it goes on and on. As I was making notes on the definitions to each of these stages and elements of an offset project, I got depressed and decided there was no point. Because …

Finding A Vendor
Based on this reading, I decided I do not know, and will likely never know, enough about all the different types of pollution, how we generate it, and how to clean it up to confidently search out effective carbon offset projects to invest in on my own. So, I started to research vendors.

Making The Final Purchase
In the end I chose a vendor that sells carbon offsets from projects that meet the criteria set out in the Gold Standard, the strictest of standards available to the voluntary market (that’s us, the private consumers).

So, why am I going through with carbon offsets? It’s simple. The offset market is a relatively young industry, only available to the private consumer since the mid 2000s, and the various governing bodies, companies, and project leaders are working on ironing out the kinks. Without investors willing to take a little risk it will never grow and improve.

There was a time when the iPod was young, barely tested, had relatively basic options, and had a few kinks of it’s own. Yet, consumers flocked to electronic stores to get their hands on this little metal box that allowed them to put music in their pockets. Overtime the market base grew so that now there is a veritable yearly migratory route to the nearest Apple store with each release of the latest iPhone, iPod, iTouch, iGottaHaveIt device. If I’m willing to shell out my hard earned cash for a tiny vehicle to transport music and games, then it’s time to open my wallet to clean up after the mighty metal boxes that move my body from point A to point B. It just seems like the responsible thing to do.

I would love to know if you’ve bought carbon offsets. What factors were involved in your decision? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back? Have you found alternatives?



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  1. Sylvia Zerjav

    Not sure that I really understand the concept of carbon offsets.
    In the end, it’s all abut no longer taking oil/gas etc out of the ground.
    Did you read Naomi Klein’s book:This Changes E everything?”

    • Genevieve

      I haven’t read ‘This Changes Everything’. It’s on my list, thanks for the recommendation! Yeah, I find the concept as a whole a bit overwhelmingly complex even after all the research I’ve done. Understandably so given the complexity of the ecosystems offset projects are meant to work within and support. Ultimately they are one more tool we can use to help reduce the impact of our ecological footprint. It’s not a tool I plan on using heavily since my preference is to modify my own actions before relying on someone else’s efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of my lifestyle, but I am happy the option is there.


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