Posts Tagged ‘carbon offsets’

This morning, ClimateBiz reports on a recent survey by a Seattle P-I journalist on carbon calculators. The reporter tried out ten different calculators, and here are the results:

Not surprising. Last year, I did my own exploration of carbon calculators, and came out equally confused. TerraPass had made it into my list of Top 3 Calculators, along with ZeroFootprint and Nature. Now comes Cool Climate, the new calculator from UC Berkeley, that promises to be better than all its predecessors.

Not only is it hard to figure out which calculator to use, but there is also the accountability problem of carbon offsets, carbon calculators’ close cousins. When I am sitting at home in California, how can I know for sure, that the money I am giving will indeed result in carbon credits? The alleged 20% rate of doubtful credits, as reported by the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism organization, spells out caution.

Last, I have my own reservations about the behavioral consequences of relying too much on carbon offsets. I have said it before, we cannot buy our way out of our predicament. Conservation, efficiency, smarter technology solutions, should always come first, with carbon offsets as the absolute last resort. Recognizing that there are indeed circumstances when one has to fly, as an example, and carbon offsets do have a very legitimate role.

I wonder, what is your experience with carbon calculators? Do you buy carbon offsets? If so, when? How would you improve the current system?

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Starting tomorrow, I will be off to Europe for a two-week visit to my family, followed by a tour of the Tuscan countryside. If I was 100% pure, I would stay home, and use Skype to stay in touch with my loved ones. After all, air travel is one the most CO2 intensive mode of transportation:

This is where the power of emotional ties collide with my green conscience. The tragedy of my 86-year old mother slowly falling to Alzheimer’s, and the adorable pictures of my new six-month old nephew Amadeo, are stronger than all the carbon calculations. I have to go.

To ease up my footprint, I will, of course, buy carbon offsets from Terrapass. And dream of a not so distant future, when air travelling may not be such a curse on the environment.

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The Swiss are proving that a few hundred thousand citizens, is all it takes to get authorities moving on the climate fight:

A people’s initiative calling for the government to slash greenhouse gases by 30 per cent by 2020 is set to come to a nationwide vote.

Pressure is mounting on the authorities to do more to fight global warming in Switzerland, especially after the government’s latest package of measures met with a mixed response.

Green groups and centre-left parties handed in their initiative to the Federal Chancellery in the capital, Bern, on Friday.

They managed to collect more than 150,000 signatures in just a year. To force a vote, 100,000 signatures have to be collected in 18 months under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.

For Thomas Vellacott, president of the initiative, the popularity of the proposal – people were reported to have queued up to sign it – showed how important the environment was to the Swiss.

People Power Prepares to Fight Global Warming

“We know that people are getting fed up with a situation where everyone’s talking about doing something about climate change but no one’s actually doing anything,” he told swissinfo. “People are ready to see some action.”

The initiative calls for carbon dioxide emissions to be cut 30 per cent below 1990 levels.

“We’re saying that we want it to be achieved in Switzerland, so we don’t want it to be achieved by buying cheap credits abroad when we know that four out of ten are actually insufficient or nothing happens,” explained Vellacott.

The committee, which includes the non-governmental organisations WWF Switzerland and Greenpeace, as well as the Social Democratic and Green parties, also want to push for action concerning energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Now, all we need, is to change the laws to turn the United States into a direct democracy. In the mean time, we can always sign petitions and take the matter to the streets.

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First the French, now the Norwegians . . . According to a recent Reuters‘ announcement, ‘Norway says aims to go carbon neutral by 2030‘:

The plan includes offsetting Norwegian emissions by spending around 3 billion crowns ($553.1 million) per year to combat deforestation in developing countries. Forests act as a sink for CO2, the main greenhouse gas blamed for causing global warming.

Under the Kyoto Protocol curbing greenhouse emissions, countries do not get credit for the effect of their own forests, but they can get credits by planting trees in developing lands.

“The parties now think it is realistic to assume reductions in Norwegian climate gas emissions of 15-17 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents by 2020 when forests are included,” the government said in a statement.

Three million metric tons of that reduction would come from Norway’s forests absorbing carbon, it said.

The initial target was to cut 13-16 million metric tons of CO2.

Achieving the target will require cutting Norway’s total emissions by two-thirds domestically, the statement said.

Environmental groups said the deal was too vague, and Oil and Energy Minister Aaslaug Haga acknowledged: “We don’t know how we will achieve the goals yet, and that is challenging.”

A “significant sum” of money will be earmarked for investment in renewable energy, mass transport and measures to reduce emissions from the transport sector, while tax on diesel fuel will rise by 0.1 crowns ($0.018) per liter and on gasoline by 0.05 crowns, the government said.

“Both carrot and stick will be used to promote more environmentally friendly behavior and to reduce climate gas emissions,” the centre-left coalition said.

Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left (SV) party said the policy would lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions both in Norway and abroad.

“The agreement gives Norway a far-sighted climate policy that can stand independently of shifting governments,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in the statement.


Stoltenberg, who heads the Labour Party, has said Norway’s policy on cutting CO2 emissions is the world’s most ambitious and he has likened the challenge of fighting climate change to a “moon landing” for the 21st century.

Norway, with a population of just 4.7 million, is the world’s fifth-biggest exporter of oil and Western Europe’s biggest exporter of natural gas.

Endowed with rivers and waterfalls, it gets almost all its own electricity from non-polluting hydroelectric stations. But the Nordic country aims to begin burning natural gas for power generation in the future to satisfy growing demand.

The government wants emissions from such power plants to be captured and buried, a technology still under development.

“The agreement implies technologies that are not known yet,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

The government said it would spend an extra 70 million crowns ($12.91 million) this year on research into renewable energy and carbon capture and storage this year, and funding for such research would rise to at least 600 million in 2010.

My first reaction was Wow! Kudos to the Norwegians. If they can do it, why can’t the rest the world, and the U.S. especially, follow? Upon closer look, I am uncomfortable with their plan however. Too much is left up to chance, including relying on not yet existing technologies. Also too much of their anticipated reductions will be the result of carbon offsets – reforestation in developing countries. They could be more specific with possible reductions from existing solutions. So, yes, I agree with the environmental groups. The plan is way too vague.

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For $170, I could wash off my hands clean, and keep going with my life as it is. Drying our clothes in the dryer, taking endless showers, flying to far away places, driving whenever I feel like it, buying food and all the other stuff with no restraint, swimming in the privacy of my own pool, reading our two daily newspapers, ordering takeout three times a week, letting the junk mail come in every day, use the big oven for small dishes, print on one side of the paper, not feel a bit of discomfort. I could, $170, such an easy, painless solution to my environmental predicament. I could even end the Carbon Conscious Project right there. I could, and I don’t want to.

A quote from President Sarkozy, in this week’s Paris Match, got me thinking. “Le sort de chacun est lie a celui de tous.” (The destiny of each individual is linked to the destiny of all people). This is where the concept of moral obligation and green citizenry comes into play. I feel obligated towards my fellow human beings to do at least my fair share of work towards a more sustainable planet. That I have some financial means, does not absolve me from taking a hard look at my personal indulgences, and taking some steps to curb them. Green Guru and I just had an argument about this. Green Guru thinks, because he spent $30,000 putting up a solar installation on top of our house, and he is working on some solar deals in Hawaii, he should not have to worry about his flying whenever he feels like it. I disagree. I don’t think it works that way.

The whole discussions needs to shift away from accounting, to human values of respect, community, responsibility, and fairness. More selfishly, I also know I would feel very wrong if I bought my way out. And I don’t want to pay the price of guilt eating at me. My green conscience won’t let me. I know full well when I am taking more than my fair share. That much, I have learned from the past six months, spent observing my not so green actions, and learning about what is too much, and what is not. The $170 in carbon offsets? I will probably end up paying them anyway. It’s good, it’s just not enough.


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As I am gearing up for the Carbon Conscious Project, I have had the opportunity to test a number of carbon calculators. Some are easier than others to use. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, and could all use some improvements. Here are my top 3 favorites:

  1. Terrapass : I like that it is very easy to use, allows be to input detailed flight routes, and provides for immediate remedial action in the form of purchase of Terrapass carbon offsets for each category, car, flights, and home. I don’t like that it is not clear whether the data is individual or household, and that it does not include other categories such as water usage, food, recycling, etc.
  2. Zero Footprint : I like that it is the most detailed of all calculators, it really gets down to great level of details. There is an option to buy carbon offsets. There is also a community aspect to their site that gives more relevance to the calculator. I will be curious to see how their citywide initiative with the city of Toronto pans out. I did not like that they don’t allow for the input of exact flight mileage, like Terrapass. Also I was not sure if they meant round trips or one way.
  3. Nature: I like that it sticks to basics and is fast and easy to do. They also include food and recycling, and car use data such as air filter and tire maintenance, in their calculation. I do not like that the calculations are very rough, eg, home footprint is based on size of house to 5 bedroom +, and does not take into account actual energy consumption. Also, the flying part is not done according actual mileage.

All three calculators agreed that my footprint is way above US average. Big culprits: all my trips to Hawaii and France, still driving too much, our big house, and the pool. Terrapass provides immediate opportunities to redeem myself with its various offset passes. It will cost me $170 for one year. This is not taking into account, all my trips to Target. None of the calculators include the impact of non food purchases.

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Just received in my Inbox, from Virgin Atlantic: ‘Picture this: London from $256.’ Don’t get me wrong. I am a big admirer of Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial genius. This is not an effort to single out Virgin Atlantic. Rather, I am pointing at the pervasive nature of our modern consumerist culture.

I was curious, and wanted to find out how much CO2 damage a flight like the Virgin Atlantic one would cause. I tried to google ‘air travel, carbon footprint’, and went nowhere. There was no carbon calculator, that could give me the exact CO2 equivalent for a specific trip, let say, San Francisco – London round trip. If any of you know of one, please pass on the information!

Carbon offsets have a role to play in instances where one absolutely has to travel. But going to London on a whim, just for the fun of it? I think that time has passed.

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Green Guru will make three airplane trips this month. One this weekend for the Indian wedding on the East Coast, one to Hawaii for business, and one at the end of the month for the Homecoming at his alma matter, the University of Madison. Since he gives me such a hard time usually, I did not want to miss that opportunity to return him the favor. Isn’t aircraft traveling one of the worst offenders for carbon emissions? What was he going to do about his trips? We have had the same discussion before. And again, Green Guru brought up his greenness, the solar installation on top of our roof, all his daily green deeds, the solar project in Hawaii. Plus, he was planning on buying carbon offsets. That’s when it struck me. Buying a green conscience is a privilege of the rich.

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Getting ready for trip to Paris tomorrow. If I was pure green, I would not fly, but lets face it, I need a France fix once in a while. A more realistic option, would be to buy carbon offsets. The question I need to ask myself is, why didn’t I bother looking into it earlier. The answer is, . . . actually there are several answers: 1) I did not think of it, 2) It costs money, 3) It takes time and effort to research.

In the end, it boils down to, what do I really value? Talk is cheap, and I do plenty of it. Making changes and active contributions is a lot harder, a lot harder.

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