Wouldn't it be great if there was a magic solution to the problems of climate change, if we could just press a button or do something easy to let us off the hook so we can carry on living the life we want to lead?
This is the promise of Carbon Offsetting. If you haven't heard of it, Carbon Offsetting is a way of balancing the problems of greenhouse gases by making an eco positive investment like planting a tree.
Almost everything we do can produce greenhouse gases, things like flying, driving, and food that's flown in from the other side of the world are some worst offenders - some of the more hidden ones are electricity generation and construction, manufacture, shipping and disposal.
What we consider 'living' is having a problematic effect on the climate of the planet and the environment, and as everyone contributes to climate change through our daily activities, the idea is that we will all have to work towards living a more eco friendly lifestyle - what is becoming known as 'low carbon' living. This shift will come about in due course from new technology (eg cars and planes that run on biofuels), ultra low energy appliances, but there is some action required from us, namely to be more careful with the energy that we use.
To put it in contect, a standard incandescent lightbulb can result in emissions of about 450kg to 900kg each over its life, whilst the manufacture , supply and disposal of disposable nappies account for 650kg of green house gases.
Really the best solution to all this is to stop generating greenhouse gases in the first place, but carbon offsetting offers a way of repairing some of the damage, right now.
These days carbon offsetting involves much more than planting trees, and there are an increasing number of companies out there offering carbon offsetting solutions, for example for about £5 for a short haul flight these companies will neutralise the carbon emissions on your behalf.
Most, like Climate Care and Carbon Neutral offer to offset the emissions from flying and driving, by investing in low carbon technology projects in developing countries, or in renewable energy, energy efficiency, or other projects which soak up or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Some like Carbon Clear offer offsets for all sorts of things for example the emissions involved in producing and using disposable nappies .
And more and more companies such as British Airways are including the cost of carbon offsetting in their service, or offering it as an added extra, as a way of saying to us consumers that they are an environmentally friendly company.
As an example of how it works, my brother Paul recently flew his whole family (5 of them) to Australia over Christmas. I quickly jumped into action, what about the carbon emissions? I asked. What's that he asked guiltily. Turns out the co2 emissions from one return flight to Sydney (3.7 tonnes) is about the same as running a family car for a whole year! In the end they spent about £240 with an offset company , which eased some of the guilt and they had a great holiday.
In fact Carbon Offsetting is a bit controversial. The Government recently decided that only about 4 out of 60 companies offering it were actually doing anything that really did offset carbon emissions, and have proposed standards to regulate the industry. Environment Minister David Milliband said that for an offset to really neutralise emissions, the offset needs to be put into projects that reduce emissions in the developing world - to nip em in the bud, so to speak..
Hard liners like Friends of the Earth say that carbon offsetting should only be a last resort, and we should be cutting back on greenhouse gas emitting activities first (and in daily life that means reduce reuse recyle) as once the emissions are in the atmosphere it's very hard to take them out.
Carbon neutral : http://www.carbonneutral.com Climate Care: http://www.climatecare.org Carbon Clear : http://www.carbon-clear.com Friends of the Earth: http://www.foe.co.uk