Carbon Offsetting

Saturday, August 08, 2009

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Whether or not you’re a fan of free market capitalism, there are a few basic assumptions you are following on a regular basis. You know that money makes the world go ‘round and that the economy is a sometimes volatile but very necessary force in our current system. You don’t have to agree with this.

I’m going to try not to give an economics lesson (without my economics texts I’ll probably fudge something ) but I think we can work off a few simple concepts that relate to the environment and how it can react to an economic system that seems, pretty plainly, not to care about it.When a corporation acts, it acts in the interest of capital, and almost never in the interest of the environment. This idea will become a more detailed blog post later.

So the title of this entry is Carbon Offsetting. Let’s talk about that. Apparently, this whole economy talk is where things like carbon offsetting come in. As we know, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. Factories, companies, cars, airplanes, you name it – emit large amounts of these gases. Actors in the economy have had to react appropriately to adjust for this environmental damage.

Carbon offsetting is a way for companies to make up for some of the emissions they are creating while seeking other methods (or not) of reducing their emissions. They buy offsets from a company who then use the money to plant trees, help companies with fuel switching, recycle tires, or a few other programs geared at reducing carbon emissions. The “or not” part is the problem – if companies keep just paying for their offsets as if that is enough, there won’t be a shift in the way we do business.

Why does offsetting work?
In basic economic terms, offsetting puts a price on carbon, giving it value, and providing a direct avenue to have an impact on our economy. This gives incentive to companies/individuals to make choices that will be better for the environment in order to avoid the costs associated with offsetting. If all goes well maybe we won’t need offsetting companies in the future. If actors must account for their environmental damage, they may think first and recognize the imperative to balance their actions and needs with those of the environment.
It is a way of bringing awareness and encouraging other environment positive actions. I can bring up a whole lot of issues related to greenhouse gases and emissions now, like how you can reduce your emissions without paying someone to do it for you.

More creative ways of offsetting

  • Consume less
  • Recycle more
  • Eat less meat (meat production emits high amounts of carbon compared to plant production)
  • Use reusable containers for coffee, water, groceries, etc
  • Lobby companies and government to change harmful practices
  • Eat less packaged/processed foods
  • Use alternative modes of transportation – bus, walk, bike, work from home

So, now that we’ve traversed the basics, let’s ask some tougher questions; do we want to be taxing companies or individuals for their emissions? Should individuals be treated differently than corporate actors? Do we want to be making place in the market economy for a more serious issue? Really, emissions are not something that can be solved through the economy. Many argue that this is just a start and will encourage real change. What does that real change look like? More green alternatives for individuals and companies? Does this address the problem?

You can do some of these things on your own - on campus, at home. You can encourage others to do the same. Spread the word about our excellent recycling program, our compost system, and the free store. Use the bikeshare program if you don’t have a bike. Virtucar is on campus too.

Some information taken from zerofootprint, a Canadian offset company that does offsets for AirCanada. (link to: )

- sarah jayne

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