We all benefit from fossil fuels. As a consequence, we all cause carbon emissions, and thus contribute to climate change. Is it possible to compensate for our greenhouse gas-emissions?
“Yes and no” is the answer. Once carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, it is almost impossible to take it out. Fortunately, there are some actions we can take to decrease our impact.
The most important action is to decrease emissions in the first place. In many cases, decreasing emissions has the added benefit of also saving money. Thus, there are at least two advantages to walking instead of driving, turning off lights you don’t need and – well, you know the litany.
I’m retired and love to travel. How can I make up for the trip to the south of France (largely for business) this summer? Offsets offer a partial solution.
I am writing about voluntary programs where a person voluntarily pays to compensate for his carbon emissions. The PopOffsets website explains this concept well:
“Offsetting is a way of compensating for our residual “footprint”: the level we won’t or cannot reasonably expect to go below. The idea is to pay for projects – which would not otherwise be implemented – which take emissions out of the system to compensate for what we put into it. In other words, if an individual or organization has done what it reasonably can to reduce its emissions (insulation, green energy, efficiency measures, waste reduction, etc), it can compensate for the remainder by investing in projects designed to reduce the amount released to the atmosphere or to capture what is being released. Typical projects have traditionally ranged from hydroelectric, solar and wind energy schemes to more efficient cooking stoves to (re)forestation to biofuels to Carbon Capture & Storage (Sequestration).”
There are many different organizations that will help you calculate your carbon emissions, then figure the amount of money that would offset those emissions. One of them is American Forests. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, as well as provide many other benefits. This organization’s website has a carbon calculator to help estimate your carbon footprint, and thus the number of trees that need to be planted to offset that footprint. It also makes it easy to make a donation so it can plant those trees for you.
Where does human population fit into this? If there are fewer emitters, then there will be fewer emissions. Family-planning programs are a good way to slow emissions and thereby slow climate change. Indeed, sophisticated calculations suggest that voluntary family-planning programs can make a significant step toward limiting greenhouse-gas emissions. A team headed by Brian O’Neill has shown “that slowing population growth could provide 16-29 percent of the emissions reductions suggested to be necessary by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change.”
My column shares its name with an organization in England. The British Population Matters has recognized the advantages of making family planning available to more people. In order to put this noble idea into action, it started a unique offset program, PopOffsets. It collects money to support family-planning programs. Remember World Vasectomy Day, in which men all over the world get snipped? It received funding from PopOffsets. So has a “backpack nurse” who provides family-planning services to people in rural Kenya, and WINGS, a Guatemalan organization that provides reproductive health care. PopOffsets has also supported a Population, Health, Environment program in Ethiopia with contraceptive supplies. More surprising is that it also made a grant to an agency close to home –the Utah Population and Environment Coalition.
The goal of PopOffsets is “less carbon, smaller families.” It is apparently unique in the world and would like to see similar organizations in other countries.
Back to my trip to France. It is about 5,400 miles from Bayfield to Montpellier, France, where my conference will be held. Doubling that for a round trip, we can round up to 11,000 miles, most of which will be flying. The PopOffsets website says that 230 grams of carbon dioxide are emitted for every passenger mile or about 2½ tons for this trip. It estimates that $15 spent on family planning will offset one ton of carbon dioxide, thus my payment to them should be $37.50. I made a donation for more than that amount knowing that it will support good projects.
For the future of the planet, it is important to minimize your carbon footprint. What you cannot get rid of you can offset with PopOffsets!
Richard Grossman practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Durango. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. © Richard Grossman MD, 2015