Time for the #OffsetChallenge

Aria McLauchlan and Harley Cross

Like thousands of other citizen activists, government officials, NGO representatives and green business leaders, we’re about to get on a plane and travel halfway around the world to go to COP22 – the global climate conference in Marrakech.

You may see the irony in scores of “environmentalists” traveling across the globe on fuel-burning, carbon-emitting jet planes to go to a climate conference focused on reducing emissions… and we wouldn’t blame you.

The thing is, there are ways to mitigate the impact of these kinds of climate transgressions. The tools have been around for years and are only getting better, but surprisingly few people use them, even in the green community. We’re talking, of course, about our old friend… the carbon offset.

A "carbon offsets” refresher:

Way back in 1989, carbon offsets burst onto the scene with a simple idea: If you’re going to do something that negatively impacts the planet, you can pay a small amount of money that goes towards a project (like tree planting or renewable energy infrastructure) that pulls or keeps the equivalent amount of CO2 you just used, out of the atmosphere.

You aren't doing less harm (you’re still getting on a plane or driving your car) but theoretically, you neutralize your negative actions by investing in projects that proactively help the planet.

Offsets are routinely criticized, either because they encourage bad behavior by allowing us to feel guilt-free while burning colossal amounts of fossil fuels, or because of the pitfalls and complexity in vetting and implementing the offset projects themselves.

That said, over the years well-regarded organizations have been developing standards and certifications that help with a lot of the heavy lifting involved.

It may be time to acknowledge that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. We've let the criticism of its imperfection undermine and delay meaningful action that we’ve each had the power to take for years

Getting into the offsets game.

When dealing with your favorite big polluters (airlines, car rental companies, festivals and events, and so on) the easiest way to buy offsets is to keep an eye out for a "go green" or "carbon offset" options often at the bottom of the checkout page.

This option is clearly convenient but not by any means universally available. To boot, these offsets are often buried in the fine print and unclear as to where exactly your money is going.

Take back your power.

Rather than solely relying on companies to do the work for you, we humbly suggest taking matters back into your own hands.

These days there are a lot of really well-made, easy-to-use calculators that help you tally up your carbon footprint and start to understand the extent of the impact your daily life has on the natural environment.

In addition to estimating the carbon cost of a single flight, these calculators also allow you to take a deeper look at everything from household energy use, to driving habits and food choices. They’re also directly linked to the donation pages of well-vetted organizations where you can purchase your carbon offsets… which are often tax deductible!

Calculators for your consideration:

Heads up: your estimate will vary depending on the calculator you use. These tools make slightly varying assumptions (about the type of fuel, time of year, and model of plane, etc.) when giving you their answer.

So, is this the solution?

No, of course not. But don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

With CO2 levels surpassing 400 PPM this October, we've reached a tipping point where it's just not cool (i.e. totally unacceptable) to wait for governments to legislate for us and for big corporations to slash their emissions.

Rather than holding our breath to see if some folks in a conference room in Marrakech can figure it all out,  let's start, however imperfectly, on taking this one action right now!

Take the #OffsetChallenge

  1. Calculate your carbon footprint from the flights you've taken and the miles you've driven.

  2. Offset that carbon!

  3. Let the world know you took the #OffsetChallenge and tweet out to at least one road warrior friend asking them to do the same.


Let us know if you actually did it! Purchase your carbon offset & tweet at @ariaintrepid or @harley using #Offset Challenge

COP22 runs from November 7-18, 2016. You can raise awareness and encourage individuals and our representatives to take strong and immediate climate action by using the hashtags #COP22, #EarthtoMarrakech and #ClimateAction.

Additional Resources:

NPR's "Planet Money" fascinating podcast about their team's effort to grapple with and offset their own carbon emissions made during a trip to report on deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

An old but helpful article with more carbon footprint calculator options (for businesses, households, etc).