What are carbon offsets & green tags?
Every activity that humans engage in requires excessive natural
resources - whether its lazing around and watching TV, eating, driving
to the store; even breathing. Well, breathing is an exaggeration as it's
a natural process.
In the natural world, the activities of the plants and animals are
kept in a fine balance. Humans have attempted to override these natural
balances by taking more than our share and generating toxic waste in the
For example, an elephant has a life span of around 70 years and
during that will generate 0 tons of non-biodegradable waste, drive an
automobile a total of 0 miles and watch a total of 0 hours of TV. In
fact, any waste an elephant generates can benefit the environment.
A human in the Western world on the other hand will generate well in
excess of 35 tonnes of household waste during the same period, much of
it non-biodegradable. That does not include items such as appliances and
automobiles we discard. The same person will also likely drive thousands
of miles and watch thousands of hours of TV.
Resource consumption = carbon dioxide
Waste is just one aspect, but there's also the resources that go into
creating the waste that are a problem. Every piece of packaging we use
has required natural resources such as oil and energy in the form of
electricity to create. Driving to the store to buy these items also uses
oil. Watching TV uses electricity.
All these activities generate excessive carbon dioxide, the gas
primarily responsible for global warming and global warming related
The truth of the matter is, we are the most unnatural creature on
this planet. We do not live in harmony with our environment, but in
defiance of it. This defiance has been tolerated for some time, but now
our planet is warming up and ecosystems are breaking down as a result.
Our hope lies in minimizing waste and ensuring what waste we generate
and the resources our activities consume are from renewable sources and
have the least impact as possible on our environment.
Enter carbon offsets and green tags
When we drive our cars or switch on a light, often the source of that
power generates carbon dioxide emissions - for example, a coal fired
power generation plant. Carbon offsetting is the process
of reducing the net carbon emissions of our activities.
For example, your power company may generate
electricity through the use of coal and you don't have any say in the
What you can do to help combat the amount of carbon
dioxide generated on your behalf is to purchase green tags or carbon
offsets (also known as RECs or TRCs).
Green tags and offsets work in a variety of ways. In
some scenarios you pay for an equivalent
amount of electricity to be produced by a wind farm, solar array or
other renewable energy source. You don't pay double for your
electricity, simply the difference in cost between your non-earth
friendly power source and renewable energy production - usually a few
cents per kilowatt.
The idea is that if enough people offset their
electricity usage, it will provide the motivation and funding for
increasing numbers of renewable power generation sources to be built;
phasing out carbon spewing power plants.
Carbon offsets may also
involve the planting of trees to combat the carbon dioxide production of
the activity. Trees feed on carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Bear in
mind with this option there's a lot of debate around as to how much CO2
a tree ingests - and it can take many years for a tree to process X
amount of carbon dioxide; and die-off rates need to be taken into
account by the provider. Still, I'm all for more trees on our planet;
not just for the CO2 reduction benefit!
Another scenario is where a provider purchases and
then surrenders carbon credits that other companies have generated
through effective energy efficiency projects reduce carbon
emissions. This means that the company can not use this credit to
generate more CO2, if they do generated above the total credits they
have left, they have to then pay a levy to the government. This is
probably the least desirable option for many people as it's not going
into creating renewable, clean energy or capturing an effluent and
creating energy from it - it can be a rather vague sort of arrangement.
Endorsements and certifications
Unfortunately, there are no clear standards in the carbon offset
market and as in any industry sector, some shonky operators have
emerged. The money you are paying for your tags may not be providing the
benefit that your good intentions deserve.
If you're not clear on how a provider offsets your
carbon footprint; ask questions - they should be able to explain it
simply, clearly and definitively. In fact, they should have plenty of
publicly viewable information on their site about it.
The tags should be endorsed by reputable authorities
or certification services. For example; the tags purchased to offset the
running of this site are endorsed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Renewable Northwest Project, Northwest Energy Coalition and certified
by Green-e and The Climate Neutral Network.
To my way of thinking, it doesn't matter if you're
based in the UK and buy tags that pump green power into a grid in the
USA - the problem is *global* warming, not local warming - so buy your
tags and offsets from companies you feel most comfortable with;
regardless of their location.
Offsets and tags are only part of the solution
It's important to understand that the purchase of offsets and tags
help to alleviate and combat global warming. They certainly aren't the
solution. If we continue to consume resources at the rate and way we do,
the planet will continue to warm, ecosystems poisoned and species made
extinct. Earth just wasn't designed to cope with our excesses.
offsets and tags as a transitory stage while we all learn to live more
in harmony with our environment and as we switch over to renewable
energy resources and do what you can to reduce your emissions also.
Green tags and carbon offsets shouldn't be seen as an excuse to engage
in excessive consumption.
For further information about living a more earth friendly lifestyle,
visit Green Living Tips.com
"Global warming - it's our choice"