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 process. 

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 climate change.

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 matter. 

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. 

Carbon dioxide offset program via Carbonify

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.

Carbon dioxide offset program via Carbonify

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. 

See 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

Michael Bloch
"Global warming - it's our choice"