20 January 2008

Paying for My Carbon Footprint

Friday night, after a gathering to celebrate the end of the first semester of the school year, I stumbled onto a website (through an advertisement, which I don’t normally follow, but in this case I just had to look further) called TerraPass. It’s a company that sells “carbon offsets.” An interesting idea to say the least. What lured me in was the “buy carbon offsets for your wedding” information on the ad. I thought, “Wow. I’ve got to see what this is all about.”

Disclaimers: #1 – I’m going to use the TerraPass website to try to prove a point; I do not endorse what they do or how they do it. #2 – I do not believe in “global warming” as framed by pseudo-scientists and eco-quacks like Al Gore. I do believe in climate change insofar as the obvious, objective fact that climates do in fact change over time. I do not believe in “climate change” as a morphed term for “global warming” so that the latter can be more “inclusive” of temperature variation.

It appears that TerraPass sells offsets to businesses and the general public based on calculations it makes. The prospective customer inputs data about his or her life and activities and the website calculator spits out how much “offset” the customer should buy. I decided to get a hypothetical amount for my wedding. The site asks how many flights (long-medium-short flight legs) will be taken for the event. I used 0-12-6. I also input that 12 cars would be driven to the event with a one-way distance of 40 miles. Finally, I input that 7 hotel rooms would be required. (Thanks to my in-laws, our carbon footprint for the event was reduced…they had a packed house!) This resulted in 34,102 pounds of CO2 according to TerraPass. For the low, low price of $213.25, I could offset the entire footprint of the wedding. Cleansed through money.

But as I’ve stated before, I’d much rather lean toward conservation, properly defined, in place of living as I choose as long as I can pay for the offsets. Paying seems a horribly hypocritical position. It says, in an undeniable way, that anything can be righted as long as it can be paid for.

Using the same website, I can calculate that driving a 2007 Ford Mustang 12,000 miles a year would result in 9,997 pounds of CO2. I could offset this through a $59.40 per year TerraPass offset. But wouldn’t it make sense to buy, say, a 2007 Honda Fit, drive 10,000 miles a year, and only pump out 5,674 pounds of CO2? Sure, the Fit doesn’t provide the same driving experience, but it sure burns less gas. But why change when I can spend some money and “save the planet” (ala Gore)?

While TerraPass and companies like it might fund some good projects and make a small dent in energy consumption (through selling “green” products), the whole “offset” thing really strikes me as a big dog and pony show with graduated admission prices. The more I burn, the more I must pay. The more I can pay, the less guilt I may have over my consumption. The less guilt I have over my energy consumption, the less I feel the need to change my usage patterns. Wash, rinse, repeat.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Hey neat to see you stumbling on the idea of TerraPass. You are right that you should slash your emissions first, both for karma and the planet.

What our members find is that after you've done all the prius buying and freezing your house in winter, and what not, you'll still have a carbon footprint that is unsustainable. And that's where a service like TerraPass can make sense -- a small amount of money on a dairy farm can make a huge difference in the emissions of that farm, and provide local jobs and local clean energy. And you can make a commitment to get those emissions down now, while you work on reducing your carbon offset bill each year. Every time we get a "sold my car" letter in the office there are cheers.

You're right that we're small now, but with 100,000 TerraPasses sold and growing fast, we're hopeful we can be part of the solution.

Tom Arnold