Giving back to the Earth is central to the Environmental Warrior ethos. Everything we do has an impact on the environment, but we can reduce our impact by reducing our individual levels of consumption. We can green our impact by choosing ethically produced, local and sustainable options. We can offset the carbon emissions our impact generates by donating a portion of our income to projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. It is challenging to consider reducing our levels of consumption because we think we will miss out on things we enjoy and live a life of lack.
But simplicity isn’t about sacrifice and deprivation. It’s about defining what it is we really want, focusing on that, and becoming the best expression of whatever ‘that’ is. It’s about using our creativity to craft a life that is meaningful, sustainable, ethical, compassionate and aware.
Consumer lifestyles generate increased greenhouse gas emissions
My lifestyle has an environmental impact that generates a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions. This is difficult to quantify accurately but I can somewhat compensate for the impact of my emissions by buying carbon offsets. Carbon offsetting is a form of trade that reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
Think of carbon offsetting in terms of trees. Forests, soil and the oceans naturally store carbon (carbon sequestration) and serve as important carbon sinks. If I’m putting a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, I can pay to plant a certain amount of trees that absorb an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.
Carbon offsetting is more than just reforestation. Carbon offset purchases can also be used to fund small- and large-scale community development projects, including building infrastructure for safe, clean water and providing fuel-efficient stoves. Greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere at a particular point are distributed around the entire planet, so reductions in atmospheric greenhouse gases can occur anywhere in the world.
But it has to be more than a simple ‘carbon in = carbon out’ deal. There is the issue of overconsumption in developed countries. Carbon offsets are not an excuse to live high-end, consumer lifestyles as long as we pay enough to compensate for it, or to think that because our consumption benefits poorer communities in developing countries we shouldn’t worry about consuming so much of the world’s resources.
We still need to take responsibility for our actions as consumers. Before applying any of these suggestions to manage our impact, we must reduce our impact overall. We live in a world where resources are finite, and are being used up faster than the Earth can renew them.
Calculating a carbon footprint
There are many carbon offset organizations operating around the world. In Australia, we have the Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund, GreenFleet and ClimateFriendly. International organizations include ClimateCare (United Kingdom), CarbonFund (United States) and MyClimate (Europe).
We can calculate a carbon footprint (the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by our lifestyles) in two ways:
The first involves keeping track of our daily emissions including car mileage, power usage, food and air travel. The second is an estimate based on averages for car size, energy usage according to household size and average distances of short- and long-haul, national and international flights. Both are measured in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per tonne.
I used the calculator on the Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund website to estimate the average amount of greenhouse gas emissions my lifestyle generated last year:
Average emissions of a medium-sized car based on a petrol engine up to 2.8L travelling 15,000 km/year = 4.04 tonnes of CO2 emissions
Average yearly energy emissions for a single household = 2.58 tonnes of CO2 emissions
Average emissions of three short-haul national flights averaging 1,500 km = 1.47 tonnes of CO2 emissions
Total: 8.09 tonnes of CO2 emissions
Converting carbon dioxide emissions into dollars
We can ‘offset’ our carbon emissions by purchasing carbon offsets or by donating that amount to fund local or international projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund is an Australian organization that uses carbon offsets to fund reforestation of native vegetation and projects to restore biodiversity in degraded landscapes. They use Australian Biodiverse Reforestation – Gold Standard (GS VER) certified carbon credits which are deemed to be worth $25 per tonne.
8.09 tonnes of CO2 emissions @ $25 per tonne = $202.25
This works out to around $3.88 a week.
Carbon offset payments and donations are tax deductible and may fund projects such as the Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund’s 2014 Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Reforestation Project to restore thirty-eight hectares of endangered black cockatoo habitat in Western Australia.
Carbon offsets are a way to give back to the Earth for what we receive. We can take responsibility for our contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, and ‘pay our way’ for the privilege of being alive on this remarkable planet. I’m conducting further investigation into carbon offset companies operating in Australia, and once I have decided which company to use, I will make carbon offset purchases part of my annual financial plan.
If you want to explore this issue further, I recommend this article as a starting point.
If we REDUCE our consumption, we REDUCE our impact. We GREEN our impact by choosing sustainable, organic, local and ethical options. We can OFFSET our carbon emissions for less than five dollars a week…