Thursday, June 12, 2008


Ok – so following on from yesterday’s post…. Let’s start with something easy: carbon footprints.

There are lots of carbon footprint calculators out there, so it ought to be easy enough to work out what to do about it…

You feed in your details, you get a figure, and you pay to some scheme or other that will help fund carbon reducing initiatives. Fair enough.

But digging into it, you discover a huge range of different schemes and an even wider range of people criticising the schemes they’re not a part of.

There’s even plenty of criticism about whether carbon offsetting is the right way to go anyway. it all boils down to the idea that if you ofsett your carbon (always assuming you find a scheme that actually does what it says it will do) then aren’t you just going to go around behaving as though you’ve got a right to pollute rather than doing what you should be doing to reduce your emissions in the first place.

My favourite quote as a satire on carbon offsetting is this one:

“If you have an extramarital affair, don’t worry – you can always offset any emotional damage caused by simply paying someone else to remain faithful”

and it’s a good point.

But not good enough.

The people wanting to do carbon offsetting are going to be people who are aware of the problem and are doing their best to turn off lights and stop using cars anyway – people who don’t give a toss aren’t going to do it anyway – so the argument that it discourages people from cutting their own carbon doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

Besides which – going back to my initial “mission statement” – it’s all about net results. If the net result of my existence is that less carbon goes into the atmosphere than if I hadn’t been born, then it’s a good thing, surely, however I get to that point.

The trouble is that this “don’t pollute in the first place argument” is so loud on the Internet with so many people shouting their own uninformed opinions that you can’t actually find out the important information when you need it.

You can’t see from most sites whether they’re serious – whether they know what they’re doing and whether they’re worthwhile. Also, most people (offsetters as well as environmental organisations) are desperate to persuade you that one scheme is better than another – and with so many competing schemes and everyone with an axe to grind, you can easily spend all your time hopping from one site to the next.

So all that the endless repetition of the advice to use long-life lightbulbs is actually doing is preventing people from getting to what they’re looking for.

As I search, I’m reminded of a vegetarian restaurant I got taken to in Australia (where vegetarianism is a little further back than it is in the UK). The restaurant was filled with pictures and descriptions of dreadful farming techniques and animal slaughter.

Now, obviously everyone going to the restaurant was already convinced by the vegetarian idea – so all the politics achieved was putting people off their food…

When I look for a vegetarian restaurant I don’t want to eat surrounded by photos of tortured animals. That much should be obvious even to the most political vegan. Equally, when I look for a carbon offsetting scheme, I don’t want to have to wade through the hard sell on global warming (because clearly if I’ve landed up at a carbon offsetting site, I’ve got some knowledge of that anyway) and I don’t want to contribute to my house’s already burgeoning long-life lightbulb mountain!

Anyway – I persevered and here’s the most useful thing I did find:
a comparison of carbon offsetting schemes.

Of which this one:
seems like one of the best choices (plus it’s got David Attenborough as a patron – so that gets my vote).

There’s a detailed carbon offsetting calculator on the site, but as soon as it started asking me about the make age and mileage of my car (of which I’ve no clue), I realised I’d already spent way too much time on this and with no end in sight I opted to bypass the calculator and simply describe myself as an average UK family.

Cost: £168 per year.

The national average is 10 tones of Co2 emmitted per year (unless you’re an American in which case it’s 25. 2 tonnes is about right apparently….

And that’s the one I’ve gone for.

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