While the dictionary definition of “offsetting” refers to “something that counterbalances, counteracts, or compensates for something else,” in the context of climate change it refers to the compensation for negative externalities of a specific activity or whole business operations on the environment, especially greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon offsetting has recently become one of the more popular strategies to contribute to carbon emission reductions for individuals, corporations and institutions alike. In the long run, the ambition is to reach the goal of carbon neutrality.
Now, while there is a trend to offset carbon footprint, there are still many who don’t. Why is that?
Confusion remains on how exactly carbon offsetting is done and whether the sum of small monetary contributions to pay to allow an organisation to plant trees can build towards that goal or if it’s more like greenwashing to polish the annual report or fool customers.
There is actually no one way to do it and options range from the improvement of cooking stoves in households in India to planting trees to strategic investments in the development of renewable energy.
Reasons why people chose not to offset their footprint say when they purchase a flight, are multi-fold. The most common ones are: “I feel like I do enough by reducing my meat consumption and recycling” or “I am not sure if my five euros will actually have an impact.”
These may be valid doubts, but something needs to be done. The first argument puts recycling and offsetting in the same bucket while in reality this is like comparing apple and pears. “Just two hypothetical short-haul return flights and one long-haul round-trip in a given year would outweigh otherwise exemplary behaviour.” The second doubt relates to the effectiveness and the low costs associated with it. But certain measures used to offset, such as providing energy-efficient lightbulbs or cooking stoves are actually quite inexpensive.
The lack of trust in some of the mentioned offsetting schemes stems from insufficient transparency and a lack of internationally recognized standards and regulations. A critical task ahead!
Bottom line: While mindset shift and systemic change are needed to really tackle climate change, every contribution counts. Individual, corporate and public offsetting of all sizes needs to become part of how we go about our lives and prepare the ground for the adoption of regulation and large-scale solutions.
* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).