Driver’s Guilt

Individual Carbon Offsets

After months of being home with my little boy, it’s time to return to work.  I should feel fortunate that I have been able to find a job, however, it’s 45 miles away.  That’s 90 miles per day of driving just for work travel alone.  In my previous life, I maybe drove that much weekly.  With time to think during my approximately 50 minute drive; I began to feel some guilt about my new commute.

Using the Cool Climate Network from the University of California, Berkeley calculator (http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/carboncalculator) I determined my additional carbon footprint.  Annually, for commuting to and from my new job CO2 emissions total 13.3 metric tons or about 1.11 metric tons of CO2 monthly.

Ultimately, I’m hoping to find my way to a closer clinic but in the meantime, what can I do to alleviate my guilt?  With this being my first week of driving 90 miles daily, I’m not quite ready to buy an electric car, although that may be in our future, but for my conscious’ sake I decided to look into what carbon offsets are all about.

Paying in order to reduce pollution guilt probably has been going on for much longer, but one of the first examples I could find was in 1989.  Applied Energy Services, promised to plant millions of trees in Guatemala in exchange for building a coal burning power station.  California now has a law, Assembly Bill 32, which is aimed at reducing carbon emissions of larger companies.  An allotment of emissions is permitted and if companies go over this allotted amount they must purchase carbon offsets and if they are under can sell carbon offsets to other.

When I started, I naively assumed that there was a single place to purchase carbon offsets, a central government agency of some kind, but that is far from true.  In fact, there seems to be no government regulation of carbon offsets but rather independent certification agencies. There are numerous companies who finance and build projects that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on your behalf.  From looking at many websites where you can purchase carbon offsets, most often these companies put the money into renewable energy or efficiency projects.  This actually is considered a renewable energy credit, not a carbon offset.

I wanted to find a true carbon offset, where a reduction in greenhouse gas occurs, not just alternative energy produced or future trees planted.  Given that my new commute involves the central valley [in California] and this region is filled with farms, I sought out projects that seemingly reduce greenhouse gases directly.  This can be done by anaerobic digester systems, something I learned about during this research.  Animal manure is contained in these digesters, preventing methane gas release, which is about 20 times more potent than CO2 when combusted.  Instead of being released the methane can be transferred to a modified gas engine generator producing electricity.  It can be used on the farm or transmitted to the power grid for sale to power companies. Like everything there are issues, but reducing methane emissions and potentially producing power, is incredibly appealing.

Stop Methane Emissions

So, the search begins.  Immediately, articles about fraud began to surface.  It does seem easy to charge people for carbon offsets and then do nothing with the money, well, besides pad bank accounts.

Since the idea of carbon offsets seems like such an abstract thing but I am a tangible person, I wanted to narrow my carbon-offset purchases down to a specific project.  I’m one of those people who want to know the project’s story.  Maybe even visit the project. The more I read, the more complicated I realized this carbon offsets thing is and things I hadn’t thought about before began to surface.

A few of the pointers that arose were:

(1) being sure that the projects you ‘invest’ in wouldn’t have been funded without the carbon offset support

(2) the company where you purchase the carbon offsets can not re-sell

(3) projects are verified by an independent auditor

(4) tree planting carbon offset projects aren’t the way

(5) seek projects that are planned for the immediate future or already underway

How do you find a reputable carbon offset company?  I’m still not 100% sure! I read about the programs and found one that I particularly liked.  As a PG&E customer, I was surprised to find out that they have a branch called ClimateSmart and had partnered with California Bioenergy, a company that specifically works in this area. Through PG&E apparently one can offset their energy use based on monthly energy expenses. There is a video on the PG&E website about this carbon offset project:  http://www.pge.com/myhome/environment/whatyoucando/climatesmart/climatesmartabout/projects/dairymanuremethanecapture.shtml.  I emailed California Bioenergy to find out if I could purchase directly through them but am awaiting a reply.

Since I was hoping to find a one-time offset for this month of commuting, I found another one in the United Kingdom that I could get behind.  As a Women’s Health provider, I couldn’t help but put my carbon-offset this month into this unique idea.   PopOffsets (http://www.popoffsets.com/index.php) provides funding to programs for family planning to women in countries where they can’t afford access, preventing an undesired birth and potential births down the line.  Potentially, this offset may have the greatest impact of all.  They estimate $15 per cubic ton of CO2 as an offset.  So in my case, for driving to and from work alone this month totals $16.50 compensation in carbon offsets. Even if it is just a “donation” to a cause, it’s one I believe in!

Better yet would be reducing your carbon footprint instead of trying to rectify the situation.  I am still trying to walk when I can but as many Americans are probably doing now, you have to go where you can find a job.  Since this is a reality for me now, paying for carbon emissions at least makes me think about my contribution to global pollution on a regular basis and if I can’t reduce my drive to work, I will work to reduce my carbon footprint elsewhere and contribute to other ways to reduce carbon emissions, whether or not they are considered a true carbon-offset.

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