When you fly a plane, drive a car, or use your air conditioner, you are responsible for emitting carbon into the atmosphere. This is due to burning fossil fuel for energy. Carbon is also embodied in many products because of the energy used to produce it. The idea of carbon offsets mostly comes from the energy expended for fuel burned, like for an airline flight. When you buy a flight now, there could be an option to purchase carbon offsets with your ticket. They calculate the CO2 you are responsible for emitting for your flight, then allow you to purchase offsets to balance it.
To buy carbon offsets means to invest into projects that will remove carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere. The most common type of project is planting trees, since trees will grow and carbon is stored in the tree trunk. But there are other methods that pull carbon out of the atmosphere. For example, taking a flight from San Francisco to New York will emit 0.688t CO2. You can then buy carbon offsets from an organization that would allow them to pull the same amount of carbon out of the atmosphere—in this case, roughly $20. You can apply the same concept and calculate your carbon footprint for your life each year and purchase carbon offsets for everything. Or you can just donate to these types of projects in general.
It is important for us to put a price on carbon to understand the real cost of everything we do because of global warming. We are burning too much fossil fuel, and the atmosphere is getting too much carbon in it and is causing the planet to warm. It is important that we understand and pay the actual costs for emitting CO2, since it’s an issue now. Buying carbon offsets is a voluntary thing, but it’s nice that it is bringing some awareness. But the real solution is for there to be an actual fee or tax on carbon. The government will need to play more of a role in making sure we are removing as much carbon as we emit. What’s better than buying a few dollars of carbon offsets is donating to these types of projects. Better still, advocate and vote for policies that will actually create a carbon tax. The best idea I’ve heard is to put a tax at the source of the carbon because it is easy to regulate.
However, be cautious of the idea that you can just buy carbon offsets and feel good about all the emissions you are responsible for. It certainly feels easy and can definitely help. But in the end, we do need to execute those carbon removal projects, and there are a few limitations there. For example, if you donate to have trees planted for your carbon offsets and everyone in the world did the same thing, there is limited land available to plant all those trees. Also, we would need to make sure those trees don’t eventually get cut down. Every carbon removal project requires something. The most important thing is to reduce our carbon footprint instead of just thinking that we can throw money at the issue. There is still only one planet, and we need to live in a balance with it. We can’t just keep increasing our carbon footprint, then spending money to offset it.