Changing Climate Change

Duck sitting on lakeside

Carbon.  You can’t have a conversation about planet health without talking about carbon.  Our world is powered by greenhouse gas emitting processes; raising animals for meat, driving cars, heating homes, and traveling are some ways humans are responsible for emitting carbon into Earth’s atmosphere. 

Carbon Footprint and Carbon Offsets

We’re living through an unprecedented time of global warming induced by human activity. As a result, terms like carbon offsets and carbon footprint are becoming more mainstream. 

Carbon offsets allow you to contribute monetarily to conservation efforts like land restoration and planting trees, compensating for the emissions you create, your carbon footprint.  In order to understand the amount of greenhouse gas emissions an individual or household is responsible for releasing into the atmosphere, the carbon calculator was developed.  A carbon calculator is a tool that calculates your carbon footprint by asking a series of lifestyle questions, showing your approximate annual emissions and suggesting an offset amount.

I was first introduced to offsets and carbon calculators while working as an account manager at a New York ad agency.  My team oversaw a non-profit account called Conservation International (CI) whose work is centered around climate stability, ocean conservation and planet positive economies.  Like CI, there are a number of conservation centered organizations that have created calculators and allow you to donate monetary offsets to their projects.  The carbon calculator is a great place to start when assessing your carbon footprint and exploring ways to balance emissions with environmental wellbeing. 

Types of Offsets 

A simple ‘carbon calculator’ Google search turns up a plethora of calculator and offset options to choose from.  A bit of research will allow you to choose an organization whose values and projects align with your own. The Sustainable International Travel blog offers a checklist of helpful questions to ask while researching an organization that address topics like project validation, how projects affect local communities, and the types of projects offered.  Choosing a tree planting project seems ostensibly beneficial, however, it’s important for organizations to show the trees are surviving long enough to have a climatic impact.

Offset projects can have a wide scope of benefits; the ability to improve the livelihoods of people by creating clean energy jobs, funding indigenous led conservation programs as well as land conservation and protection of biodiversity.  It’s important to find an organization who’s mission and offset projects you believe in.

Offset vs. Reduction

According to nature.org, the average American family produces 16 tons of carbon per year, significantly higher than the global average of 4 tons annually. Carbon offsets are just one tool in our toolbox to combat climate change.  Using a carbon calculator will breakdown your greenhouse gas emissions by areas like home and travel.  This information allows you to make informed decisions about how to lower your emissions.  Contacting your power company to inquire about the clean energy sources they offer, joining a composting program, opting to bike to work a few days a week and shopping from a farmer’s market are all ways to reduce your carbon footprint before considering offsets. 

The widespread results of climate change are challenging us from all angles.  The good news is we aren’t helpless to slow it down, and hopefully reverse course.  There are plenty of calculators and conservation projects to choose from when considering carbon offsets to balance a big vacation or everyday life.  Whether you choose offsets or implement low cost practical solutions like Meatless Mondays into your life, the opportunities to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions abound.

Consider these non-profits for carbon offset investments:

Conservation International

The Nature Conservancy

Sustainable Travel International

Author Details

Jen Culler Liepis

Jen is the founder of Love Local.