Can I Really Neutralize My Energy Use? Feeling guilty about driving an SUV, taking unnecessary trips abroad or keeping your house unreasonable cool all summer long? Now you can neutralize your environmental irresponsibility by balancing it against an equal amount of positive actions. At least in theory, anyway.
That’s the concept behind the complex but increasingly popular idea of carbon offsets. A carbon offset is a certificate representing the reduction of one metric ton or 2,205 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions, which many climate scientists speculate is contributing to global warming. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouses gases naturally found in the earth’s atmosphere.
But it’s also formed from the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline, wood, methane and propane, activities that have steadily increased since the Industrial Revolution two hundred years ago. As a result, CO2 levels are now about 30 percent higher than they were in the mid-1700s, scientists estimate.
Proponents of carbon offsets say they give consumers, businesses and government agencies a way to cancel out the potentially environmentally damaging emissions created by driving, flying, using electricity, manufacturing or other activities. All they have to do is buy carbon offsets, which are sold to finance carbon reduction projects.
At least 30 companies and organizations sell offsets that can theoretically make a person, car, household or business carbon neutral. Environmental groups estimate the average American can offset his full carbon footprint for just $100 a year. While the concept is attractive, environmental commodity markets are new and largely unregulated. There are a number of voluntary standards and third party certifiers. But there are no uniformly adopted standards of quality or accepted ways to evaluate carbon neutrality claims.
Early this year, the Federal Trade Commission held a special workshop to examine the market for carbon offsets and related advertising claims. FTC Chair Deborah Platt Majoras said the emerging market poses unique consumer protection challenges, because it is “very difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to verify the accuracy of a seller’s claims.” Expect to hear much more about carbon offsets in the next few years.