Peter Jones - January 31, 2012

Purchasing Carbon Offsets

We are sailors and for nearly 50 years we have owned sail boats.  We spend our winters waiting for the warm days of summer to arrive so we can sail again. We have on three occasions chartered a yacht in the Caribbean with some friends to shorten our absence from the wind and waves.  This year the opportunity of a yacht charter to dream about presented itself:  three weeks sailing in the islands and atolls of French Polynesia.

We know that flying to French Polynesia and back by air increases our carbon footprint by an enormous amount.  To be exact 13.2 tonnes for the two of us.  In the forourgranchildren blog “Recreational Air Travel and its Contribution to GHG” we have identified the dilemma that grandparents face in choosing air travel.  In our comments we said:

“Grandparents regard travel as one of the principal ways to enjoy retirement. With the raising of health standards, grandparents are living longer.  They need constructive activity that will avoid the possible monotony of aging. There is a sense of entitlement: to whatever generation they may belong, grandparents worked hard, paid taxes to support their government and saved for their retirement.”

So how did we reconcile our trip with the morality of increased carbon footprints? We purchased carbon offsets from www.less.ca. A purchase price of a carbon offset is invested to eliminate carbon from the atmosphere or to prevent carbon emissions in an amount equal to the carbon generated by our actions. The reduced carbon can result from green-power generation such as the construction of renewable energy sources, reforestation or carbon-reduction projects, such as the capture of methane from dairy herds.

This purchase did not eliminate our reflection on the morality of the choice we had made. We found helpful analysis and comments in several websites.  One site asked the question: are carbon offsets immoral? Their answer:

 “It is simply not possible for the developed world to change its energy infrastructure over night or to overhaul individual lifestyles wholesale – and all of us in North America have a carbon footprint that outweighs what the global per capita average ought to be  . . . . A world where too much carbon dioxide has a price and sustainable behaviour turns a profit is a world where revolutionary change on an industrial scale is not only possible, it is likely.”

Other sites disagreed.

“One of the most distressing effects of the culture of offsets is the fact that . . .  [I]nstead of community empowerment, climate change is presented as a matter of individualistic morality and lifestyle choices that discourages collective political action.”

Our decision was much influenced by the excellent study of carbon offsets , a joint production of the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute.  After reading this study “Purchasing Carbon Offsets, a Guide for Canadian Consumers, Business and Organizations, we concluded that the purchase of offsets was the right thing to do.

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