Carbon dioxide is perhaps, the most infamous of the greenhouse gases. They all are bad, in the excessive quantities that they are being emitted right in now, but Carbon dioxide seems to be focused on the most. Why? This is because carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, out of them all. Methane may be far more potent than carbon dioxide, but is less abundant and only stays in the atmosphere for about a decade. Carbon dioxide does not have a constant time, some will disappear relatively quickly (like being absorbed by the ocean), however in some cases it will stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years. A good chunk of carbon dioxide emissions last at least a few hundred years. Think about that, every time carbon dioxide is emitted, some of it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
This is why if we were to stop emitting today climate change would still probably occur (just alot less worse). In fact, over 70% of all man-made greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide. If you will recall my other blog, on ocean acidification, carbon dioxide causes other problems beyond just being a greenhouse gas. But other greenhouse gases can still contribute to global warming and other issues. So removing them is important. If we are to keep the earth from warming over 2 degrees, fossil fuels must be rapidly phased out. A study suggests that by 2050, the use of coal, oil, and natural gas, will have to decline to 18%,34%.and 57% of their 2020 level to ensure the climate warms well below 2 degrees. For context see how much worse things get when 1.5 degrees becomes 2. Thus a large number of fossil fuels will have to remain unburned. Tied to the issue of unburnable carbon, is the carbon bubble. To learn more about both check out my mini-blog.
But the first step in emission reduction is finding out how much an individual/corporation emits. A way to do this is to calculate a carbon footprint, which despite its name actually incorporates all greenhouse gases. This is the total amount of greenhouse gases that are generated by our actions. Since everything has emissions tied to it most calculators will only focus on a few sectors of life that are responsible for the most emissions. (these vary for business vs individual calculations). There are limits of course to carbon footprints, for example since they focus on emissions, they do not take into account other toxic compounds that come from our way of living or take into account the damage that overusing resources has. Nonetheless, carbon footprints are a good indicator of the contribution individuals/corporations have to issues like climate change. If you want to check out your carbon footprint check out this calculator, here.
We all know that they are many ways to limit emissions, whether it’s through eating less meat, flying less, eating local, etc. Corporations can also reduce their own emissions, whether it’s through using greener materials, renewable energy, or even through working with other companies to form a circular economy. One increasingly popular method of emission reduction is a carbon offset because it is easy and does not require any behavior change. A carbon offset entails reducing or removing future greenhouse gases, generally through giving money to a project or technology that will do so. A tonne of carbon is assigned a dollar value(depending on the project), the amount you pay through the offset, should in theory remove those emissions from the atmosphere(either directly or by preventing future emissions from being made). Carbon offsets only work because issues like climate change are global, so removing emissions from somewhere else is still helping solve the problem. However, finding a legitimate carbon offset is quite hard to do.
Things to consider when offsetting:
- Is it real (where is the physical location of the project)
- Can the offset be verified/enforced ( a 3rd party should be verifying that the offset project is happening and apply punishment s if the project is not following through)
- The offset should be permanent (ex. if a forest is planted, it should not be clear-cut and should be managed for the foreseeable future)
- The project should not have been able to occur without additional funding (that’s the point of the offset: allowing projects to occur that would not have, without additional funding)
- They should avoid leakage (if you’re preventing a forest from being clear-cut, it should not lead to the plot next to it getting cut)
Of course, doing your own research on some of these things is quite difficult. Organizations like the gold standard, offer quality offsets and have worked with reputable partners such as the UN. However, you may want to do additional research, as there is no global standard for offsets as of now. If you want to offset your own emissions, click here. Carbon offsets are still no substitute for reducing emissions through individual action, remember gases like carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for a long time. Even if you buy an offset it does not remove the emissions, that you have emitted through your lifestyle. Also offsetting becomes even more problematic when corporations use it as an excuse to keep their current polluting practices, instead of implementing more green ones. If offsets helped promote green projects, they do not do much good if the polluting infrastructure still exists in the same form aside from it. However there is only so much, an individual can cut their personal emissions, so carbon offsets are a good way to do something about those emissions, you can not cut out of your life.