What on Earth is a ‘carbon offset’?

The Chyulu Hills in Kenya

One beneficiary of your carbon offsets: the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project in Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

Editor’s note: From “climate adaptation” to “blue carbon,” from “landscape approach” to “ecosystem services,” environmental jargon is everywhere these days. Conservation International’s Human Nature blog looks to make sense of it in an occasional explainer series we’re calling “What on Earth?

In this installment, we break down carbon offsets, a way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

So: What is a ‘carbon offset’?

Put simply, it’s a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to compensate for emissions made somewhere else. Purchasing a carbon offset enables people and businesses, then, to reduce their carbon footprints.  

What exactly is my ‘carbon footprint’ again?

Your daily actions — from heating and cooling your home to binge-watching Netflix to sending text messages and email attachments — consume energy and produce greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide. Carbon emissions also derive from the energy and materials used to source and produce the products you buy.

Add in transit — including driving a car, flying, even using public transportation — and you have your carbon footprint: an estimated sum of your annual greenhouse gas emissions. (Use Conservation International’s calculator to measure your carbon footprint.)

Okay, I calculated my footprint. What do I have to do to offset it?

It’s pretty simple: Numerous online platforms make it as easy as a few clicks. Let’s say you determine your annual greenhouse gas emissions are 17.62 metric tons (the average per person in the U.S.). You can balance your impact out by offsetting the equivalent amount — or even more, to go “negative” — through an online service. Do your research, though, and choose a trusted, transparent entity — such as Conservation International (CI) — that only tenders offsets verified to have met rigorous standards by an independent third party.

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On World Mangrove Day, a new strategy to protect the world’s most important ecosystem

young mangroves

Young mangrove at sunset. (© Matthew D Potenski 2011/Marine Photobank)

Editor’s note: Mangrove forests are the world’s most productive and important ecosystem, but they’re being wiped out by unsustainable agriculture and other threats. The Global Mangrove Alliance, a new collaboration between Conservation International (CI),and partners, is working to reverse the destruction of these forests.

As coastal communities face the effects of overfishing and sea-level rise, restoring mangroves has never been more important. On World Mangrove Day, CI’s manager for oceans and climate, Jorge Ramos, unveils the Alliance’s strategy to protect them. 

Why mangroves matter

Mangrove forests are amazing ecosystems that grow along tropical coasts, where they thrive in saltwater and tidal conditions. Mangrove ecosystems are some of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet: They serve as important habitats for fish, sharks, manatees, crabs and other important species; provide food, jobs and other resources to communities around the world; and protect some of the most vulnerable coastal communities from the devastating impacts of climate change. Lastly, although mangrove forests cover just 0.1 percent of our planet’s land surface, they store more carbon than any other type of forest and are therefore an important part of the solution to climate change.

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In Kenya’s storied hills, traditional ways confront a modern problem: climate change

Maasai guides

Muli and Matasha, Maasai guides who works with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, make their way toward a cloud forest high in the Chyulu Hills. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

Editor’s note: Tomorrow, Conservation International (CI) launches its Carbon Footprint Calculator, a tool to calculate your carbon footprint and reduce it by purchasing what’s called an “offset.” One beneficiary of these offsets is a forest-protection project in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, home to 140,000 indigenous people and an incredibly effective carbon sink. The project will prevent an estimated 18 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted over the next 30 years.

Explore life in the Chyulu Hills in the photo essay below.

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Conservation science tackles a perplexing subject: people

© William Crosse

A fisherman on Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. (© William Crosse)

Editor’s note: This week, the Society for Conservation Biology — the pre-eminent professional society for conservation science — is hosting its biennial International Congress for Conservation Biology in Cartagena, Colombia. As the newly elected president of the society and the first social scientist to lead the network in its 32-year history, Mike Mascia of Conservation International (CI) represents an evolution for a discipline that has long focused on the natural sciences. In this Q&A, Mascia — senior director for social science at CI — talks to Human Nature about why conservation science still matters and what role scientists can play in a time of political upheaval.

Question: What does conservation science look like on the ground? Why should we care about it?

Answer: Conservation science takes many forms, from interviewing local subsistence hunters in remote forests, to running high-tech analyses of global satellite data, to volunteer bird counts. Conservation science is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon ecology and anthropology, psychology and political science, economics and hydrology, information science and genetics, and more.

Effectively conserving biodiversity requires an understanding of how the world works and how our actions contribute to sustaining or degrading nature. Conservation science provides the evidence for smarter decisions by governments, corporations, nonprofit organizations and individuals. It empowers individuals and organizations to act in ways that are consistent with their values and their aspirations. Through science, we can identify issues that we need to address, explore options, tailor solutions to local conditions, measure progress, refine our approach and take successes to scale.

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Teeth to tail: 6 stories about sharks this week

A Blacktip reef shark cruises the shallow reefs of a tropical lagoon. (© Kydd Pollock/Marine Photobank)

Editor’s note: Shark Week 2017 kicks off in a couple of days, featuring everything from an Olympian racing a great white to our very own scientist’s exploration of “alien” species. Before you dive in, take a look at six of Human Nature’s most popular shark stories — and scroll down to the end to see our Shark Week Photo Gallery.

shark in Fiji

1. 5 things you didn’t know sharks do for you

Did you know? Sharks help move carbon through the ocean — and they just might be the key to helping scientists cure certain diseases.



2. Whale shark watch: 4 things we’ve learned from tracking the world’s largest fish

Conservation International scientists made headlines in 2015 when they launched a ground-breaking whale shark satellite tagging program in Indonesia. Check back here next week for fresh updates.


3. Expedition to ‘island of sharks’ gathers hundreds of hours of new ocean data

A team of 18 scientists made a 36-hour boat journey from Puntarenas, Costa Rica, to one of the world’s best dive sites: Cocos Island National Park. Here’s what they learned.


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4 ways climate change is making life harder for tigers

Indochinese tigers

Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. (© Conservation International/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Editor’s note:  In the past century, 97 percent of the world’s tiger population has vanished, leaving only about 3,900 individuals left in the wild. Poaching, deforestation and development have driven this sharp decline. Now, from the pine forests of Russia to the rainforests of Indonesia, a new threat looms for these remaining tigers: climate change.

1. Rising sea levels

In India and neighboring Bangladesh, rising sea levels are shrinking coastal habitat for hundreds of endangered Bengal tigers that rely on the area’s mangrove forest, the largest in the world. Higher waters erode this patchwork of islands, called the Sundarbans, and cause salt water to migrate into fresh water, polluting the tigers’ drinking source. Tigers must find new freshwater sources and move to higher ground, escalating conflicts with communities living there.

2. Deforestation

Cutting down forests accelerates climate change while pushing species like the critically endangered Sumatran tiger to the brink of extinction. Unsustainably cultivated palm oil plantations are fast replacing Indonesia’s forests. This deforestation destroys important habitat, and could leave Sumatran tigers more vulnerable to illegal wildlife trafficking.

Keeping Indonesia’s forests intact helps protect tigers and address the impacts of climate change. CI is working in Indonesia, Brazil and other key palm-oil-producing countries to keep deforestation out of palm oil supply chains.


Donate to help protect the world’s tropical forests  and the species that rely on them.

3. Temperature changes

Shifting temperatures are altering habitat for Siberian tigers in Russia and China, as Korean pine forests give way to fir and spruce trees meaning less prey for hungry tigers that prefer to hunt in pine forests. Fewer than 600 Siberian, or Amur, tigers remain, heralding the possible extinction of the world’s largest cat within the next 100 years.

4. Natural disasters

As climate change accelerates, scientists predict more frequent wildfires in the remote regions where Siberian tigers live. Longer, hotter and drier wildfire seasons are the new reality, threatening Siberian tiger habitat and food supplies. Climate change also drives more intense storms and flooding that ruins crops, forcing people to travel farther from their homes and into tiger territory to make a living. In the Sundarban Islands, human-tiger conflict can result as displaced farmers gather seafood and honey in the same mangroves where tigers roam.

Climate change is threatening the habitats and food sources of tigers, making them vulnerable to poaching and to conflicts with communities. In many cases, protecting tigers specifically by preserving their habitat, which is often forest also helps combat climate change. By keeping forests standing, we’re giving tigers a fighting chance.

Leah Duran is a staff writer for CI.

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U.S. Congress nips move to stop military from studying climate change

Corn farmer Kela Gelo

Corn farmer Kela Gelo in the village of Buya near Yabello, Southern Ethiopia. He only got a few ears this year because of the drought. (© Peter Essick/Aurora Photos)

In a surprising move, dozens of Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives last week joined with Democrats to defeat a measure that would have prevented the U.S. Department of Defense from studying the effects of climate change on the military.

The measure, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — the law that spells out the U.S. military’s policies and programs — would have blocked a study into climate impacts and removed language from the act calling climate change a “direct threat” to U.S. national security. Forty-six Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the amendment.

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In the news: Escaped lions highlight plight of park neighbors

© Trond Larsen

A lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: A recent case of escaped lions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park illustrates the tension that can exist between people and wildlife around protected areas. In the coming weeks, Human Nature will feature a series of stories from the communities surrounding Kruger, exploring the challenges — and opportunities — they face in living next to one of Africa’s most famous wildlife reserves.

Three lions that escaped from Kruger National Park earlier this week have been killed, according to multiple news reports.

The tragic conclusion follows a days-long search by park rangers in the villages surrounding Kruger. Residents were warned by park officials to “exercise extreme caution” in going about their daily lives. This week’s search is the second time this year that lions have escaped Kruger into nearby communities.

According to Keith Roberts, Conservation International’s executive director for wildlife trafficking, escaped animals represent just one example of how difficult it can be to live near a wildlife area.

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Decoding wildlife crime: 3 stories you need to read

© Charlie Shoemaker

Rangers feed orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker)

Editor’s note: Wildlife trafficking is wiping out Earth’s most iconic species, funding organized crime and threatening our economic and global security. Despite the aggressive efforts of governments and international bodies such as Interpol to address wildlife crime at all levels, it remains one of the most lucrative criminal activities in the world. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the illegal wildlife trade is worth roughly US$ 20 billion a year, placing it just under guns, drugs and human trafficking.

What makes this a “high-profit low-risk crime” — and why is it so hard to fight? Here, Human Nature breaks down common misconceptions about wildlife crime, examines the challenges the international community faces in fighting it, and identifies potential solutions — including how you can help. 

tiger in India1.5 things you didn’t know about wildlife trafficking

Protecting species also means protecting national security  wildlife crime has been linked to terrorist organizations such as al-Shabab. Countries benefit hugely from the protection of iconic species: The loss to tourism of a single elephant over its lifetime is more than US$ 1.6 million.

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Field notes from the Lost City

Numerous streams and rivers crisscross the area surrounding the Lost City. The intact forest purifies these crystal clear waters. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: A team of researchers with Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program recently returned from the Lost City in Honduras, a newly discovered set of ruins deep within the Mosquitia rainforest. The group conducted a biological survey of the surrounding area, a previously unexplored tract of pristine forest. In this post, the expedition’s lead scientist, Trond Larsen, reflects on the team’s findings and recalls an unexpected encounter.

A warm drizzle beaded on my face as I scoured overhanging leaves with my headlamp in search of creatures heard but unseen. The varied calls of crickets, birds and frogs pulsed through the forest. As I returned down a narrow canyon to my camp, I looked up and froze with shock. A large pair of glowing orange eyes, set afire by my light, emerged from the inky blackness.

This is the rainforest surrounding the Lost City.

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