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.