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Carbon Offsetting approaches

Carbon Offsetting approaches - Industrial.

Highly polluting industries install equipment that captures and reduces their pollutants. They then "sell" their reduced carbon output into carbon offset schemes and get paid millions. I rejected this approach as the industrial polluters should be doing this regardless, I did not want to add to the profits of an industrial polluter, I wanted to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere and these schemes are unregulated and open to wild abuse.

Energy Generation Carbon Offsetting approaches. The money that you pay to an offsetter in this area is used to fund the building of greener power stations. It may be a wind farm or a Biomass fuelled power station. Biomass is the burning of plants and trees to produce electricity. They calculate the difference between the pollution of a traditional power station and a green one and calculate how much theoretical CO2 they will save and then sell this theoretical saving into an offsetting scheme which then gives your money to the power companies to subsidise the green power stations. We also looked at wind farms and to begin with they looked ideal - making energy from the wind. However when we got deeper into the subject we formed the view that a wind farm is not carbon neutral or negative as the vast quantities of steel, concrete etc used in their production and installation outweigh the carbon savings gained over their lifetime. The environmental impact of wind farms is also another concern. We also wonder about the longer term impact to the planet of wind farming on a massive global scale. The wind farms take energy from the wind and the wind is part of our global weather system. If we reduce the energy of our global winds, then what will this do to our global weather? We have tried to research this but no one seems to have thought of it as an issue yet. Humanity has a history of playing with nature before it understands the impact it will have - the same applies to tide/wave energy. Our scientists only have the most basic of ideas as to how these approaches may impact our inter related global weather systems. If you want to see how little we know then look at the great variety of expert opinions on the Gulf Stream - one of the primary forces that influences our weather.

We rejected energy as an approach as we really wanted to actively reduce CO2 and not add to the profits of some of the world's largest polluters (the power generating companies) and actually add more net CO2.

Energy Efficiency Carbon Offsetting approaches. These schemes take your money and use it to subsidise and give grants to organisations for projects such as replacing all their old style light bulbs with newer more energy efficient ones. They then calculate the theoretical CO2 saving per £/Euro/$ spent and get some of the money from the offsetting schemes to cover their costs. Whilst this encourages large organisations to reduce their CO2 emissions, again we think that large corporate should be doing this out of their own profits and that we should not be paying them to do it - hence we rejected this approach.
By this stage we had spent considerable time investigating the options and digging into the detail and were getting a bit disheartened as all of the schemes seemed to be shams that had no real impact of the Carbon in our atmosphere.

Forestry Carbon Offsetting approaches. This one showed great initial promise. We all know that plants breathe in CO2 and retain some of it in their structure as they grow. The first schemes we researched looked promising as you paid an amount per tree and they claimed that each tree sucked up 90kg of CO2 per year. We had no idea how much CO2 a tree takes in per year and 90kg seemed like a believable amount. However, when we further investigated these schemes the following issues became apparent:

  • The trees already existed so they were already taking out the CO2 so whatever we paid would have no impact on the CO2 levels.
  • When we really dug into the detail we found that these trees were almost all in the Northern hemisphere and most of them were in northern forests. Now if you think that's good you would be wrong. Whilst northern forests are taking out CO2, they are only taking out low levels per acre/hectare and hence you need huge tracks of land. As the climate tends to be fairly extreme in winter you can only plant pine trees and this kills off biodiversity and other plants and animals. When you factor in the climate we realised that the trees may only be growing (and taking out CO2) for a couple of months a year and at nowhere near the claimed 90kg per tree per year.
  • When we asked the organisers of these schemes how they were regulated, it all went a bit quiet. When pushed they admitted that they regulated themselves and no one else checked to see if they were not selling the same bit of forest over and over again. As most of these schemes are actually based in the formal USSR countries - we were not too convinced of the integrity of them. As the forest already existed, it was already taking out Carbon and so the money paid would have no net gain on Carbon emissions. The more we looked at the CO2 intake of trees in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, we realised that with a short growing season they would only be productive for removing CO2 for a couple of months each year.
    We then realised that the closer you went to the equator, the longer the growing season is and that more CO2 would be absorbed. We then started looking at schemes only in this region. At first we found a few schemes that seemed ideal. They were replanting forest on land that had been deforested by the local inhabitants and the loggers.

    Again it all looked good, but after many hours of research and many telephone calls these schemes were rejected as:
  • They were mass planting the same type of tree in large tracts of land. In many cases the trees were not native and their growth/life was unknown.
  • Some of the schemes were forestry schemes in disguise with the same species of desirable wood being planted that would inevitably be cut down when it was mature.
  • Planting the same type of tree over large sections of land has a very negative impact on the biodiversity in the region and leads to a further reduction of animals and plants. We did not think it was appropriate to reduce my CO2 footprint at the cost of killing off endangered species.
  • The local people live in and off the surrounding land. If a forest consists of a small selection of species then the locals will have a very limited source of food. This will not be good for the local people and would likely lead to them starving and resulting in them cutting and burning the new forest to try and grow some food.
  • All of these schemes were unregulated or were self regulated by unaccountable commercial organisations with a vested interest. We could not be sure that my money would actually get used to plant trees and reduce CO2 and if trees were planted we could not be sure that the overall result would be good for the locals and the planet.

After a few more months research and countless hours looking into the ever growing multitude of emerging commercial schemes we came to the following conclusion:

  • Planting trees is the only valid ethical method of becoming carbon negative.
  • If you were a Corporation that wanted to appear to be reducing CO2 then a whole host of schemes existed that looked good on paper, but underneath were a sham or had an unacceptable hidden negative impact.
  • If you wanted to be certain that your money would go to planting trees that would remove a large quantity of CO2 and would only have a positive impact on the planet - then we could find no scheme that we would put our money into.

So after considerable effort over many months, we were surprised and disappointed to discover that we could not find a single scheme that we could join to make us carbon negative without considerable drawbacks.

The only solution was to further research the area and create our own ethical workable approach - see Become Carbon Negative.