How Should We Value Our Planet’s Atmosphere? An Introduction to Personal Carbon Offsetting

This article is a collaboration with guest author Howard Jaslow, co-founder of offCents.

When it comes to climate change, we seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Our standard of living continues to improve in part because of our ability to harness natural resources for power, transportation, agriculture and consumer products. Without greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, our current economy wouldn’t run. Yet, if we do not drastically reduce emissions over the next few decades, there will be no hospitable planet for the economy to run on.

How did we get into this predicament? One reason is we do not pay for the negative environmental impact of our consumption. For example, clean air is a public good. Any public good, such as a park, free museum, or even Wikipedia, must be adequately funded. This can be done in a few ways: a) charging for its use, b) taxing the community, or c) asking for contributions from those that use it.

Our atmosphere is undoubtedly our most important public good, but it is not being adequately protected. To limit climate warming to the critical threshold, we need to reduce worldwide GHG emissions by half over the next decade and to near net-zero emissions by midcentury. This is a complex problem that will require a cocktail of solutions. One ingredient to the solution is a voluntary contribution mechanism called carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting is similar in concept to an art exhibit with a contribution box on the way out.

Here is how it works: 

Carbon offsetting uses credits to create an economic value for greenhouse gas mitigation. Simply put, where we emit GHGs in one area, we can pay to reduce them somewhere else. There are strict protocols to validate, verify and track projects that reduce them. Those projects earn credits, which they can then sell to the parties creating emissions.

An example project is a protected rainforest in Indonesia. Indonesia is experiencing rapid deforestation due to the world's demand for palm oil. Palm oil trees grow extremely well in Indonesia’s tropical peat forests. Clearing the land for palm oil plantations not only releases tremendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, it also decreases the volume of trees that can absorb future carbon. Within a carbon offset market, a forest owner may now elect to protect a rainforest rather than harvest it, and conservation becomes the business model. Through a combination of offsetting and other programs (like carbon taxes), the goal is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

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Within a carbon offset market, a forest owner may now elect to protect a rainforest rather than harvest it, and conservation becomes the business model.

That said, there is an additional contribution we can all make: Do everything in our power to reduce our footprint in the first place. We can travel by plane less, walk and bike more, reduce beef consumption, use less plastic, invest in energy efficiency and be conscious of the products we buy.

This is where a new app like offCents comes in. It’s best to reduce what you can and offset what you can’t. offCents is a mobile app that does exactly that, for transportation.

Transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions in the United States. offCents automatically detects and distinguishes between clean and carbon-emitting travel. You’ll be rewarded for walking and biking and offsetting unavoidable, carbon-emitting travel. offCents procures verified carbon offset credits on behalf of its users. Users that reduce emissions, receive offCents coins redeemable for offers from our sustainability focused partners (like ReGrained!). Credits earn coins, coins afford rewards. Because transportation is just one part of the problem, offCents connects users to partners that reduce paper and plastic waste, focus on the circular economy, support clean electricity, and much more.

As a model, offCents provides a simple connection to make voluntary contributions toward reducing GHG emissions. It makes CO2 emissions tangible, allowing you to contribute an amount equal to what you emitted. This in turn brings much needed capital investment to infrastructure that’s required to transform our world's energy supply. (It’s estimated that $3 trillion of climate related capital expenditures per year are needed until 2050 in order to keep Earth below the critical 1.5° C degrees warming mark...)

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$3 trillion of climate related capital expenditures per year are needed until 2050.

Bottom line: Offsetting is not just a feel-good donation, it’s a product to clean up your emissions and an investment in our atmosphere.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get to it and better align our actions (including the food we eat!) with the planet we love.

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