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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Carbon Offsets - the 1% Solution

Buying credits at Carbon Trade Exchange

The average American creates 20 metric tons of carbon emissions per year. These are 20 metric tons above and beyond the kind of necessarily carbon-neutral lifestyle our ancestors lived in the 1800s.

20 metric tons can be offset with a mere $500 investment in green projects. If I earned the US median average income of $60,000, that's less than 1% of my gross income.

Starting now, I will spend 1% of my gross income to eliminate my carbon footprint. That's an easy thing to do so tomorrow's world will be less carbon-reliant.

If you don't feel you can afford 1% of your income to buy carbon neutrality, look into the 'anatomy' of your carbon footprint and see what you can do to directly reduce your carbon emissions.

Below is my investigation into how much my various life activities contribute to my 20 ton carbon footprint. To significantly reduce my footprint, I would have to go radically 'green,' give up my car, and refuse to travel. However, given my current responsibilities at home and work, I cannot realistically give up my car or refuse to travel. So it's easier to simply pay.

What's in a Footprint, from December 14, 2010

Our Footprint

I talked about how 69% of all available fresh water gets used to irrigate plants, and how food travels 1300-1500 miles from farm to your plate.

You'd think these factors would make unwise food choices a big issue, when it comes to carbon footprint. I mean, all that water needs to be treated, and the vehicles transporting the food need fuel.

It turns out that if I just ate, with no thought to how far the food travels, whether it is in season or organic, and ate lots of red meat, my carbon footprint would be 1.6 metric tons per year.

It appears the maximum annual amount of carbon dioxide we can emit per individual without incurring climate change is 2.0 metric tons. So wasteful food practices consume 80% of our allowable emissions.

However, we have a much bigger issue than our food practices.

We in America emit 20.0 metric tons per individual per year.


A family with two cars each driving the average 12,000 miles per year emits about 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The folks put in a 1.0 ton penalty per car to account for emissions that went into making the car, amortized over the life of the car. If your two cars are Hummers, that's a whopping 16.5 metric tons per year. If your two cars are Priuses, it comes down to 6.5 - still way too high.

If you pay $200 per month for electricity, add another 2.8 tons per year.

If you're a fashion-conscious consumer, add 2.3 tons.

If you take a single round trip plane ride across the country, add 1.0 ton.

Plan to overcome your excesses by recycling? If you composted and recycled everything you use, it would only "save" 0.1 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Here's what my family might look like (ahem...):

Here's the picture of what contributes to the 20 tons of emissions:

And here's what the emissions look like for someone who only uses public transit, cuts electricity use by 70%, and eats/shops in an eco-conscious manner (we assume they also recycle):

It can be done.

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