Carbon indulgences: Pay to lighten your carbon footprint

By Irina Zhorov April 19, 2018

The average American contributes 17 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year.

Carbon dioxide is one of several greenhouse gases produced by land use changes, like deforestation and burning fossil fuels — everything from an airplane burning jet fuel during a trans-Atlantic flight to your car’s exhaust on a jaunt around town.

Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and drives climate change.

Even the most eco-conscious people have a carbon footprint.

“I recycle. I try to bike as often as possible rather than take the car, but I’m still going to fly. I’m here in California. I’m still going to fly to New Jersey to see my mother for Christmas. I just am. I’m not willing to give that up,” says Marisa de Belloy, CEO of Cool Effect.

Cool Effect and other companies like it offer corporations and individuals the chance to offset their carbon sins without big changes to their behavior.

“It’s like buying indulgences back in the medieval era,” says Walter Mugdan.

He lives outside of New York City and has been using a carbon offset service for about six years.

“But the difference being buying indulgences didn’t work — I don’t think it got you into heaven — but buying carbon credits does work as long as you’re using a reputable entity.”

Today, science is helping us conquer challenges that were likely never envisaged by Aristotle or the Babylonians. It’s given us the means to build airplanes, but it’s also given us the insight to understand how transportation has impacted the environment we rely upon.

And according to March for Science, a non-profit movement backed by scientists, doctors, educators, businesses and individuals across the planet, science has given us another remarkable tool: the ability to strategize ways to reduce those impacts.

We often hear about the technology and methods that are open to businesses to reduce their everyday carbon emissions through better technology, improved land and materials use, the adoption of carbon trading programs and other innovative approaches.

But as the March for Science rallies highlighted last year, addressing climate change is a personal commitment as well. In April, more than a million people gathered across the globe in 620 cities to show their support for science and to call on governments to work toward stopping climate change. But the rallies’ message also helped drive home the role that individuals, armed with their own goals, can make a difference as well.

The problem is, researchers tell us, there’s still a fair amount of confusion over just how individuals can offset the impacts of their own travel and why exactly they should. What is the definition of a good carbon offset program, and what should individuals keep in mind when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases?