Unless you have a very not-correct view on how science works you’d be aware that the planet is in the midst of an unfolding climate crisis, and that our lifestyles are largely to blame for it.
One huge issue is air miles because – according to one particularly jarring 2018 study by the University of Sydney – planes contribute about the same amount of emissions as the European Union (eight per cent of the total apiece), thanks in part to the fact they’re being pumping straight into the high atmosphere.
Australians, of course, don’t have easy alternatives to flying since our nation is a) girt by sea and b) contains relatively few people, clumped into large cities a long way from one another. So when we have to travel, we do it disproportionately by plane.
So chances are you guiltily tick that “buy carbon offset” button most of the airline websites offer these days (and if not, you can do it yourself at MyClimate.org via their helpful calculator). Even Prince Harry feels guilty about his air miles, to the point of bending the truth on how many chartered flights he takes.
But you might not be across how it all works.
So here’s the basic version of how carbon offsets work: you do something which releases carbon into the atmosphere, like taking a plane trip, and pay money in order to get someone to sequester the carbon into something which absorbs carbon, like planting a tree.
The advantage of trees is that they live a long time and that carbon gets locked in there, making things like bark and trunk and… well, the tree.
(That, incidentally, is why lawns don’t absorb carbon: they do, as long as you never cut the grass because once you do, it decomposes and releases all the carbon into the air.)
But that’s not all: as HowStuffWorks helpfully explains, “Carbon offsets fund projects like forest planting, conversion to renewable energy sources or GHG collection and sequestration. Offsets support both large-scale and community projects. A single company might restore a forest in Uganda and support the construction of efficient stoves in Honduran villages.” Although they also note that forests are still the most favoured method, not least because it’s a visible thing that can be pointed at.
Of course, the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to… well, reduce your carbon footprint.
Greenhouse gases not released at all are definitely preferable for the planet than gases released but offset, in the same way that a cancer not contracted is preferable to one contracted but treated.
But if you’ve made the changes you can realistically make, then purchasing carbon offsets is… well, the least you can do?