What is a carbon credit ? What does it mean to offset carbon ?
When people reduce their environmental footprint by buying carbon credits, they may not be actually decreasing their own wastes and carbon footprint at their immediate location. What they are doing is putting money into clean, responsible, and sustainable carbon reduction somewhere on the planet, (and perhaps not really changing the way that they do business at all. ) Now, I am all for carbon reduction, and I am a firm believer in the carbon credits industry as long as it is run responsibly.
If you think about carbon reduction at the individual level or business level, putting money into a sustainable project in another country might seem like an easy way to make your company look greener. If you, however, start to think of the earth as one entity, interconnected and dependant - then purchasing carbon reduction credits in South America does affect the overall state of the planet and, indeed, the less carbon we produce as a UNIT the better off we all are.
When a company offsets their carbon, what they are doing is making a reduction elsewhere, in order to bring their polluting practices down closer to neutral.
Carbon Reduction versus Carbon Offsetting: hypothetical situation
(Let's substitute "number of trash bags" for "tonnes of carbon dioxide", and pretend that the number of bags of trash on the planet could affect our climate.)
If I, for example, make 100 bags of trash per week, and I want to reduce them, then I could look at my own spending and purchasing and examine my lifestyle to reduce my waste. I may recycle to become more sustainable, and in this way I reduce my weekly trash bag footprint.
(Reduction) Great. I am directly affecting how much trash bag waste I produce - in my own home or business.
If I then, realize, that even after doing my very best to reduce my trash bag footprint that I am still producing 20 trash bags a week, and I want to go "trashbag neutral."
I don't want to be responsible for changing the climate with my trash bags, but I can't exist (or keep my lifestyle) without have some trash bag emissions.
I can then pay to offset my trash bags. I can find a company, for example, that has a high production of trash bag waste. Every week they produce thousands of bags. I can pay them to change over their machines, and because of the machine I purchased, they now make 400 trash bags a week less. I have "gone trash bag neutral."
I have offset 400, and I only produce 20 - so my own trash bag waste is actually non-existant. (Not really, but the math works out that way if you add it all up, globally.)
While to some, this type of offsetting seems like "not really going neutral" - it is a great way to make an industry of a "step in the right direction." Carbon offsetting all of a sudden becomes "chargeable", and we all know that it's the money-green and not the planet-green that makes the world turn. Carbon offsetting is a unique marriage of the two worlds.
While the first company is still producing 20 bags of trash - they have also made a drastic reduction elsewhere, and if we begin to think of the earth as a globally connected entity with one atmosphere and one climate, this sort of offsetting begins to make sense. It's not so much about the "individual business" and the change that they have made, it's more about the "greater good" and the overall change.
Who can argue with a motivating factor like that ?