Last weekend, Gail and I visited Albuquerque, New Mexico on a quest to visit shooting locations for the show Breaking Bad. We drove from our home in Salt Lake City and then all around the city. We also visited Farmington and Santa Fe. We had a great time despite putting 1,800 miles on our rented Ford Focus in four days. I was feeling rather guilty about the environmental impact of such a trip so I found a way to offset my carbon impact.
Gail and I sold our car almost three years ago. I wrote about our decision for Forbes. It is one of the most popular articles I’ve written and by far the most well remembered. People still frequently comment on our decision to sell our BMW SUV. One of our motivations for selling it was to be more environmentally friendly. So this long road trip with virtually no socially redeeming value left me feeling a bit guilty.
First, I had to determine how much carbon my trip produced. There are lots of calculators out there so I picked the first one that tickled my fancy with a quick Google search. With less than one minute of data entry, the calculator estimated that my trip produced 0.46 metric tonnes of carbon. Frankly, I was relieved that it was so little. There were times I thought I could feel sea-level rising as I passed slow-moving trucks going uphill.
Next, I visited CoolEffect.org where I was presented with about a dozen projects that all provide carbon offsets. Today, the prices offered for carbon offsets ranged from $6.04 per tonne to $13.18. Each project does something different to reduce carbon.
The cheapest carbon offset project is called “What’s Cooking?” It provides fuel efficient cookstoves in Uganda, reducing the carbon emissions from cooking there. The ancillary benefits of this program include saving money for low-income households as they buy and burn less fuel, mostly charcoal. It also reduces deforestation there–charcoal is produced by partially burning wood. Perhaps most importantly, the project improves the health of women and children who spend time around cooking fires.
The most expensive project is called “Putting Methane in Its Place.” The project is located on the Southern Ute Indian reservation in La Plata County, Colorado. There, natural coal seams exposed to the atmosphere by erosion are leaking methane. The Tribe developed a way to capture and use the methane, preventing it from leaking into the atmosphere and allowing Tribe members to use the methane rather than purchasing propane or natural gas that had been drilled. The project also creates jobs for Tribe members.
For my carbon offset–I went all kinds of crazy and bought one entire tonne of carbon offset despite having generated only 0.46 tonnes–I chose “Wind Power to the People.” This project in Costa Rica provides wind power to 50,000 people in 10,000 households in rural Costa Rica. It also provides income to co-op owners in impoverished areas.
All of the projects have been triple checked and verified to assure investors that the carbon offsets they buy are real. A typical American will generate between 16 and 20 tonnes of carbon per year. A household of four might produce 80 tonnes. Offsetting 100 percent of that carbon production would cost as little as $483.20 or just about $40 per month. While not universally true, there is a positive correlation with income and carbon production. Bigger homes produce more carbon. More cars driven more miles produce more carbon. Taking public transit dramatically reduces your carbon footprint. So does eating less meat! The bottom line is that for most households, offsetting their carbon production is now as cheap as it is easy. Try breaking your bad at CoolEffect.