Do Carbon Offset Schemes Really Work?

Here I am, three weeks into my life makeover, feeling pretty good about the progress I've made so far.  I've been composting, bringing my lunch to work, hand-washing my clothes, reducing my toilet paper and paper towel consumption, and shutting down my computer every night.  I've tried my hand at public transportation in India, found a a plastic-free water source, and swapped some single-use items in my home for more lasting ones. 

Living in India is an incredible opportunity for a lot of reasons, but one of the primary benefits is our proximity to amazing travel destinations.  We're a stone's throw from Nepal, a hop, skip and jump from Thailand, and a couple short flights from Bali.  Mat and I have been trying to take advantage of it as much as we can.  I firmly believe that travel is one of the most enriching experiences there is.  Learning about cultures and customs that are different from our own has completely changed how we see and experience the world, and how we look at our own lives. 

Photo by  Ross Parmly  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

I'm very fortunate that I've had so many opportunities to travel in my life.  I will never regret any travel that I've done, and I hope to continue to travel for many years to come.  The one drawback to travel is that, no matter what your mode of transportation, you will impact the environment in some way, and air travel is by far the worst offender.  

This conundrum has made me do some research into carbon offset schemes, with which you may be familiar. has free calculators to help you, assess your carbon footprint, and can help you find ways to purchase "carbon credits" to offset your impact.  

What does this mean, and is it really real?  How Stuff Works has some great reading on the subject, but in essence, money spent on carbon credits goes to projects that help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions somewhere in the world.  Often these projects are in rural or third-world locations, where it is relatively cheap to implement them.  These projects can include anything from reforestation to harnessing harmful methane gas.  

While it is easy for scammers to take money off of people with good intentions, there are a few global standards for carbon credit programs, including the Voluntary Carbon Standard, the Gold Standard, and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard.  Look for these certifications when you're purchasing carbon credits to offset your carbon footprint.  

Of course, paying money to offset your impact is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.  It's not a cop-out for those who'd rather not reduce their impact in other ways.  But for those who are consciously trying to reduce their waste, consume less, and conserve energy and resources, it can be a helpful tool.  

Mat and I are heading to the U.K. via Paris this week, and while we're so excited about it, we are now more conscious than ever of our environmental impact, and so decided to offset our air travel (2.28 metric tonnes of CO2 for our return trip) by purchasing carbon credits. 

Would you consider buying carbon offsets?  How do you reduce your impact when you travel?