22 September 2008

guest blog: on carbon footprints

Sabrina Hu is a yuppie working the corporate world in Atlanta, GA. She thinks that Bill Gates should run for some office and work his “creative capitalism” edge on sustainable enterprises. In her free time, she sits and ponders about her environmental footprint as well the as the internally displaced children and child soldiers in Uganda, while dreaming about blue skies and white beach sands.
Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

Way back in July, I hopped myself from my current residence of Atlanta, GA to Honolulu, HI to attend my roommate’s wedding. Okay, it wasn’t quite a hop, a skip, or even a jump. In fact, the distance between the two places is a grueling 9-hour direct plane ride to cover some 4,494 miles. I think this flight was harder to get through than my trans-Pacific experiences and thankfully, I had my good friends Harry, Hermonie and Ron to keep me company.

Throughout the planning phase and the actual vacation, I noticed many discussions about conservation of island resources, and the in-some’s-opinion, lack of efforts in environmental preservation of the beautiful state of Hawaii. Since returning back to the Mainland, I’ve been mulling in the back of my mind what to do about my very large carbon footprint. During my vacation, I tried to be conscientious of my water and electricity use. After all, the signs in Maui’s NorthShore hostel were right… I didn’t need to have the water running when I lathered up. And who really needs AC when the temperatures are a pleasant 70 degrees in the evening? So I began to think about how big of a carbon footprint I had left. After all, I did fly from Atlanta to Honolulu to Kahului and back-- not to mention the rental cars, hotel room AC, and laundry. I decided made a quick visit to TerraPass.com to calculate the impact of my plane flights alone. Oh. My. Take. A. Look.

And Carbonfund.org had this to say about my trip:

Dare I add in my business trip to Boston from the week before? Or last summer’s trip to Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei. I. Think. Not. (Though having corporate support for carbon offsets based on employee travel is an interesting idea, but I digress.)

Sabrina to Hawaii = A LOT OF CARBON lbs.

Stunned, I furiously put my fingers to work to hunt down a suitable way to offset my carbon footprint. Along the way I came across some articles that made me ponder: “Where is my money going?”; “How are these companies really offsetting my carbon footprint?”; “Is there a DIY way?” and finally, “How are they calculating my footprint anyways?” I decided to focus on the first question: “Where is my money going?”

Carbonfund.org uses funds for carbon offsetting in three ways: by planting trees, subsidizing wind and solar power, and purchasing credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. It is a not-for-profit organization and allows users to choose which method they would like to use to off-set their carbon footprint. To offset my trip, I would have to spend a total of $16.76 on Carbonfund.org.

TerraPass, a for-profit organization offers similar options to those looking to purchase carbon offsets. My carbon offset on TerraPass would run me $17.85. All these websites of blue skies and lush green fields… would I take the plunge?

Not convinced, my attention turned towards a search for news articles discussing the concept of carbon offsets. A 2006 New York Times article summed it up best. Was it fair for me to just buy my way out of the pollution I had collectively helped to create? The articles I read all seemed to have the same conclusion: It is currently unclear how much of an impact carbon off setting programs create.

Ultimately, I decided not to make a carbon offsetting donation. I haven’t convinced that donating my money through a website was going to do any good- and it definitely was not going to bring me any personal satisfaction of becoming carbon neutral for my plane rides. Instead, I decided that there were more tangible and immediate ways through my day to day activities for me to make my impact-- from recycling to limiting electricity usage to general conservation-- which is more than I can say for watching yet another electronic transaction load in my browser.

Editor's Note: Sabrina mentions her CarbonFund offset would be about $17 though the image shows roughly $45. She says this is because she had checked 'Radiative Forcing' option, which is to compensate for the different effect on greenhouse emissions at higher altitudes, and increases the suggested cost to offset carbon emission.

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