4 Reasons That Make Carbon Offsetting a Bad Idea (And What You Should Do Instead)
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
Carbon offsetting is a system that reduces carbon emissions in areas of our lives where reduction would otherwise be impossible. Some tout it as a solution to climate change while others assert it doesn’t really work. So, we had to ask: what are the reasons why carbon offsetting is a bad idea?
Carbon offsetting is generally not sustainable (environmentally, economically, or socially), ethical, or good for the environment. Different offset projects also have different levels of effectiveness. Reducing your individual carbon footprint first is a better idea.
Keep reading to learn more about the 4 reasons that make carbon offsetting a bad idea as well as what a better alternative to carbon offsetting is.
How Are Carbon Offsets Defined and Why Are They Controversial
Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere. They are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market.
“Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees”Oxford Dictionary
They can play a crucial role in reducing our carbon footprint, the amount of carbon (CO2) emissions associated with an individual or an entity, because they can help reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels (i.e., coal, oil, and natural gas).
But carbon offsets are not without their flaws. The main argument against carbon offsets is that they don’t really work, due to a variety of limitations involving their effectiveness, credibility, and success rates. Because of this, they are labeled as controversial.
“Controversial: causing disagreement or discussion”Cambridge Dictionary
In fact, there are 9 main carbon offsetting limitations that can make the current voluntary carbon market (VCM) controversial and lead to confusion, inconsistencies, and a general distrust of the system. Below we have highlighted some of these limitations along with some of the other reasons why carbon offsetting can be a bad idea.
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the biggest limitations of carbon offsetting? Check it out in this article here: What Are the Biggest Carbon Offsetting Limitations? (All 9 Explained)
Here Are 4 Reasons That Make Carbon Offsetting a Bad Idea
When you hear the words “carbon offset”, think about the term “compensation.” Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere. But this system has inherent flaws which can make it a bad idea for ourselves and for our environment.
|Carbon offsetting is not sustainable
|Environmentally: Carbon offsets do not work at the core issue of reducing CO2 emissions, there are not enough offsets for all CO2 emissions, and not all carbon offset projects get realized.
Economically: Carbon offsets further an economic gap between the world’s rich and poor.
Socially: Carbon offsets are often used as greenwashing and they maintain an economic gap between the world’s rich and poor.
|Carbon offsetting is not ethical
|Carbon offsets do not work at the core issue of reducing CO2 emissions, poorer countries are paid to offset carbon while “richer” countries continue to emit, carbon offset projects are also often used as greenwashing.
|Carbon offsetting is not good for the environment
|Carbon offsets do not effectively reduce climate change, and there are not enough offsets for all of our CO2 emissions.
|Different projects have different effectiveness rates
|Direct CO2 removal is the most effective project category, followed by renewable energy, energy efficiency, and lastly carbon sequestration.
Sustainability, ethics, and effectiveness are all key measures that determine whether carbon offsetting is a good or bad idea.
Why Carbon Offsets Are Not Environmentally, Economically, or Socially Sustainable
“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”Oxford Dictionary
The general goal of sustainability is to maintain homeostasis between people and their environment. But in order to be truly sustainable, something must fulfill the three pillars of sustainability: environment, economic, and social.
- Environmental sustainability: means interacting with the planet in a way that preserves natural resources and maintains global ecosystems for future generations to use. It begins with us paying more attention to global environmental concerns and evaluating our use of natural resources and our collective carbon footprint.
- Economic sustainability: is tightly linked with environmental sustainability because businesses make economic decisions that have major impacts on the health of the environment. The global carbon offset market was estimated at nearly $10 billion (B) in 2010 and has since grown to a value of over $262B. But despite this rapid economic growth, the global carbon offset market value has not been distributed equally around the world because the amount of emissions from the world’s “rich” compared to the world’s “poor” is highly disproportionate.
- Social sustainability: is often left out of the sustainability discussion; however, sustainable societies begin and end with the people that reside in a given community. Carbon offsets do not promote long-term economic growth without negatively impacting our environment or society, therefore they are not socially sustainable.
There is a great deal of overlap between the three pillars, and the goal is to combine all three to attain long-term prosperity and preserve our world for the generations yet to come.
Carbon offsetting is neither environmentally, economically, nor socially sustainable because:
- Carbon offsets do not work at the core issue of reducing CO2 emissions
- There are not enough carbon offsets for all CO2 emissions
- Not all carbon offset projects get realized
- Carbon Offsets are often used as greenwashing
- Carbon Offsets maintain an economic gap between the world’s rich and poor
If not addressed, these problems prevent carbon offsets from doing what they were designed to accomplish, reducing carbon emissions.
1 – Carbon Offsets Do Not Work at the Core Issue of Reducing CO2 Emissions
Every year we pump upwards of 35 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Opponents of carbon offsets assert that instead of substituting offsetting carbon emissions, we should instead cut the emissions directly at the source. But the data says we have failed to do this.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the largest decrease in energy-related carbon emissions since World War II, a decrease of 2 billion tons. However, emissions rebounded quickly at the end of 2020, with levels in December ending 60 million tons higher than those in December 2019. This indicates that the earth is still warming at an accelerated rate, and not enough is being done to implement clean energy practices.
In short, carbon offsetting mitigates the problem, but it doesn’t work at the core issue of reducing overall CO2 emissions. A more effective way of reducing CO2 emissions is to cut them at the source.
2 – There are Not Enough Carbon Offsets for All of Our CO2 Emissions
The carbon emissions we pump into the atmosphere every year cause climate change, air pollution, acid rain, ocean acidification, and the melting of glaciers and polar ice. Offsetting all CO2 emissions is not only difficult, but it is also impractical because there aren’t enough carbon sinks to offset every ton of CO2 produced from our collective human activities.
“Carbon Sink: an area of forest that is large enough to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere and therefore to reduce the effect of global warming”Cambridge Dictionary
The main carbon sinks are:
- Atmosphere: The concentration of carbon in our atmosphere is currently 412 parts per million (ppm), and rising. These levels are the highest seen in the last 800,000 years. Carbon absorbs and radiates heat, which means Earth’s temperatures are rising. And with that comes rising temperature and sea levels, melting of glaciers, and ocean acidification.
- Forests: They absorb 2.6 billion tons of CO2 every year. The main threat to this sink is deforestation, which occurs at roughly 10 million hectares (~ 25 million acres) per year.
- Soil: They absorb approximately 25% of all carbon emissions, with most of it stored as permafrost. Not only that, but Earth’s soil contains 2,500 gigatons of carbon, more than three and four times the amount stored in our atmosphere and in all living plants/animals, respectively. One of the main threats to this sink is the melting of glacier ice due to global warming, which would instead release massive amounts of carbon into our atmosphere.
- Oceans: Phytoplankton in our oceans are responsible for absorbing approximately 25% of all carbon emissions, making them one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. But this absorbing ability has come at a cost. Increased absorption of CO2 causes ocean acidification. Over the past 200 years, our oceans have experienced a 30% increase in acidity, which harms marine life and has a ripple effect on our economy.
Once those sinks fill up, we won’t be able to offset any more carbon. Also, the more carbon we add to these sinks, the faster we degrade them and render them unusable.
3 – Not All Carbon Offset Projects Get Realized
To date, credits for ~1 billion tons of CO2 have been listed for sale on the voluntary carbon market (VCM). But the number of sellers exceeds the buyers by about 600-700 million tons. Meaning that only about 300-400 million tons of CO2 offsets actually get realized. This means that between 600 and 700 million tons of CO2 are emitted but not offset.
When credits are listed but not realized, we are not mitigating any effects of climate change. In return, the rates of temperature rise, sea-level rise, ice melting, and ocean acidification continue to increase as the earth warms.
When offsets do not get realized they do not offset any carbon. And when this doesn’t happen, we don’t reduce any emissions.
4 – Carbon Offsetting is Often Used as Greenwashing
Carbon offsetting is often used in an unethical way referred to as greenwashing. Companies accused of greenwashing either invest in non-verified credits, do not prioritize in-house emissions reductions, or double-count carbon credits. Or sometimes, all of the above.
“Greenwashing: behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”Cambridge Dictionary
In 2016, a European Union study found that roughly 85% of offset projects they examined would have been implemented even without the purchase of offsets. In other words, there was no additionality. The money invested in these projects had no effect on the projects being implemented, or not.
There are three levels of greenwashing:
- Reduction of carbon emissions first, offsetting all (or even more) remaining carbon emissions: zero greenwashing because the company or organization is not overstating its environmental contributions
- Partial or no reduction of carbon emissions, offsetting all or some carbon emissions: moderate greenwashing because there is some deception involving carbon emission reduction and the amount of carbon offset credits
- No reduction of carbon emissions, offsetting some or zero carbon emissions: severe greenwashing because these offset programs deceive the consumer into thinking they are offsetting their emissions when in reality they are not
An example of moderate greenwashing involves the ridesharing company, Lyft. They created a carbon offset program in 2018, offsetting over a million metric tons of carbon that year. They then transitioned to purchasing enough carbon offsets to neutralize the remainder of their emissions, making them a carbon-neutral company. As far as emissions reductions, they purchase clean energy when possible. And when it is not possible, they purchase renewable energy credits (RECs). As of 2020, Lyft has scrapped its carbon offset program, instead opting to transition to all-electric vehicles by the year 2030. They switched to the more direct method of reducing carbon emissions first, but now do not offset any additional carbon emissions.
An example of severe greenwashing involves the Nature Conservancy. They own or have helped develop more than 20 projects on forested land in the United States that generate credits so big corporations (e.g., Walt Disney, JPMorgan) can claim their own carbon emission reductions. The problem is that the trees that the Nature Conservancy protects are not in danger of destruction. Carbon projects that take credit for activities already occurring are meaningless and undermine the market’s credibility. Simply put, there was no additionality.
Related: Are you interested in learning more about greenwashing? Check it out in this article here: Is Carbon Offsetting Greenwashing? The Big Picture
5 – Carbon Offsetting Maintains a Social Gap Between the World’s “Rich” and “Poor”
Carbon offsetting is not economically sustainable because “poorer” countries are paid to offset carbon while the “rich” countries continue to emit. This maintains an economic gap between the world’s rich and poor.
The number of emissions from the worlds rich compared to the world’s poor is highly disproportionate. The richest 1% of the world’s population emitted more than twice as much CO2 as the poorer half of the world between 1990-2015. And the richest 10% of the world’s population, approximately 630 million (M) people, were responsible for approximately 52% of all carbon emissions during that time. rate of emissions from the richest 1% was nearly three times greater than the rate of emissions from the poorer half from 1990-2015.
Instead of using carbon offsets to reduce emissions in rich countries where overconsumption is commonplace, we have only worsened the climate crisis and allowed the rich to continue to overconsume carbon. In a sense, carbon offsetting provides richer countries with a license to pollute.
Carbon Offsetting is Not Ethical
When you purchase a carbon offset, you are paying someone else to offset your emissions. And this is where the ethics, or moral philosophy, surrounding carbon offsets comes into question.
“Ethics: the study of what is morally right and wrong, or a set of beliefs about what is morally right and wrong”Cambridge Dictionary
The indirect method with which offsets operate begs the question: can carbon offsetting be ethical if you offload your emissions onto someone else for them to reduce?
Carbon offsetting is not ethical because:
- Carbon offsets do not work at the core issue of reducing CO2 emissions
- Poorer countries are paid to offset carbon while “richer” countries continue to emit
- Carbon offset projects are often used as greenwashing
If not addressed, these problems prevent carbon offsets from doing what they were designed to accomplish, reducing carbon emissions.
1 – Carbon Offsets Do Not Work At The Core Issue of Reducing CO2 Emissions
Ethics is highly connected to sustainability because we have an environmental obligation to meet the needs of our current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Experts claim that to avoid a future plagued by climate change, we must limit global warming to 1.5C by 2040. One of the proposed ways to achieve this is through carbon offsets, but the problem is that carbon offsets do not work at the core issue of reducing CO2 emissions! Our Earth is still warming at an accelerated rate, and not enough is being done to implement carbon emission reduction practices. This is unethical because it creates an unsustainable planet for future generations
2 – Poorer Countries Are Paid to Offset Carbon While “Richer” Countries Continue to Emit
Carbon offsetting is often unethical because “poorer” countries are paid to offset carbon while the “rich” countries continue to emit.
There are many carbon offset programs that can improve the quality of life of those in poorer countries, but since most of the available land for carbon offset programs is located in poor countries, powerful countries sometimes exploit this land, leaving native peoples to face food scarcity and eviction. While the poor countries face these injustices, the richer countries are given a seemingly “free” pass to continue to emit carbon. In a sense, carbon offsetting provides richer countries with a license to pollute.
Renewable energy carbon offset programs, those that generate energy from renewable resources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass) rather than from fossil fuels to create a reduction in GHG emissions, are often susceptible to this injustice because most of the land needed for the projects is located in poorer countries. As a result, poorer countries are taken advantage of at the expense of richer countries, which is unethical.
3 – Carbon Offset Projects Are Also Often Used As Greenwashing.
Carbon offsetting is considered greenwashing when companies do not prioritize in-house emissions reductions, double-count carbon credits, or invest in non-verified credits. Companies engaging in carbon offsetting can be divided into the three levels of zero, moderate, and severe greenwashing.
Greenwashing can lead the consumer to believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it actually is. And this duplicity makes it unethical.
Carbon Offsetting is Not Good For the Environment
Our environment is currently plagued by rising sea levels, acidified oceans, loss of biodiversity, more frequent and severe weather events, and other environmental disasters caused by increased CO2 emissions.
“Environment: the air, water, and land in or on which people, animals, and plants live”Cambridge Dictionary
Carbon offsetting is not good for the environment because:
- Carbon offsets do not effectively reduce climate change
- There are not enough offsets for all of our CO2 emissions
Overall, carbon offsets do more harm than good for our environment due to a variety of limitations involving their effectiveness, credibility, and success rates.
1 – Carbon Offsets Do Not Effectively Reduce Climate Change
Climate change is arguably the most severe, long-term, global impact of fossil fuel combustion. The carbon found in fossil fuels reacts with oxygen in the air to produce CO2 which warms the earth by acting as a heating blanket.
“Climate Change: changes in the world’s weather, in particular the fact that it is believed to be getting warmer as a result of human activity increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”Cambridge Dictionary
Carbon offsets do not effectively reduce climate change because you do not reduce your carbon footprint through the use of offsets, they do not work at the core issue of reducing CO2 emissions, and they only reduce CO2 if the projects are additional and permanent.
You Don’t Reduce Your Own Carbon Footprint
It is important to note that you don’t offset your own carbon emissions when you purchase a carbon offset. Offsets work by reducing emissions in other places. You are effectively reducing the carbon emissions of something else, but then you attribute it to yourself because you paid to offset it.
Because offsetting is an indirect way and not a direct way of reducing emissions, it alone will not be enough to significantly reduce global carbon emissions. Coupled with direct measures of emission reductions, such as reducing individual energy usage and consumption, carbon offsetting can be more effective.
Carbon Offsets Do Not Work at the Core Issue of Reducing CO2 Emissions
The data shows that we have failed to cut emissions at the source, and we continue to pump upwards of 35 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. We have since rebounded and surpassed pre-COVID level carbon emissions by 60 million tons.
Carbon offsetting mitigates the problem, but it doesn’t work at the core issue of reducing overall CO2 emissions. A more effective way of reducing CO2 emissions is to cut them at the source.
Carbon Offsetting only Reduces CO2 if the Projects are Additional and Permanent
If carbon offset projects are not additional and permanent, they can actually make climate change worse rather than reducing emissions.
To be beneficial, carbon offsets must be additional. This means the reductions would not have occurred without an offset market. If offset programs are not additional, then offsetting rather than directly reducing your emissions can actually worsen the effects of climate change.
The concept of additionality is deceptively difficult to evaluate and is often misunderstood. GHG reduction activities are occurring all the time, whether they are required by law or are simply a profitable action to take. For a project to be additional, the ability to purchase carbon offsets must play a decisive role in whether or not it is implemented. Also, determining additionality requires comparing it to an instance where there is no revenue from the sale of offsets. The only way to determine this is via subjective predictions.
Carbon offset projects also must also be permanent, in the sense that there must be a full guarantee against reversals of carbon emission into the indefinite future. Most projects are permanent by nature, but a classic example is sequestering carbon in trees. Once a tree is planted, it should never be removed to guarantee permanence. Cutting down the tree later to harvest wood, or if a forest fire burns the trees down, negates permanence.
2 – There Are Not Enough Carbon Offsets For All Of Our CO2 Emissions
As we have already discussed, despite its large market value, offsetting all of our CO2 emissions is not only difficult but also impractical because there aren’t enough carbon sinks (atmosphere, soil, forest, ocean) to offset every ton of CO2 produced from our collective human activities.
But another point of concern is that we may have already exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity or the maximum number of people that the earth can sustain indefinitely. Our population is rapidly approaching 8 billion and increases by approximately 140 million people per year. The ecological footprint, the amount of environmental land needed to produce the goods that support a particular lifestyle, also continues to increase which means we are impacting the environment at levels that cannot be sustained indefinitely.
As the population and our ecological footprint grow, the need for more offsets also grows. And we already do not have enough offsets for all of our emissions.
Carbon Offsetting Projects Have Different Effectiveness Rates
Because purchasing a carbon offset does not directly reduce your carbon emissions, choosing carbon offset projects that are effective is key.
Direct CO2 removal, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon sequestration are just some program areas that provide carbon offset projects. They can range anywhere from a couple of hundred tons of CO2 per program per year to thousands of tons of CO2 per program per year. And they also have varying levels of effectiveness.
Direct CO2 Removal Offset Projects Are the Most Effective
Direct air capture technologies (DAC) remove CO2 directly from the air where it is then stored in geological formations or can be used in food processing and to produce synthetic fuels. Liquid and solid DAC are the two approaches currently being used. In liquid systems, air is passed through chemical solutions to remove the CO2. In solid systems, sorbent filters are heated and placed under a vacuum to release CO2, which is then captured for storage or use.
DAC is so valuable because it is additional, permanent, and has the smallest land and water usage of all carbon dioxide removal approaches.
For example, at the forefront of this technology is Climeworks, a DAC company located in Zurich, Switzerland with its flagship facility located in Iceland. For every 100 tons of CO2 that are captured from the air, at least 90 tons are permanently removed and only 10 tons (or less) are re-emitted. Specialized machines mix capture CO2 with water and pump it deep underground where, through natural mineralization, the CO2 reacts with basalt rock and turns into stone in just a few years.
Renewable Energy Offset Projects Are the Second-Most Effective
The generation of energy from renewable resources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass) rather than from fossil fuels creates a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They generate more energy than is used in their production, and they produce fewer emissions over their lifetime than fossil fuels produce.
When you purchase renewable energy carbon offsets, your money goes towards projects that build or maintain solar, wind, or hydro sites around the world. Investing in these projects increases the ratio of renewable energy to fossil fuel energy on the world’s power grid, creates jobs and encourages economic growth.
But for all the good these projects do accomplish, renewable energy offsets are not additional. Increasing the amount of renewable energy on the world’s power grid would still occur even if there was no offset market for it. With climate change continuing to worsen as we pump more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, renewables are becoming a greater share of our energy mix, with or without the help of offsets.
Energy Efficiency Offset Projects Are the Third-Most Effective
Energy efficiency offset projects are designed to create products or systems that use less energy than conventional systems to perform the same task. Common projects include the widespread installation of LED light bulbs and efficient cooking stoves.
When you purchase energy efficiency carbon offsets, your money goes towards implementing these systems in developing countries to provide native people with increased energy security, job creation, improved quality of life, and environmental mitigation.
However, if products are replaced too quickly, then the amount of CO2 required to produce the new product would exceed the amount of CO2 saved with the new product.
Carbon Sequestration Offset Projects Are the Least Effective
Carbon sequestration is defined as the long-term storage of carbon in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean and realized through activities including afforestation, reforestation, improved forestry, improved agricultural practices, and revegetation. For every 1 ton of carbon that is emitted, one ton of carbon is sequestered, resulting in net-zero emissions.
One of the most popular carbon offset projects involves planting trees. It is a simple action to take and one of the most well-known ways to protect our environment. However, this is not an effective way to reduce emissions in the long term.
To offset even a fraction of our global CO2 emissions, we would have to plant AND protect a massive number of trees for decades. A newly planted tree could take upwards of 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon offset program promises. Furthermore, there is always the risk of droughts, wildfires, tree diseases, and deforestation wiping out newly planted trees. In short, there is no permanence!
Related: Are you interested in learning how effective carbon offsetting really is? Check it out in this article here: How Effective Is Carbon Offsetting Really? Here Are the Facts
What Is a Better Alternative to Carbon Offsetting
In the media, carbon offsets are sometimes referred to as a cure for climate change. But a more effective and environmentally-friendly approach to combating climate change is to reduce your individual carbon footprint first before relying on carbon offsets. You don’t have to make drastic changes in your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint. Actions that may seem small can have a big impact because those small changes add up! You can reduce your carbon footprint in three main areas of your life: household, travel, and lifestyle.
To reduce your household footprint:
- Wash with cold water: Washing clothes in cold water could reduce carbon emissions by up to 11 mt. Approximately 90% of the energy is used to heat the water, so switching to cold water also saves energy.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs: Fluorescent bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent ones, saving energy and thus reducing electricity demand and GHG emissions.
To reduce your travel footprint:
- Fly less: Aviation accounts for around 1.9% of global GHG emissions and 2.5% of CO2. Aircrafts run on jet gasoline, which is converted to CO2 when burned.
- Walk or bike when possible: The most efficient ways of traveling are walking, bicycling, or taking the train. Using a bike instead of a car can reduce carbon emissions by 75%. These forms of transportation also provide lower levels of air pollution.
To reduce your lifestyle footprint:
- Switch to renewable energy sources: The six most common types of renewable energy are solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy. They are a substitute for fossil fuels (e.g., coal and oil) that can reduce the effects of global warming by limiting global GHGs and other pollutants.
- Recycle: Recycling uses less energy and deposits less waste in landfills. Less manufacturing and transportation energy costs means less GHG emissions generated. Less waste in landfills means less CH4 is generated.
- Switch from single-use to sustainable products: Reusing products avoids resource extraction, reduces energy use, reduces waste generation, and can prevent littering.
- Eat less meat and dairy: Meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global GHG emissions, with beef and lamb being the most carbon-intensive. Globally, we consume much more meat than is considered sustainable, and switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet could reduce emissions.
- Take shorter showers: Approximately 1.2 trillion gallons of water are used each year in the United States just for showering purposes, and showering takes up about 17% of residential water usage. The amount of water consumed and the energy cost of that consumption are directly related. The less water we use the less energy we use. And the less energy we use, the less of a negative impact we have on the environment.
One of the main limitations of carbon offsetting is that purchasing a carbon offset does not directly reduce your carbon footprint. It only makes others reduce their carbon footprint to compensate for your carbon footprint.
Because offsetting is an indirect way and not a direct way of reducing emissions, it alone will not be enough to significantly reduce global carbon emissions. Direct measures of emission reductions, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to offsetting.
Related: Are you interested in learning why reducing your carbon footprint is so important? Check it out in this article here: 4 Main Reasons Why Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Is Important
Carbon offsetting is not environmentally/economically/socially sustainable, ethical, or good for the environment. Different offset projects also have different effectiveness rates. These 4 reasons can make carbon offsetting a bad idea.
Carbon offsets do not work at the core issue of reducing CO2 emissions, further an economic gap between the world’s rich and poor, are often used as greenwashing, and do not effectively reduce climate change. There are also not enough offsets for all of our CO2 emissions and not all offset projects get realized.
Carbon offsets can be a tool for short-term climate mitigation, but in the long-term, cutting emissions from the source is much more effective and better for our environment. Out of all of the carbon offset projects available, direct CO2 removal is the most effective because it is the most direct method of emission reduction.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Offsets and RECs – What’s the Difference?
- Britannica: Carbon Offset
- David Suzuki Foundation: Are carbon offsets the answer to climate-altering flights?
- Impactful Ninja: Why Is a Carbon Footprint Bad for the Environment?
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Coal Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Oil Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Natural Gas? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- GreenPeace: The biggest problem with carbon offsetting is that it doesn’t really work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are the Biggest Carbon Offsetting Limitations? (All 9 Explained)
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Is Carbon Offsetting? Here’s The Big Picture
- Impactful Ninja: Is Carbon Offsetting Ethical? The Big Picture
- Impactful Ninja: Is Carbon Offsetting Good for the Environment? The Big Picture
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- Sustainable Science: Three pillars of sustainability – in search of conceptual origins
- Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship: Environmental Sustainability
- Visual Capitalist: A Complete Visual Guide to Carbon Markets
- ADEC Innovations: What is Social Sustainability?
- Our World in Data: Annual total CO2 emissions
- International Energy Agency: After steep drop in early 2020, global carbon dioxide emissions have rebounded strongly
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- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Climate Change – Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
- National Wildlife Federation: Climate Change
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations: The State of the World’s Forests – 2020
- Columbia Climate School: Can Soil Help Combat Climate Change?
- World Economic Forum: The oceans are absorbing more carbon than previously thought
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Ocean Acidification
- Yale Environment 360: Is the ‘Legacy’ Carbon Credit Market a Climate Plus or Just Hype?
- Edie: Carbon offsetting – How are businesses avoiding greenwashing on the road to net-zero?
- European Commission: How additional is the Clean Development Mechanism?
- Impactful Ninja: Is Carbon Offsetting Greenwashing? The Big Picture
- Lyft: Lyft Commits to Full Carbon Neutrality and 100% Renewable Energy
- CNN: Lyft cuts carbon offsets, promises to transition to electric vehicles by 2030
- The Nature Conservancy: Who We Are
- Bloomberg Green: A Top U.S. Seller of Carbon Offsets Starts Investigating Its Own Projects
- The Guardian: World’s richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, says Oxfam
- The Nature Conservancy: Why We Can’t Afford to Dismiss Carbon Offsetting
- Britannica: Ethics
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: The Paris Agreement
- Pacific Standard: How the Green New Deal Can Avoid Climate Colonialism
- SmartGrid.gov: Renewable Energy
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Climate Change – Global Sea Level
- United States Geological Survey: How would sea level change if all glaciers melted?
- Carbon Offset Guide: Additionality
- Carbon Offset Guide: Permanence
- Australian Academy of Science: How many people can Earth actually support?
- The World Counts: How many babies are born a day?
- Global Footprint Network: Ecological Footprint
- International Energy Agency: Direct Air Capture
- Climeworks: Direct air capture to help reverse climate change
- Climeworks: Homepage
- World Resources Institute: Setting the Record Straight About Renewable Energy
- Energy Intelligence Centre: 4 Types of Carbon Offset Projects
- International Energy Agency: Renewables
- Carbon Offset Guide: Energy Efficiency
- United States Agency for International Development: Scaling up energy efficiency in developing countries
- Britannica: Carbon Sequestration
- Grist: Carbon offsets aren’t enough. We need to remove carbon from the atmosphere
- Impactful Ninja: How Effective Is Carbon Offsetting Really? Here Are the Facts
- The Ocean Foundation: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
- Cold Water Saves: Washing Laundry In Cold Water Protects A Lot More Than Just Our Clothing.
- Energy Star: Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury
- Our World in Data: Where in the world do people have the highest CO2 emissions from flying?
- Our World in Data: Whichform of transport has the smallest carbon footprint?
- Stop Waste: Recycling and Climate Protection
- Impactful Ninja: Is Taking Long Showers Bad for the Environment?
- US Energy Information Administration: Renewable Energy Explained
- Global Giving: 50 Tips To Cut Down Your Carbon Footprint
- Zero Waste Europe: Reusable vs single-use packaging
- CarbonBrief: Interactive: What is the climate impact of eating meat and dairy?
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Showerheads