Monday, September 24, 2007

Carbon Offsets & WindSource

Once in a while I travel by air. Quite a bit more often (read: just about every day) I take short trips in my aging, hail-battered little Honda Odyssey minivan (12 years old, 206,000+ miles, and keeps on ticking). I am a well-meaning person, and so I feel bad about the amount that I drive, but the reasons (helping a certain high school student get her 30-lb backpack, two musical instruments and a tennis racket to or from school; being able to run errands without a major investment of time; laziness; lack of a bicycle; dislike of being too hot or too cold or too wet; and so on -- the typical middle-class, middle-aged litany) don't go away. So I thought it was time to learn a bit more about purchasing carbon offsets.

For $36.95, I could buy a TerraPass that theoretically offsets 7,500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. (My share of the air travel I'm doing this year will add up to 4,700 pounds, according to the site's calculator -- and that's leaving out all the emissions of the trusty minivan.) Here's a link explaining how it supposedly works. Here's another, from another such site, Carbonfund. There are plenty of other offset services out there. Just google "carbon offsets" and you'll find a full array.

These services claim that their investment in the carbon-offsetting behaviors, whether reforestation or investing in clean energy sources or supporting energy-efficiency projects, are independently verified. That's probably increasingly likely to be true, but there is certainly room for unfulfilled promises here, profiting from the green guilt of people like me, who are willing to pay a few dollars here and there in the hopes of genuinely helping the environment. I plan to do my homework pretty carefully before I choose an offset service, but I think it's likely that I will choose one -- and I'll probably try to nudge my place of employment in that direction as well.

I also recently signed up with Xcel's WindSource program to have all my electricity usage support wind energy. This, I'm sure, does not mean that they magically funnel electricity directly from the wind turbines, and only from the wind turbines, to my little household, but it's a way of helping to develop more clean energy sources. (Ones, I hope, that are not in the usual paths of migratory birds.)

Do you have thoughts on programs like these? Worthy? Or merely greenwashing? I welcome your comments.

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