Offset my carbon " no, really | AspenTimes.com

Offset my carbon " no, really

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

Something about carbon offsets smacks of a crock of you know what.

Maybe the heat of global warming has gotten to my brain, but I don’t get it. I actually took the time this week to check out the city of Aspen’s new aspenzgreen.com website, where residents and visitors are now invited to log on and fight global warming at $20 a pop. According to the city, each $20 investment will be used to offset one ton of greenhouse gases.

The premise of purchasing the “carbon offsets” is that, rather than reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions, we can invest in an effort to cut back someone else’s emissions.

On its face, it sounds a little bit like going on a diet so that someone in an impoverished country can eat, which is ridiculous. If I refuse a second helping, it’s not like its going to appear on somebody’s plate in Ethiopia.

In the same vein, even if I buy enough credits to theoretically fulfill all of my home’s electricity needs through wind power, it’s not like the operator of the nearest coal-fired power plant turns a dial down a notch.

Carbon offsets have been panned as a “feel good” measure by some skeptics. Feels like a cop-out to me.

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I do nothing to change my own behavior, but I spend money in the hopes that someone else will? Please tell me someone, somewhere has a better idea than this one for saving the planet.

That’s not to say I don’t see value in the carbon offsets idea on some level. The potential investments described on the website sound worthy, but I can’t for a second consider spending money to expand, for example, Aspen’s production of “clean” hydroelectric power as somehow excusing my reliance on the coal-generated variety. For one thing, Aspen’s hydroelectric power isn’t going to keep the lights on at my house in El Jebel.

Then, there’s travel. According to the aspenzgreen website’s built-in calculator, roundtrip air travel between L.A. and Aspen generates .33 tons of carbon dioxide. That sounded pretty low to me, but when I returned to the site the next day to recheck the calculation, the link didn’t work.

My math skills are admittedly suspect, but I gather I can offset my .33 tons by paying $6.60 and fly with a clear conscience. Even better, I try to avoid L.A.

The “average Aspen home” (which is probably big enough to park an airliner) generates 26 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Does this problem go away if the homeowner buys $520 worth of offsets? I’m thinking not.

If the solution to halting, or even slowing global warming lies in changing human behavior, I’m inclined to think a universal and drastic change in lifestyle on everyone’s part is going to be necessary. Living life as usual while we invest in someone else’s solar-powered hot water system probably isn’t going to do it.

Here’s an idea though: If the city is really going to collect money for these sorts of projects, why not use it to install solar-powered hot water at my house? No, really. Then I, at least, will really be doing something about the problem.