Lauren R. Stevens: Make effort to offset our carbon footprint

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WILLIAMSTOWN — A note from a reader suggests a column on offsets — defined as "a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere" (Wikipedia). In other words, if I'm flying to Charlotte from Albany and back, I can buy my way out of the environmental damage I'm doing.

The reader goes further, recommending a plug for signing onto a United Nations-endorsed global climate pledge ( that includes purchases of offsets when necessary. According to the pledge: "I am concerned about the serious risks that climate change poses for present and future generations. With my signature I agree to take the following actions." These are: "to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by me . . . by half within 10 years"; to "pay attention to the climate footprint of my energy use, traveling, eating and consumption habits, electronic devices and household appliances as well as my financial savings." In addition, "to consider addressing my unavoidable climate footprint by offsetting emissions which I cannot reduce, to become climate neutral now." The internet displays numerous opportunities to assign values to our releases of carbon and to purchase appropriate offsets. On my roundtrip flight to Charlotte, I would be responsible for 2,305 pounds of carbon, according to the TerraPass carbon footprint calculator.

The on-line carbon footprint calculators also cover other aspects of our lives, from heating to recycling to other forms of travel. Gold Standard ( will give you either estimates of your use by your nation or specific to your own lifestyle. For each United States citizen, the estimate of carbon emissions is about two tonnes per month (one metric tonne equals 2,204 pounds). Halving the U.S. estimate would get us down to the footprint of Europeans and residents of developing countries. Surely that's doable.

We need not wait for a new U.S. president to get started. Carbon reduction, possibly neutrality, can be a personal goal.

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In fact, although we hear a lot about what the world has to do by 2050, in truth — for the sake of the world — we cannot wait another day.

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The first step, then, is to reduce our use of fossil fuels. What we cannot accomplish that way we can offset. Depending on which website we visit to purchase our offsets, we can choose how we want our offset money spent, perhaps planting trees or supporting sustainable practices in developing countries or saving land from inappropriate development, for example. The various uses can be verified.

Now, offsets mean that we are still responsible for carbon production. That's why it is step two. Buying our way is not the best approach. Travel is one of the areas in which it is very hard to reduce emissions, however. (Greta Thunberg spent long weeks at sea, after all.) Still, by one calculator at least, I can mitigate my flight to Charlotte for $11.50, which could plant 27 urban trees.

To some people it is not palatable to fly, ever. To others, the offset is ridiculously cheap. On the other hand, I can certainly buy more offsets.

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The last article of the Climate Pledge: "I will share my experiences in making cleaner choices with my family, friends and colleagues and encourage them to sign the pledge, too."

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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