Going carbon neutral

Going carbon neutral

I’ve been meaning to do so for a while, but today I finally went ahead and offset my car’s carbon emissions. For those unfamiliar with the concept, this means that I purchased credits from a company that uses the funds to reduce carbon emissions somewhere else… effectively cancelling out my car’s emissions.


I spent a fair amount of time researching carbon offsets before choosing a company. A TreeHugger post led me to a fairly comprehensive survey of the different options. The David Suzuki Foundation’s site provided useful info on going carbon neutral and carbon offsets. Finally, Wikipedia provided some background on the economic idea behind carbon offsets, namely carbon emissions trading.

My choice: TerraPass

In the end, I ended up choosing a company called TerraPass. The main reason for this is that I was lucky enough to have breakfast with their CEO a few months back (he went to school with one of my friends). Tom Arnold is a very smart and friendly guy, and he definitely inspired confidence in what TerraPass is doing. Unlike most of the carbon offset options, TerraPass is a for-profit enterprise. While some might find this less compelling than a non-profit organization, the economist in me likes to think that the market incentives will encourage them to be more efficient, transparent and creative than other solutions. Case in point, their price is fairly good (roughly $10/ton, see survey above) and their site provides good information on how the money is put to use. For more information on TerraPass, see this Ted Blog post as well as TerraPass’s own blog.


As an intellectual sidenote, I’m intruigued by the similarity between carbon offsets and medieval indulgences. Indulgences were a way for rich people to pay the Church to redeem their sins and get a spot in heaven. Tremendously convenient way to get a clear conscience, and equally convenient way to finance your new cathedral. In the same way, offsetting my carbon consumption allows me to ease my guilt at my consumption-heavy lifestyle… thereby perhaps reducing my incentive to act in more serious ways to reduce my own consumption. Of course, just like indulgences in part helped fund the Church’s charitable activities, purchasing carbon offsets actually does have a positive effect on the environment, so it’s still a good thing to do. For more on this question, see this Slate article.

What’s next…

Now I still need to offset the rest of my life, e.g. electricity, heating, flights, etc. To do this, I will probably use some combination of CarbonFund and NativeEnergy. CarbonFund is the most cost-effective solution, and NativeEnergy is endorsed by Al Gore and his An Inconvenient Truth project (if you haven’t done so yet, go see the movie. It’s well worth it). The main reason for not going fully with TerraPass is that it’s hard for me to judge which company is the best option, and so splitting my offsets hedges me against having made a wrong choice. Of course, the most effective thing to do is to reduce my own emissions, so maybe I should just have bought one of these instead!