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Carbon off-setting and the rainforests
Looking up at a tree canopy in spring

Carbon off-setting and the rainforests

This section looks at the concept of carbon off-setting. It is not a good idea in itself but if you can be encouraged to help protect the rainforests, that would be a good thing.

You may well have heard about "off-setting" your carbon dioxide emissions. This particularly applies to flying, as it does burn a huge amount of fuel to keep a plane in the sky. For example, in a return trip from London to Tenerife (3,573 miles), apparently I caused 0.63 tonnes of carbon dioxide to be emitted. Working with the conversions in the Personal Action page, that is equivalent to something like 64,000 cups of tea!

How does that compare to my total emissions per year?

The information I have in the Personal Action pages give comparative information, mainly based on average UK citizens. Without access to any better data, the Act on CO2 carbon footprint calculator gives something to put this flight in context. In fact, you might find calculators like this very useful. Whilst they will not give perfect answers to how good/bad your lifestyle is, with regard to emissions of greenhouse gases, the questions they ask will help to focus the mind on what aspects of your life could be improved.

I calculated a footprint of 1.96 tonnes CO2, which is still eyebrow raising. It is a slight improvement on 2 years ago though. According to that figure, my Tenerife holiday is equivalent to 32% of my annual emissions.

Off-setting our indulgences

The idea that we can off-set big parts of our carbon footprint therefore sounds really good. I looked on one website and the cost of off-setting that return trip was £4.72. That is so cheap it would actually encourage me to fly!

And this is where it all goes wrong! If we believe that we can off-set our indulgences, we will never be encouraged to change our lifestyles: it's there to alleviate the guilt of doing something that you know you shouldn't. It is like carbon emissions trading between countries but without the internationally agreed targets. And there are a lot of charlatans and spurious organisations out there that will happily take your cash to alleviate your guilt.

The rainforests

We are burning the candle at both ends when it comes to carbon emissions. On top of all our burning of fossil fuels (from industry, transport, houses, etc), we are cutting down/burning our rainforests. This is very worrying. According to the latest IPCC estimates, emissions from deforestation in the 1990s (at 5.8 GtCO2/yr [i]) would account for over 20% of our carbon dioxide emissions. And yet the forests have an important role in taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere: a serious double whammy!

Not enough is being done to protect the rainforests. They are mostly found in developing countries, where governments, farmers and logging companies can see money to be made by taking them out. Its only natural: we did it in the UK, which was covered in forest, probably 5,000 years ago. We really need to do something. Protecting the rainforests is a globally important part of preventing climate change.

One charity I have found is Rainforest Concern. They have recently set up a carbon off-setting area, which they are calling Forest Credits. At the end of the day it is a way of getting you to donate but that is no bad thing. If you are flush with charitable cash, give to help protect the planet's lungs. But don't let that distract you from your plan to reduce your own carbon footprint!

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