Upon returning to Washington, D.C., I decided that it was time to take stock—that is, carbon stock. My travels took me more than 20,000 miles round-trip, and as one reader of this blog aptly pointed out, the 10,000 people who traveled to the Bali climate conference racked up quite a carbon footprint in the course of their efforts to help abate climate change—the UN estimated about 47,000 tons total. Some media reports put the number as high as 100,000 tons and compare the meeting’s greenhouse gas emissions to driving 20,000 cars for a year or the annual emissions of the African state of Chad.
Before the word “hypocrite” gets thrown about too loosely, however, many people thought about this before the conference. For example, the meeting’s convener, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), announced during the conference that it will offset the 3,370 tons of carbon dioxide generated by the travel of UN staff, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And the Indonesian government planted 79 million trees before the meeting, which they estimated would absorb the emissions of the entire meeting. (Tree projects are tricky, though; it’s hard to say how many of the trees will survive, and eventually they will die and re-release carbon dioxide.)
Any “offset” is basically a way to cancel out greenhouse gas emissions in one place by reducing greenhouse gases someplace else. For example, the UN will offset its staff travel by investing about $100,000 into the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund, which ultimately will go to projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. The money might go to planting trees that take up carbon dioxide, or to reducing the production in China of potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are made in the manufacture of refrigerants.
Some organizations and delegations traveling to Bali also purchased their own offsets, including the U.K.’s 40-person team and 80 people from the environmental group WWF International.
As for me, I went online to find out how much carbon I burned getting to Bali. There are many good carbon calculators available, and the three I tried placed my emissions between 3.7 and 5.3 tons of carbon dioxide. According to Carbonfund.org (their tagline: Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t), I can cancel out my Bali emissions for about $20. They’ll invest my 20 bucks in projects that support renewable energy (such as wind and solar) and energy efficiency, and in forestry projects.
Offsetting may not be as good as avoiding emissions in the first place, but at least it’s a start. Looks like it’s time for me to pay up.