Offsetting is great – and necessary – but it’s always better to prevent emissions in the first place.
Have you ever wondered how carbon is offset? It’s pretty simple really. Just think back to sixth grade science, where we all learned that trees take in carbon dioxide, along with sunlight and water, for photosynthesis. As a by-product they give off oxygen, which is necessary for life, and they store CO2, which has become a necessity for modern life. Utilizing trees for their natural ability to sequester, or capture, carbon has been instrumental in slowing CO2 emissions and giving us a chance in the face of climate change.
However, there are limits to what trees can do. And while there are other emerging forms of offsetting (some very promising), it is still better to refrain from emitting CO2 in the first place if possible.
Below are 5 reasons that lessening emissions should be the first course of action, with carbon offsetting used as a supplemental process.
- Actions that avoid carbon emissions ensure the equivalent CO2 does not reach our atmosphereOffsetting is great. It helps ensure CO2 that is emitted is accounted for and sequestered, or captured, somewhere else; it’s an important part of the grand carbon cycle. However, avoiding carbon from being emitted in the first place is an even better way to ensure it doesn’t remain in the atmosphere. After all, if it’s not emitted, it can’t be stay in the air. It’s as simple as that.
- Minimizing carbon takes away the need to capture carbon, freeing up more offsetting opportunities for things that necessitate offsetsSome actions cannot – at least currently – be done without emitting carbon. Whether it’s flying on an airplane or building a house that uses carbon-intensive concrete, there are certain things that emit carbon and there’s no way around it (though there are some promising developments in aviation biofuels and carbon-injected concrete, highlighting that all current carbon emissions can possibly be replaced with better options).
For these actions that put carbon in the air, there is carbon offsetting. This should be offsetting’s main function: to negate the CO2 being emitted that we cannot directly stop with our own actions or habits. What we can do is minimize our carbon output, allowing for those offsets to go further than if we kept with the status quo. Biking instead of driving directly keeps CO2 out of the air, which means there is less overall carbon that needs to be offset because of this direct action. Sure, when you forego a flight to take an electric train the flight still takes off – but you free up space for someone else. We can’t stop flying altogether, but if we can lower the amount of daily flights we can buy time until we figure out carbon-free synthetic fuels or biofuels to decarbonize the skies. Every little bit helps.
- Offsetting is great – but it has limitsOffsetting is a wonderful tool we have to mitigate some carbon emissions. The word ‘some’ needs to be emphasized. There are severe limits to offsetting as a strategy for reaching carbon neutrality. While it is great for negating emissions from processes that can only function by releasing carbon, sequestration often takes time (such as with newly planted trees) and there are risks that untrustworthy sources could cut down trees planted for offsetting purposes for exploitation purposes, effectively negating the carbon storage they’d held before then. This isn’t to say offsetting isn’t reliable; on the contrary, it has proven extremely reliable, especially in recent years as demand has increased. There are just risks associated with it that should be filed under the “it could happen” section of our carbon mitigation strategy.
- We are still emitting too much carbon for offsetting to handle – we need to minimize our emissions to get anywhere near net-zeroThere simply isn’t enough space to use offsetting as our optimal strategy to get to net-zero carbon emissions. At least not with our current methodology, which uses tree planting as the main for capturing carbon. There could be technological advancements that will lead to more artificial sequestration – such as giant machines that literally suck carbon out of the air (they already exist, they’re just not really feasible yet) – but for the foreseeable future we are simply emitting more than we can offset. We need to minimize our emissions to reach carbon neutrality.
- Behavioral change is needed to move towards a carbon-free – or at least a carbon-neutral – economyOffsetting can only take us so far, and innovations that transform carbon-intensive activities, such as flying, into carbon-free activities will carry us towards the finish line – but behavioral change is the key component to finishing the race towards a net-zero CO2 world. Changes from people all over the world, in all areas of their lives, are needed to slow emissions while innovations transform the way CO2-heavy systems work. And it is behavioral change that is largely responsible for being the catalyst for innovations to occur in the first place. Without people forgoing straws and Styrofoam containers, there is no way biodegradable food wares would have caught on so quickly – and in all areas of the world, including some that appeared far behind when it came to implementing these changes. But it doesn’t stop there: if it becomes normalized to bring reusable containers for takeout, and biodegradable ones are used only when people forget or are otherwise unable to bring their usual wares, then we can make an even bigger difference by cutting down on the production of throughput materials; even though they’re biodegradable, using less is still better whenever possible.
Lessen CO2 emissions – think green!
If examples like this are extended to all areas of our lives, we will start to see real changes. These changes will likely happen faster than we expect, as well. There is hope that we can stop carbon in its tracks by 2050.
At TerGo, we’re doing our best to get us there even sooner.