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Learning and Teaching Sustainability

Its the small things. Start with Carbon Credits

airplane travel

The past few months have been pretty crazy. Across the country we are dealing with unprecedented flooding, drought, and heat waves. Climate change is very real, and its effects are incredibly scary and unpredictable.

When faced with such enormous problems, it's easy to feel powerless and hopeless. Until we tackle the root of the problem, there will only be more flooding, more storms, more damage, and more devastation. Ultimately, we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels and invest in clean and renewable energy. The good news is that you can help. You can make a difference right now by investing in carbon offsets.

What are carbon offsets?
In order to understand the concept of carbon offsets, we need to start with the basics. This NASA website is a great starting point to learn more about climate change. Here in the United States, we get 81% of our energy from fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. We burn these materials in order to generate electricity to power our homes, cars, and industrial processes. The problem is that when we burn these materials, massive amounts of carbon dioxide gas are released into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide hovers in the atmosphere creating a blanket that traps heat from escaping, and causing temperatures to rise across the planet. The crazy thing is that this is all pretty new, and stems from the modernization and mass production developed during the Industrial Revolution. Humans have lived on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the past 150 years alone, we have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million. In other words, we've managed to make a pretty catastrophic mess in a very short period of time.

Carbon offsets are a way to manage this problem and account for the environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels. While the specifics of carbon trading economics are a little tricky, it essentially works like this:
Every time you use energy, whether it's lighting your home or flying across the country, you are adding to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The more energy you expend, the greater your carbon footprint. By reducing your carbon footprint, you can reduce your contribution to climate change and its negative environmental impact. But even if you live an eco-conscious lifestyle, it's nearly impossible to bring your carbon footprint to zero. That's where carbon offsets come into play. When you purchase a carbon offset, that money is invested in projects that reduce carbon emissions like renewable energy, planting healthy forests, or capturing existing atmospheric carbon
 
There are many online tools that can help you calculate your carbon footprint. According to Terrapass, the average person emits roughly 64,000 lbs of carbon per year or about $320 in carbon offsets. You can also estimate your carbon emissions for a particular trip or project. At only $4.99 per 1000 lbs of carbon, purchasing carbon offsets is cheaper than you might think. It costs about $31.49 to offset the emissions created from 2 round-trip flights from California to New York.
 
Why it matters
Purchasing carbon offsets for yourself is a small step, but together we can create major change. By purchasing carbon offsets, you are standing up against the fossil fuel industry. You are taking responsibility for your role in climate change, and investing in a sustainable future. While the carbon trading market is far from perfect, the more people who invest in it, the stronger it becomes. We need to change our way of thinking, and make a habit out of considering the environmental impact of our actions.
 
How you can help
Ready to start making a difference?
Here are 3 companies where you can purchase carbon offsets to neutralize your carbon footprint.
 
Terrapass was founded in 2004 by Dr. Karl Ulrich and a group of his students at the University of Pennsylvania. They have reduced 36 million pounds of carbon dioxide since then, and now consult businesses and individuals on sustainability. You can visit their website to calculate your carbon footprint, and purchase offsets which support a variety of renewable energy and carbon capture projects across the country.
 
Native Energy supports carbon reduction projects across the globe from wind farms in China to water purification systems in Ghana and manure management in Pennsylvania. Native Energy is the carbon offset provider of choice used by The Sierra Club, a popular grassroots environmental organization.
 
Cool Effect aims to fight climate change with the help of crowdfunding. They have done extensive research to find the best and most reliable carbon reduction projects around the world, and brought them together into an easy to navigate site. You can search their collection and choose which projects you want to support. Over 90% of your donation will go directly to the project while the remaining 9.87% fee goes towards Cool Effect.
About the author: Laura Weatherbee
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