It’s OK to treat yourself to carbon offsets


environmental fridays

Kelly Walker

Do you care about climate change? Do you ever feel guilty about your carbon footprint? Carbon offsets could be the solution for you. Although carbon offsets don’t erase environmentally harmful practices, they can be a responsible way to compensate for that extra flight home you took this year or your Big Mac craving after a long day of research papers, presentations and exams.   

Let’s start with the confusing terminology. What’s a “carbon footprint”? Your carbon footprint is just a representation of the amount of carbon dioxide you emit into the atmosphere through common practices like the use of electricity in your house, taking a flight, the use of gas in your car, food choices, yard care and food waste.   

Just to quickly recap the science of climate change: Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, which traps heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet. Any practices that increase your carbon footprint also contribute to climate change. The goal is to minimize that footprint! A great way to consciously track your carbon footprint is to actually calculate it. Conveniently, the EPA offers a carbon footprint calculator to help you balance your lifestyle.  

However, life happens. No matter how educated we are about environmental issues, sometimes we take the plastic bag at the checkout because we don’t have the energy to tell them we don’t need it. Sometimes we take an airplane instead of opting for a road trip to save time on our limited vacation days away from school and work. Sometimes we just want to eat a steak. 

The important thing to remember as our generation navigates through the Anthropocene is to do our best in every area possible. Maybe you biked to classes all week and left the car in the garage, so you treat yourself to a cheeseburger. The goal is to balance our carbon outputs to the best of our human ability.   

Thankfully, carbon offsets provide a way to balance our “treat yourself” moments. Carbon offsets are most commonly associated with airlines, although they can be used for any of the aforementioned human indulgences. If you keep a carbon budget, you will find that an airline flight will blow your budget to pieces. Airplanes produce substantial amounts of carbon pollution. If you must fly, you can donate money through carbon offsets to projects around the world that produce clean energy or reduce carbon emissions in other ways like reforestation.   

The idea is to financially support removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, “offsetting” your carbon output from flying, supporting the meat industry, driving a car or sending food waste to the landfill.

Although in most cases carbon offsets do not erase the damages of our fossil fuel habits, they can provide some comfort and environmental responsibility among student lifestyles which are often stretched by busy schedules and stress. As long as it’s in moderation, we deserve to treat ourselves and still remain environmentally conscious.