Carbon Neutral to Reduce Global Warming

What Does ‘Carbon Neutral’ Mean?

Becoming ‘carbon neutral’ means that you have neutralized the effect of your personal greenhouse gas emissions, so that your personal and household activities no longer contribute to the dangers of global warming. 

On average, 25% of US and Canadian emissions come from our personal activities. The rest comes from industry, commerce, agriculture, oilfields, trucking, defence, and so on. So far, no-one has developed a way to measure the carbon emissions of all the things we buy (cars, houses, food, stuff), which require energy to manufacture, ship, and package, so those emissions are not included in that 25%. 

Global climate change is an enormous problem, that needs our urgent attention. A January 2004 study from a team of conservation biologists based at the University of Leeds, Britain, concluded that by 2050, if temperatures  continue to increase as forecast, between 15% and 37% of all land-based animals and plants will become extinct; around one million species. This is on our watch, while we are the ones who are responsible, with the ability to reduce this toll. 

In addition to striving to reduce your personal emissions, becoming carbon neutral at the household level is one way to exercise this responsibility. 

What Are Carbon Offsets?

A carbon offset is an initiative which neutralizes the impact of a carbon emission. For example:
* If you plant trees on land which would otherwise have been tree-less, the trees will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and store the carbon for the life of the tree. (This is also known as "sequestration".) Some people have reservations about tree-planting as a carbon offset, since as the global temperature increases, there is a risk that the trees will burn down, succumb to pest damage, or cease to grow.

* If you support the development of a wind turbine or solar photovoltaic panel which would not have otherwise been installed, replacing the use of diesel, gas, kerosene or oil, this will reduce the CO2 emissions that would have been released by those fossil fuels. This is what SELF does, when it installs solar PV systems that displace kerosene or diesel.

* It is essential that the activity you are supporting would not otherwise have happened. So if someone is installing a solar hot water system on their roof, for instance, which will reduce the amount of gas they burn to heat water, and you offer to pay for half of it, that is not a valid carbon offset. 

* Installing a solar panel on your own roof will reduce your personal emissions, but it will not offset them unless you install more solar PV than you need, so that the surplus can be sold into the grid, reducing the quantity of fossil fuels needed to make electricity.