Published: Oct 05, 2008 08:28 AM
Modified: Oct 05, 2008 08:28 AM
Going carbon neutral
In a world that runs on fossil fuels, living green can be quite a challenge. To some people, a green lifestyle requires taking drastic steps -- like living in trees to prevent logging or burning down a ski lodge to save an endangered species. But such extreme-environmentalist methods are too radical, and illegal, for most Americans to embrace.Many of us want to do something positive for the environment but don't want to resort to such radical measures. And who has time to go sit in a redwood tree for months on end, anyway? I don't, so I try to find ways that I can live green while minimizing the impact on my time and wallet. And thanks to a new initiative just announced in North Carolina, one aspect of being green just got easier.Several months ago, a local nonprofit company called N.C. GreenPower rolled out a program that allows North Carolinians to purchase carbon offsets from their power provider. If you aren't familiar with the term, a carbon offset is a way for someone to pay to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions. Money from offsets typically goes towards renewable energy projects such as solar or wind, or toward planting more trees to soak up carbon emissions.The concept of offsets isn't anything new. Many travel-related companies, such as airlines and hotel chains, already offer their customers the ability to pay extra to "offset" the energy used while flying or staying the night. Yet these types of programs are unregulated, and so provide little assurance to customers that their money was well spent.But the carbon offsets sold in the N.C. GreenPower program will be monitored by the N.C. Utilities Commission -- making it one of the first programs in the nation to be regulated. The program also allows consumers a choice between purchasing carbon offsets or blocks of renewable energy. So, with some assurance that my money would really go toward reducing pollution, I decided to calculate just how much I'd need to spend to offset my family's carbon emissions.My first job was to tally up just how much carbon my family is responsible for. I started by evaluating my electric bill, and I calculated that we consume around 1,500 kilowatt hours of power each month on average. This equates to around 3,100 pounds of carbon emissions.Next, I considered our monthly driving emissions. This was tricky since I had to account for things like gas mileage, the amount of driving we do and how much carbon is released per gallon of gasoline. After crunching the numbers, I found that our driving added another 2,100 pounds of monthly carbon emissions to our tab.After that, I added up some smaller factors, such as natural gas usage and air travel. Then I tacked on another 10 percent of the total, to make up for miscellaneous emissions that I couldn't properly account for, such as the energy used at my office or what garbage men use to dispose of our trash.Finally, I reached my family's grand total of around 6,100 pounds of carbon emissions per month. That estimate might be on the high side since I made some assumptions - like that most of my electricity comes from coal-fired power plants instead of nuclear or gas. But at least it gave me a number to work with. And for those who don't want to go through the same complicated process, there are plenty of carbon emissions calculators online that will give you a number for your family.But now the really important question -- how much is buying my way to carbon neutrality going to cost me each month? The N.C. GreenPower program sells a 500-pound carbon dioxide offset for $4 a month. So if I spend $52 a month -- which is tax deductible -- I'll be offsetting more than the amount of carbon that my family produces.While that amount of money is nothing to sniff at, it's also about the same as many families spend on cable TV each month. And by comparison, if you wanted to generate your own energy and decided to install a solar-electric system, you're going to end up paying around $10,000 at least.So the N.C. GreenPower program is a pretty reasonable cost. Even better, it allows you to do something good for the environment without having to do anything radical or illegal like some crazed "environmentalist." And while reducing our national dependence on fossil fuels will require more than just getting out our checkbooks, carbon offsets are a good start and something we can be proud of. Sounds like a good deal to me.
Jeff Soplop has worked as an environmental consultant and researcher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
2008 The Chapel Hill News