After Matt Daimon mentioned CO2 offsets during his cameo appearance for OneXOne on Entourage (great job btw), I got to thinking about this topic. The idea of carbon offsets is that if your normal lifestyle, such as driving a Cadillac, causes CO2 emissions, then you would do things like plant trees, or use less electricity that would then offset your emissions. Using less electricity indirectly causes the power company to need to burn less coal to fire the electric power plant to send the electrons down the wire to your big screen TV.
At fueleconomy.gov one can find the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of what the ‘normal’ CO2 emissions for your vehicle are. In my case, my 2005 Cadillac CTS 3.6L Automatic when driving 15,000 miles a year probably causes around 9.6 tons of CO2 per year.
Note that fuel cost estimates are based on 45% highway driving, 55% city driving, 15000 annual miles and a fuel cost of $ 2.58 per gallon . You may customize these values to reflect the cost of fuel in your area and your own driving patterns.
Okay, so that gives a figure to work from — 9.6 annual tons of CO2. Seems like a lot but note that this includes not just the emissions from the car, but the entire process of getting the fuel from the ground, to the refinery, into the car, and final use.
The carbon footprint measures greenhouse gas emissions expressed in CO2 equivalents. The estimates presented here are “full fuel-cycle estimates” and include the three major greenhouse gases emitted by motor vehicles: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Full fuel-cycle estimates consider all steps in the use of a fuel, from production and refining to distribution and final use. Vehicle manufacture is excluded. (U.S. Department of Energy, GREET Model 1.7, Argonne National Laboratory).
Now there are a variety of websites & services available who would be happy to sell you carbon offsets. Here is one list. A carbon offset is supposedly a NEW tree planted, or a NEW investment in environmental cleanup, or clean energy, that would not have occurred unless you had purchased the carbon offset.
This is a very tricky market, and there of course are people perfectly willing to SELL you carbon offsets that consist merely of the receipt you receive on the sale! Alternately, companies are fast to offer to buy real offsets at $0.20/ton and sell them to you at $10/ton! CCX sells on the Chicago exchange, and is at $0.10 / metric ton as of this writing. So for my 9.6 tons of CO2 output from driving 15,000 miles / year I need around $1 worth of offsets at current prices? I find this amusing.
How can you truly be carbon neutral? Until the carbon offset market is much more transparent, I think I’ll stick to other suggestions on sites like offsetcarbonfootprint.org : use filtered water instead of bottled water, keep my A/C filter and dryer screen clean, turn off electronics when not in use, use a programmable thermostat at home, keep my vehicle in top condition, and keep enjoying my Cadillac.