Carbon Offsetting

Small steps…

  • Go to Climate Care and use their calculator to offset your own carbon emissions – it’s surprisingly affordable.
  • Get a certificate and put it on display where others will see it.
  • Tell your friends and family.

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The soundtrack to my climate conscience is the humming of our oil boiler. At this time of year, it’s firing up all the time – usually when I’m lying in bed trying to get to sleep and trying not to think of glaciers melting in the Himalayas or forests tumbling in Africa, of wildfires in California or floods in Australia.

Although, in truth, those issues just seem too far away, too impersonal, to stare me in the face. Mostly, as my kids are sleeping next door, sprawled across their beds in intricate contortions, my thoughts are much closer to home: I’m thinking about the environment on our doorstep and the world that they’ll be living in. And at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I’m wondering how I can calm their fears about the future – undoubtedly stirred up, I’m afraid, by my own: only last week I was saying goodnight to my son when he asked, ‘Dad, are we going to be able to live on this planet when I’m older?’

The truth, of course, is that all these problems, from far-off Himalayan glaciers to our own milder winters, are all interconnected. And that is GOOD NEWS – it means that any effort to address one issue will help in tackling the lot.

Which is why my climate conscience has been somewhat assuaged by my recent decision to offset our oil use here at home. Obviously this only really has validity in combatting climate change if it’s an additional step as opposed to something I’d have done anyway. And, most importantly, THIS IS NOT A SOLUTION, merely a stopgap. It doesn’t mean I’ve paid a few quid to allow us to continue, business as usual; it’s simply a way of buying time until we’ve the money to dump our oil boiler in favour of a renewable alternative. And it turns out it’s possible to do that for a surprisingly small amount.

Already, all our electricity comes from 100% renewable sources (which makes one of our holiday cottages completely green). Our oil-based carbon emissions come from the boiler that serves our second holiday cottage, and the boiler in our own home. I already had a good idea of how to quantify that from a recent energy survey, but the Offset Calculator (see below) makes it easy to check. To offset our annual usage of 4,000 litres, it cost me a total of £95.42.

Can that really be enough to offset the carbon cost of hot water and heating in not just our own home, but also the two-bedroom holiday cottage next door, and for a whole year? The answer is yes – because the world is teeming with inexpensive ways to reduce emissions. Even a single low-energy lightbulb costing a couple of quid can, over six years, save 250kg of C02 – more than enough, according to the calculator, to offset a return flight from Edinburgh to London. It might be that in future, as more people start to offset and the ‘easy wins’ are used up, prices will rise, but for the moment it’s a relatively inexpensive way of softening – if not actually reducing – my carbon footprint.

That said, one demoralising aspect of trying to address climate change as an individual is that every apparent solution seems to come with its own problems and, unsurprisingly, carbon offsetting is no different: it’s a system that faces criticism for a number of reasons. But there are alternatives to the official offsetting schemes that I might also consider, from charitable donations to crowdfunding of specific environmental projects. Because, again, all these issues are connected; they’re all helping us move in the same direction. And every time I make even the smallest step, I feel less prone to sleepless panic and more empowered to make the next small step.

After a bit of homework, I opted to offset via Climate Care. They even gave me a certificate to put up in the holiday cottage or stick on our fridge to get others interested.

My boiler still hums, and I still wince when I hear it. But as long as I don’t think of offsetting as a sustainable alternative to actually reducing my carbon emissions, it’s an easy way to make a difference – and worth every penny if it helps me sleep at night.

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