Feature

The truth about carbon offsets

G Magazine

Are carbon offsets more about your conscience than saving the planet?

tree planting

Credit: iStockphoto

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Brad Pitt has a forest in Bhutan. Jake Gyllenhaal has one in Mozambique. Leonardo DiCaprio's is on some land near Leipzig, Germany, that used to house Russian medium-range ballistic missiles.

Is a private forest the new must-have accessory for Hollywood A-listers? It is if they want to show their green cred.

But carbon neutrality is not just for celebrities. We all produce climate-changing greenhouse gases in the course of our daily activities - Australians more than most. There are many greenhouse gases, but the sum total is expressed as an equivalent amount of the most common one - carbon dioxide (CO2).

In 2004, Australia released the equivalent of 564.7 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere; that's 27.2 tonnes for every Australian - the most, per capita, of any country on Earth.

So how do you do your bit for the planet? For many Australians, air travel is a necessity, and while switching from the car to the bike, bus, or train works for some trips, there are times when a car is the only thing that can get you where you're going.

This is where offsetting comes in. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow - a process known as sequestration. So by planting enough trees, you can compensate for those emissions.

"The three key words are reduce, renew, and offset," says Joel Fleming, founder and managing director of Australian offsetting company Climate Friendly.

"Reduce your energy consumption through efficiency measures and low carbon fuels. The next thing is to switch to renewable energy." After you've done all that, he says, the third thing is to offset the emissions you can't get rid of.

For between $10 and $30 per tonne, a new crop of companies like Climate Friendly will invest in a project that removes CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for the stuff you've emitted.

Easy! You can take the car and plane trips you can't avoid, and as long as you buy enough carbon credits to offset the CO2 emitted, you come out carbon neutral.

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