Reduce Your Carbon Footprint with The Nature Conservancy’s Voluntary Carbon Offset Program

Carbon offsetting has been around for a while now, giving you the opportunity to reduce your “carbon footprint” by trading cash for your personal carbon output. In most cases, this quid pro quo occurs through a donation to an organization that plants trees of some sort in some place where, hopefully (but not always), they are both needed and helpful to the original habitat. In theory, these trees then sequester carbon dioxide in the air–a major cause of global warming, acid rain, and other current environmental problems.

Let me say upfront that so far I have been skeptical of carbon offsetting. However good the underlying intentions, this sort of tradeoff can be used as an excuse to keep on stomping around on the Earth and avoid making real changes in our lifestyles. If we pay for the things we step on, then that absolves us from guilt or responsibility, right? If we can buy our way out of guilt, then we can buy our way out of changing ourselves, right?

Also problematic is the fact that many offsetting programs may or may not be reliable; it is often hard to tell how trustworthy one organization is or how true its claims are about its use of funds. Even if the organization does use offsetting donations to plant trees or do something similar, how can we be sure that the measures employed are indeed helpful overall (e.g., the right types of trees are planted, needy/imperiled habitats are targeted, sustainable methods are used, etc.)?

In light of this skepticism, I am surprisingly excited now that The Nature Conservancy has launched its own Voluntary Carbon Offset Program. I find this to be a really noteworthy venture for TNC, since it is a global leader in habitat and species preservation, research, advocacy, and general stewardship–or, as its new motto puts it, “Protecting Nature. Preserving Life.”

The Conservancy’s Program is actually going to involve a collection of individual projects focused on restoring and preserving specific areas using the funds contributed through voluntary carbon offsets. The first is the Tensas River Basin Project, which seeks to restore and preserve a key tract of land in Louisiana encompassing forests once populated by ivory-billed woodpeckers (hopefully there are still a few of these flying around!), Florida panthers, and Red Wolves.

With this project alone, The Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Offset Program will have significant benefits for reducing carbon pollution. As The Conservancy website explains, “According to Conservancy climate change experts, a project to capture carbon on 47 acres of the Tensas River Basin Project is predicted to store 14,300 short tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the first 70 years.”1 Wow. That may help you breathe a little easier already! And with more similar projects to come, along with The Conservancy’s ongoing work with other issues, you may feel lighter in your head and in your heart when you donate to offset your carbon output.

The Voluntary Carbon Offset Program website alone is a fantastic resource for learning about carbon dioxide pollution, climate change, and carbon offsetting. For example, it provides well-researched information on climate change and global warming, as well as how The Conservancy is working to help battle these environmental problems.

The Conservancy’s trustworthiness shines out even more brightly because it actually offers a guide for what to look for in any good carbon-offsetting program: Permanence, Additionality, Leakage, and Standards (PALS). With all of this, you can feel confident in donating to The Conservancy’s Program, knowing that its work is credible and will be scientifically sound in each area addressed.

Probably the most useful thing for anyone, of course, is the Carbon Footprint Calculator. By answering questions about your home, traveling, food and diet, and recycling and waste, all in terms of where you live and your family size, you can get an estimated measure of how big your annual carbon footprint is. Once you do that, you can make an appropriate donation if you wish; the amount The Conservancy calculates is $20 per ton. Then you can use the website to find out about climate-saving tips…and so maybe owe the Earth less money in the future!

Curious fellow that I am, I went through and calculated my carbon footprint using The Conservancy’s calculator. I was utterly appalled with the result: 26 tons per year, only one less than the average American’s and dramatically more than the worldwide average of 5.5 tons per person.

After picking my bottom jaw up off the floor and getting my heart going again, I consoled myself with the realization that this was only an estimated footprint. The Conservancy’s calculator is definitely helpful, but it cannot (of course) be exact and precise in terms of measuring your true personal output. And since I live what might best be called the lifestyle of an environmentally obsessed monk, I was pretty confident that my carbon foot was not quite as big as the calculator said. Good thing, too…I did not have an extra $520 taking up space in my wallet! But the process was informative and a real eye-opener for me as an ecologically conscientious Earthling.

Now with The Conservancy’s Voluntary Carbon Offset Program and its wealth of helpful resources, I feel pretty stoked about carbon offsetting. The Conservancy really offers a wonderful way for my fellow carbon Bigfoots to tread more lightly upon the Earth.

After all, what better way to make rather ethereal concepts like the greenhouse effect and air pollution more directly personal than to have it translated into monetary terms…and to fork out some cash to make up for it? The Conservancy’s Program helps us to get a clearer idea of the footprint we leave on and in nature and so to become even more motivated to shrink that print with reliable, effective, and meaningful projects throughout the world.

So as the Earth keeps screaming, “Don’t Tread On Me!” we can do an even better job of walking tiptoe thanks to The Nature Conservancy.

Image credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, via Wikimedia Commons.
1. “Climate Change: The Tensas River Basin Project.” Nature.org. 2008. The Nature Conservancy. 17 July 2008. <http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/work/art24028.html>.

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