Alternatives to Carbon Offsetting
It is most important to set your climate protection priorities correctly. Here is how you can most meaningfully and effectively help protect the climate:
Most importantly, be politically active: vote officials into office who enact and effectively implement legislation that address the threats of climate change. Share your understanding of the threat of climate change by educating others and urging them to take action too.
In addition, reduce your carbon footprint and live a less energy-intense lifestyle – live in an apartment close to work, use public transportation, eat less red meat, get your house insulated, etc.
All these action will ultimately do more to lower emissions and address climate change than you buying carbon offsets. If you still want to do more but don't feel comfortable investing in carbon offsets, here are some alternatives:
1. Buy carbon allowances from a market with a stringent cap.
Under the Kyoto protocol and other regional laws (e.g. RGGI, Western Climate Initiative) CO2 emissions are or will be legislated under a cap-and-trade system. Allowances (permits) have to be bought by polluters to let them keep polluting. But a finite number get created. The fewer allowances that are created the more stringent the cap is. As a citizen we can do two things: lobby for a minimal number of allowances being handed out and we can buy and cancel them ourselves. So by taking an allowance out of the system we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted and force industry to invest in cleaner technologies. Every permit removed from the system means one less ton of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Yet, this only works if there are not too many allowances in the system. If the cap-and-trade system is oversupplied, voluntarily cancelign allowances will not have any climate benefits. For a more detailed pape ron the topic, go here.
2. Buy RECs from a tight RPS market
Buy RECs that come from a state that has a stringent Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and is in short supply of RECs. If these conditions are met, then voluntarily buying and retiring RECs from a RPS compliance market can be an effective tactic to ensure genuine emissions reductions. This is very similar to buying allowances from a capped system. Buying and retiring such RECs reduces their supply, leading to the implementation of more renewable energy projects to meet RPS targets.The same caveat applies as for retiring allowances: the market cannot be oversupplied with RECs. For a more detailed pape ron the topic, go here.
3. Make a charitable contribution to environmental and social projects around the world.
4. Make a charitable contribution to a political organization that is working to enact strong climate policies.