We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: carbon offsets can be confusing. It quickly starts to sound like civics and chemistry rushing to finish one another’s sentences. But they don’t have to be that way. In fact, carbon offsets can be awesome.
A lot of questions naturally arise around carbon offsets. Here’s a brass tacks explanation about what they are – omitting the complicated specifics because we’ve got a podcast episode on the horizon for just that conversation.
Carbon in the air is responsible for a lot of global warming. It’s trapping heat. As we’re doing things that release more carbon into the air, there are things we can be doing which help pull carbon back out of the air. These projects, like all things, cost money, and paying for them to happen (or paying back someone who already made it happen) is what you’re doing when you buy a carbon offset.
Last but not least, it’s called a carbon “offset” because you can’t make carbon go away. There isn’t a delete button for it. Instead, these projects work to counteract, or offset, the effects of major carbon releasing sources, the biggest of which are burning fossil fuels and burning tropical forests. It’s not a 1:1. One offset doesn’t outweigh all the carbon being released through these other activities. But we got in this pickle by continuing increments of pollution. And barring overnight global changes, incremental efforts to counter rising carbon levels are a great step to be taking.
Right, so the next step is how to find a responsible carbon offset. That’s a bit of a different story. Once you know what to look for, you can find good actors in the space.
In our case, research turned out to be an important component and we don’t just mean clicking through someone’s website. Digging into the third-party verifications from one recommended organization led us to see that the verifications themselves weren’t actually very rigorous. When search results also proved that their ownership presented a large conflict of interest and was the subject of ongoing fraud allegations, we decided that there were too many potential red flags for this to be the value-driven relationship we sought.
It would have been easy to throw up our hands but supporting carbon offsets matters to us. There are good people doing noble work all around the world on projects as varied as peat bogs, forest preservation, oceanic work, and more. We kept searching and landed on Cool Effect. We did our usual review process, including researching their Form 990. (These are great starting points by the way. If you can research a Form 990, it’s helpful on a number of fronts.)
We set up a call with Cool Effect, and were really heartened to learn that they are a family affair. The whole thing started as a relief mission to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in the ’90s, where their then-teenage daughter, Skye, connected the dots on the amount of respiratory illness seen in homes and the family stoves which were heavily polluting indoor air, harming children and women.
Over time, the family’s philanthropy turned towards carbon offsets, and they have team members who work to verify projects before ever offering them to the public. They gave examples of instances where projects wouldn’t allow them to visit for inspection, or whose paperwork was incomplete. These red flags prompted Cool Effect walking away from partnership with these groups, a move we at MagicLinks would likely also have taken. The environment is in too tenuous a place to risk emboldening hucksters by paying them instead of the good, honest groups putting in the real work.
We encourage you to visit Cool Effect’s site and check out their projects for yourself. This isn’t sponsored. They didn’t pay or ask us to write this blog (in fact, they don’t even know about it yet). Check out how shockingly affordable it is to do right by the environment and carbon offset endeavors, then marvel at how transparent they are about the low overhead they maintain in order to move as much money towards the projects themselves as possible.
If you have questions about carbon offsets, please shoot them over to Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’ll soon be hosting another podcast episode specifically about carbon offsets, and would love to answer your questions on air.
Then, maybe consider something you could do to brighten someone’s day by say, oh I dunno, offsetting their carbon footprint while supporting awesome projects at the same time.
You’ll feel like a superhero, pinky promise.