Cleaning up that footprint

Parrish Rhodes [“Be Careful Where You Step,” Letters, Dec. 12] correctly observes that we all have a carbon footprint from our activities. She also says to reduce [greenhouse gas emissions] first, [and] concludes by suggesting people consider carbon offsets: paying for reduction in emissions elsewhere to compensate for [those] you cannot eliminate. She names Terrapass as her choice.

Carbon-offset programs have become more numerous, and criticism mounts as to the legitimacy and true effectiveness, due to some questionable practices and lack of oversight or standards.

I would like to suggest a local alternative: Appalachian Offsets (www.wncgbc.org/offset). This program was created as an educational tool to be completely transparent so people know exactly how their offset money is used, and [to] guarantee that offset funds go toward projects that would not have happened otherwise.

Large-scale programs such as CarbonFund.org, which is considered one the nation’s best, purchase renewable energy credits …  and fund reforestation projects that calculate offsets based on carbon absorbed by trees over an undefined number of years, or efficiency upgrades made at industrial facilities—which save the company money and probably would have happened otherwise. The result is a carbon offset cost of $4 to $5 per ton. Since Appalachian Offsets projects are new installations that would not have happened otherwise, the cost for that program is $12 to $15 per ton. Other large offset programs, such as TerraPass, have done a good job at being as transparent as possible … and have costs of about $10 per ton, but mostly use credits versus funding new projects. The important thing is just to understand where your money is going.

Appalachian Offsets was developed as an alternative to bring our community together to combat a global problem locally. The first offset project funded by businesses and individuals in the region took place Sept. 11 [when] over 300 University of North Carolina-Asheville students volunteered with the Asheville Housing Authority and changed out 5,500 incandescent light bulbs for CFLs in only four hours, saving over 2.5 million kwh, or $220,000 in electricity costs, and reducing carbon pollution by 1,610 tons over the bulbs’ lifetimes. … Future projects will include installing solar hot-water systems on affordable housing units, and other renewable energy projects.

Administered by the Western North Carolina Green Building Council, Appalachian Offsets is the nation’s first locally based carbon-offsetting program. Go to www.wncgbc.org/offset, calculate your carbon footprint, reduce what you can first and then consider contributing to offset some or all of what you can’t eliminate.

– Boone Guyton
Alexander

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14 thoughts on “Cleaning up that footprint

  1. travelah

    Boone, I believe you are missing the principle point of the objections to the various carbon offset programs. Each and every one of them does nothing but move “usage” from one pocket into another pocket. There is no net reduction of “carbon”. Also critical to understand is that when you take money out of your pocket and put it into somebody else’s pocket, all you have done is give them your money with absolutely nothing to show for it with regard to reducing carbon consumption. For those who believe in carbon offsets, I have a proposal. Send me your money and I will convert my household from propane gas to solar power and passive heat. We can place it in an account until there is enough to pay for the project and you can feel good about reducing my “carbon footprint” and I get a new power system. Win Win all around, folks! It’s called charity.

    How did you determine that replacing an incandescent lightbulb with an average annual usage of 108 kwh per year (based on 5 hours per day usage for a 60w bulb)would save 455 kwh over the estimated life of a CFL?

  2. bt

    travelah,
    Nope didn’t miss that point. Your point that there is no net reduction is incorrect. some programs can show real reductions that otherwise would not have happened.Windmills erected, solar installed in the developing world to replace diesel generator or kerosene lights (http://www.self.org/cnc.asp ) Appalachian Offsets is the local one that can do that. By working with affordable housing where there is not the funds one way or the other to replace light bulbs or to have a solar water heater we know we are knocking down the demand for carbon creating electricity generation that would not have happened without the combined effort of lots of folks.
    I know there are plenty of green washing scams but like any new approach you have to sift through to find what is real and what is hype.
    Until we have transitioned to an energy economy that supplies what we need without destroying what we have we need all he tools in the box. Offsets is not the most direct approach but makes people think about their effect and possible solutions while addressing energy efficiency in affordable housing where it is often ignored.
    What was your footprint?

  3. travelah

    bt, I think you have confused carbon offset programs with donated charity for energy conservation. If you wish to donate funds to reduce energy consumption, by all means feel free to do so. My offer to convert from propane to solar still stands if you wish to pay for it. However, a carbon offset is a payment made to an investment entity to allow one party to consume energy freed up by another party.

    My energy footprint is a size 11 and it gets me where I wish to go either through a good walking shoe or a modicum of energy applied to a gas pedal.

    You didn’t address my concerns with the alleged economic savings.

  4. Once again, will someone tell me how this is doing anything but letting people buy their way out of problems and feel better about themselves.

    If climate change is the moral issue that everyone would like to make it out to be, then offsets are clearly just as amoral as driving a humvee.

  5. bt

    Travelah,
    Your definition of carbon offset is interesting and one of many. One of the problems with the whole offsets show is that there is no legal or binding definition.
    Wikipedia defines it as ; “Carbon offsetting is the act of mitigating (“offsetting”) greenhouse gas emissions. A well-known example is the purchasing of offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions from personal air travel.

    The idea of paying for emission reductions elsewhere instead of reducing one’s own emissions is known from the closely related concept of emissions trading.”
    The calculations used for the offsets are at http://www.wncgbc.org/pdf/offset/webcalcs.pdf
    Basically we have an economic system that does not account well for environmental costs. In order to have a sustainable system that produces renewable energy we need to factor in the cost of carbon pollution as well as other pollution. How do we do it? A revenue neutral carbon tax? Cap and trade? Assuming we want to get to a system that produces the energy we need in a way that does not degrade the environment we need to start accounting for the costs and providing the solutions. Carbon offsetting is one tool. If the offsetting projects make a more energy efficient economy then it works. Whether as Jason worries you make your own place or car more efficient or someone else’s misses the point. It is all part of the same energy use/pollution. It is still best to reduce your own though. The US has a lot of room to be more efficient.
    App Offsets would not chose your water heater as a project because it is propane which is a relatively clean source of hot water. There is much more bang for the buck in replacing electric water heaters with solar than a gas one. With state and federal tax credit you could do it and have a reasonable pay back though.

  6. Once again, will someone tell me how this is doing anything but letting people buy their way out of problems and feel better about themselves?

    Ahh fat lazy Americans.

  7. bt

    Jason,
    How this does something is by increasing the energy efficiency in affordable housing that otherwise would not get done. Better efficiency less pollution less dependence on mountain top removal, etc. It is financed by those who are concerned enough to do something. Have you calculated your footprint?
    Say you are contributing 12 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year doing what you do. You can reduce that with your own energy efficiency measures and renewable energy generation and by buying offsets that will do some of it that you cannot cover. That is how it does something. If you live in a zero energy house and drive an electric car that you charge off a photovoltaic system you are exempt. An energy system that operates on renewable energy coupled with much greater energy efficiency is an option. We need to chose it quickly though.

  8. Here’s the deal: I will do what I can, and I hope that everyone else does what they can. But ultimately, they are responsible for their own actions.

    You can do a lot of things in this world, but you can’t make someone a better person when they don’t want to be.

    Also, I don’t go to church, buy Amway, or purchase carbon offsets. I have a thing about pyramid schemes. I try to avoid them.

  9. travelah

    bt, I take it that you are not going to buy me a solar energy system to replace my propane usage??? Whats up with that???

  10. bt

    Jason, sometimes what you want to change is a system not just individuals. And sometimes a collective action can result in a new way of doing something. Say you pass an energy bill that outlaws incandescent bulbs (latest energy bill in congress)or outlaw lead in gasoline or paint, or straight piping into our water ways or…. There are obviously some things that do harm that should be taken off the economic table. Greenhouse gases is a large one. How do we do it? Individual voluntary measures through personal choices are an important part but the final deal must include a lot more than that and it must cross national boundaries
    Appalachian Offsets is no pyramid scheme. It does not make money for people at the top by signing up people. If things work out pretty well it might not lose money, make the area a little more conscious of the issue of global warming and reduce our collective footprint where it otherwise would have been neglected.

  11. Ultimately, people are responsible for their own actions. Really, I commend AO for finding a way to make money off people and their guilt/consciousness, but nothing is going to help other than everyone doing their part. If I drive an electric car and try to live the “green” lifestyle all while my neighbor is not doing his part, he’s still polluting.

    No amount of of offsets are going to fix that.

    Congrats on your little scam. I hope it serves you well.

  12. Alan Ditmore

    ONLY municipal contraception can significantly reduce climate change. This stuff is a diversionary waste.

  13. Alan Ditmore

    To Hell with Green Building Council, NO ZONING!!!
    HOUSING NOW!!!!!

  14. Joanna_Marie

    wait, um Bah hum buggy…did you read all of this article dah-ling? It is ALL ABOUT people being responsible for their own actions. (I apologize folks, this cute lil guy would apologize himself in real life but he is restricted by a complete inability to read beyond the first five lines of anything typed by hands that are not attached to his own bod! Poor honey, (it’s genetic).

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