I was fortunate enough to return home to Maine for part of the holidays this year. As I unwrapped Christmas gifts, one large manilla envelope balanced delicately on the branches of the Christmas tree. It had my name on it as well as one word: “Paris.”
Opening the envelope, I removed a certificate from Carbonfund.org, notifying me that for my gift, my mother had offset two tonnes of carbon. “Paris” referred to the international climate summit that had just taken place!
I have written about carbon offsets before. The details can be complicated, but the concept is simple: as I live my life, I produce carbon emissions, from driving my car, to traveling, to heating my home, to eating meat. Using tools on Carbonfund.org’s website and elsewhere, I can calculate how much carbon I annually emit. For me, that is about 18.7 tonnes (this figure just counts my home, car, and flights, so the real total is probably higher).
Next comes the offset. On Carbonfund.org, users pay to reduce carbon emissions elsewhere by planting trees, investing in renewable technology, etc. Through this process, I can theoretically live a carbon neutral life.
There are drawbacks to the system, which I’ve detailed here. However, for this blog I want to focus on a new concept for me: giving carbon neutrality as a gift!
Now, some people out there are going to roll there eyes, scoffing “Who cares?” and “Why would someone want that?”
Before I answer though, consider gifts and what they mean. Gifts are symbols, demonstrating that someone cares for you. Moreover, researchers have assigned four primary functions to gifts: “communication, social exchange, economic exchange, and socialization.” They deepen bonds, and they integrate society (there’s an entire facet of anthropology devoted to gift giving, but I won’t delve too deeply here). On the receiving end, gifts should make the giftee feel good, but they don’t have to be tangible – think of how much gifts of time, or a gift towards future fun activities can mean.
Which brings me back to the certificate. I hate the idea that I contribute to global warming. I try to reduce my emissions by switching to LED lights, driving a car with good gas mileage, turning the heat down; and yet, emissions remain. My mom knows this, and so she knew how much I would appreciate efforts to reduce them. In all likelihood, you know someone in your life who feels the same way.
There are over 300 million Americans. Let’s say one tenth of them received the same gift I did, offsetting 2 tonnes of carbon for about $20. That’s an annual influx of $600,000,000 going towards reducing emissions – a sizable investment!
The offset organizations, like the Carbonfund.org, must be monitored to make sure carbon emission reductions are really happening, and these organizations should compete with each other to be as efficient and effective as possible to earn our dollars. On our part, we have to brag. Yes, brag that we are carbon neutral or taking steps to become so. It should be a coveted status, something to trumpet on social media.
So consider a gift towards carbon neutrality. It can be a great present for the right person, and combined with gifts to others across the country could create a sizable investment in America’s carbon neutrality.
My mom’s birthday is in May. Can anyone guess what I’ll give her to celebrate?