Traveler's guide. Event: conference. Stage: carbon offsets.

Do It Yourself Carbon Offsets

  1. The basics.

    It's not time to spend money on offsets for others until you've bought the basics for yourself. Have you switched all your lights? Put in power strips so can shut off vampire appliances that keep burning electricity when they switched are off? Maintain your car?

  2. Editorial:

    When I first heard of carbon offsets, I thought they were wonderful. Barbara offset the car she couldn't avoid driving, and used the sticker to start conversations with neighbors. It was the beginning of her climate activism, not the end. Today, carbon offsets are often being renamed as Carbon Indulgences: not only can you offset your fuel efficient car, now you can offset your private jet. In many hands, it has gone from a first step towards real change, into a last step. I don't see Carbon Offsets as worthless, but we do think they are over-hyped and not nearly as effective as proponents claim. If you're donating your own money you can get much more leverage ignoring the world of offsets.

  3. Do It Yourself Offsetting.

    Gather a group of neighbors and have a greening gathering at a different home every week or month. Green each other's homes and lives, making it into a party:

    • Switch your lightbulbs, home by home.
    • Help your elderly neighbor insulate their home.
    • Start a garden.
    • Learn to cook greener -- host a vegetarian potluck, a local foods potluck, an organic potluck. If someone has a big kitchen, turn it into a cooking class.
    • Schedule your shopping together, find more excuses to carpool.

    It's not that hard to get started: if you came here because you were about to donate to a carbon offsetter, why not buy a dozen CFL lightbulbs and write an invitation on each, then hand them to your neighbors?

    Bonus: Combine event carpools with do-it-yourself greening. As you carpool home from a festival, plan out how everyone in the car can share green skills with everyone else! Or "tip" the driver by helping them start a garden...

  4. Money vs Carbon.

    There's very little reason to give your money to a carbon offset company. Find a charity and donate the amount you're ready to donate, without a middle-man taking a cut. Researching carbon offset companies is harder than researching nonprofits, anyway. We strongly recommend going small and local -- find committed people in your neighborhood who you can see are doing the right thing, and who aren't spending all their time and your money looking for donations, and come in from out of the blue and help them out.

If you want a real carbon offset, just ask your neighbors when they go shopping, combine your trips and offer to drive them.