Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Published 3-5-08

I’m sitting at home….. on vacation.  No, this isn’t normal.  My love of hiking typically draws me to the southwest this time of year:  Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon.  Right now I wish I were at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park.

Knowing the impending perils of climate change, this time I chose not to fly away.  Instead I decided to spend a portion of my vacation studying whether or not I could effectively offset the carbon impact of a future trip to, say, the southwest.

Allow me to share the results of this research; to ask you to join me in this journey towards carbon, or climate, neutrality.

An obvious question quickly arises:  does purchasing a carbon offset truly neutralize the negative effects of one’s carbon loading, or is this some feel-good buy-down of one’s guilt?  The science seems to indicate that if you accurately calculate the negative effect of the activity (usually measured in tons of carbon dioxide) and if you then purchase a high quality offset, then you really are offsetting the climate impact of your action.

As usual, the devil is in the details and it’s awfully tough to define details with only 600 words! So put on your seat belts for this whirlwind flight to define the devil………

My research took me to www.nativeenergy.com, a highly respected website for calculating one’s carbon footprint and purchasing the offsets.  Yes, it’s one of many; it often floats to the top of the many if you compare the many.

The Native Energy calculator spit out a combined carbon dioxide emission of 1.6 tons.  This includes the car trips (Bellingham to Seattle, round trip; Las Vegas to the national parks, round trip) and the two round trips by air (from SeaTac to Las Vegas International Airport for Cindi and I).

Native Energy then calculates that I should spend $24 on the requisite offsets, with the option of making $2/month automatic credit card payments to achieve this carbon neutrality.  I also get to choose whether my offset purchase will go towards 100% wind power, 100% methane generation, or a 50/50 split between these 2 alternative energy options.

Pretty simple thus far.  I could close the deal right there on the Native Energy site and be done with it:  pick wind and/or methane; pick a payment method; click ‘purchase now’.

But here’s the rub; here’s the detailed devil: some consider the calculator to be conservative, thereby underestimating the true carbon loading.  If you’re interested in understanding this complexity go to https://a1builders.ws/rss.asp?id=1 and listen to my KMRE-FM radio show entitled ‘Carbon Offsetting Using Renewable Energy Certificates’.  WWU Professor Dan Hagen does an excellent job arguing his case to multiply the 1.6 ton impact by 5 (which yields an offset of 8 tons and an offset purchase of $120).

Am I willing to pay somewhere between $24 and $120 to make this journey ‘work’ for me and for the planet?  And which number am I willing to choose: $24 or $120?

Given my compelling drive to save the planet, I’ll choose $120.  Yes, perhaps I will offset too much but, hey, I’ll make up for the hordes of people who travel and do no offsetting.

Furthermore, since so many people travel by plane using frequent flyer miles, as we usually do, the plane flights cost virtually nothing.  So it’s not a big stretch to accept this offsetting cost of $120 for the two of us to travel by plane.

Perhaps this time next year we’ll head back to Death Valley National Park and hike Zabriskie Point.  And we’ll hike with a lighter load, knowing that we’ve eliminated the burden of hurting the planet.

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