Carbon Offsets vs Buying an Electric Car

My husband and I are about to have our first child, and the looming environmental crises that we face as a society can be overwhelming to think about. The things that we expect to happen in our child’s lifetime are unthinkable and we both think it a moral imperative to act now to ensure the next generation has a chance to see glaciers, polar bears, coral reefs, and you know…breathe clean air. So, we started to think about what we could do to further lessen our carbon footprint. We already are eating a primarily plant-based diet at home, we have solar on our roof, and we try to buy local/used whenever possible and opt-out of fast fashion. Yet, we own a Subaru that gets 23 miles per gallon and we get on planes a lot for both work and pleasure.

My husband wanted to see if it made sense to trade in our Subaru for an electric car (so we could power it with our solar and move away from fossil fuels) and then instead of flying, to drive more places. We decided to run the numbers using tools on CoolEffect.org, a non-profit that offers carbon offsets, and what was interesting to learn is that the average American spends 16.6 tons of carbon. 15% of that is from driving and 9% from flights. Many of us exceed that if we drive more, fly more or live in a bigger house than the average American. My husband and I fly often for both our jobs and to see family out-of-state, so we decided to add a bit more carbon for our flights using their travel offset calculator. For the two of us, we figure that if we were to donate $350, it would offset 100% of our carbon for the year during a year where we get on a lot of air planes. If we purchased an electric car, we’d spent 100x as much and would only reduce the part of our carbon footprint associated with our vehicle.

We decided that for now, we’ll keep the Subaru and try to drive it less, but we will wait until it makes a bit more financial sense for us to buy an electric car. We actually drive only about 6,000 miles a year combined, half what the average American drives, so switching to an electric car or hybrid doesn’t reduce our emissions that much. The next car we buy will be electric, however, because we both believe that fossil fuels are harmful cradle to grave and we need to move away from them long-term. Yet, our immediate goal is to have as large of an impact on climate change as possible, so instead of buying a new car, we’re going to make some large donations that more than offset our own carbon footprint and helps make up for previous years of bad behavior.

To ensure a healthy planet for human habitation, it is critical that we not only reduce how much carbon we generate, but that we also try to drawdown what is already in our atmosphere. Project Drawdown is a great resource for learning more about the dozens of different solutions that we have at our fingertips to do both. Cool Effect’s projects focus on a wide range of solutions, from financing cleaner stoves in developing nations that not only emit less carbon, but also improve the health of those cooking over those stoves, to replanting trees in areas that have been deforested and protecting existing forests and grasslands. You can choose to donate to a specific project that resonates the most with you, or donate to all.

Those of us who have the most resources are typically the ones generating the most carbon; we live in the biggest houses, fly the most, drive the most, and buy the most things. Without making serious lifestyle changes, it is hard to dramatically reduce what we emit. In fact, this blog is all about making small changes in your life, because I realize how hard it is for people to make big changes like selling their 2,000 square foot home to move into an EarthShip or tiny home. Yet, in minutes we can purchase carbon offsets and begin to positively impact the planet, and the time to do so is now. The average American could offset their entire carbon footprint and help fight climate change for a mere $88 a year; that’s less than an Amazon Prime, Netflix or Spotify subscription to help make a big impact on our planet with a very small sacrifice from your bank account. To figure out around how much carbon you generate, check out this page on CoolEffect.org, and please consider making a recurring annual donation to offset your carbon footprint.

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