Green Gambit: Carbon-trading Programs Help Underwrite Renewable Energy
by: Elizabeth Weise 1 June 2006
For consumers feeling overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of global warming but not quite up to biking to work or buying a new car with better gas mileage, there is an easier alternative carbon offsets.
These were originally the domain of large corporations looking to underwrite the development of renewable energy elsewhere such as solar or wind power to make up for their own carbon emissions.
But in the last two years they've become available to individuals at consumer levels sometimes for as little as $20.
The concept is this: Putting carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel helps create global warming. But not everyone can easily stop burning fossil fuels.
Consumer-friendly carbon-offset programs allow individuals to calculate their own "carbon footprint" and underwrite enough renewable energy to make up for the carbon their energy consumption spews into the atmosphere in a year. The costs are between $4 and $10 per metric ton of carbon, depending on the program.
"This is a nice way for people who care about this issue to do something," says Dale Bryk, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If a lot of people did it, it could have an impact."
Another option is directly buying energy produced through renewable means, such as solar or wind power. In a surprising number of communities it is possible to pay a little more to get electricity generated this way. The Green-e Program offers a state-by-state list.
But for many Americans it's simply not an option in their area. For them, Green-e offers renewable energy certificates, which consumers can buy in 100 kilowatt-hour blocks to offset the greenhouse gases produced by their non-renewable electricity source.
Between these two, consumers who aren't able to drastically reduce their carbon footprint can still do their part to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.