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Why Web Workers Should Consider Carbon Offsets

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fieldIt’s no surprise that working remotely can have benefits for your environmental footprint: Working offsite has knocked around 18,000 miles off my public transport usage from last year alone. But no matter how careful or responsible web workers might be, the reality is that first-world or “western” lifestyles and standards of living are inherently linked with resource consumption. You may be doing your bit, but you’re unlikely to be living a carbon-neutral life.

The inherent resource-intensiveness of the western lifestyle is undoubtedly the reason why people become overwhelmed by the challenge of climate change. It’s the reason why we often feel as if we can’t do much as individuals to make a real difference.

Perhaps you need to upgrade your software for work, which, unfortunately, necessitates the purchase of a new computer. Essential devices like phones, PDAs, cameras and other peripherals are built to become obsolescent within a given timeframe. You may buy green energy and recycled paper and refill your printer ink cartridges, but the very concept of printing a document entails the use of resources and processes that emit carbon.

Yes, our web working lifestyles necessarily produce carbon emissions, but there is a way to help decrease your carbon footprint, and your contribution to global warming: buy carbon offsets.

Carbon Offsets 101

Buy a carbon offset from an accredited supplier, and you’re effectively paying the company to undertake a specific task to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Some tasks aim to prevent carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere — like methane flaring or investment in renewable energy technology. Others, like planting trees, aim to lock up carbon dioxide that’s already present in the atmosphere. Most of the offset sellers I’ve looked at specialize in one or two areas.

Most offset retail sites provide calculators that allow you to enter the details of your shopping habits, transport usage, power and food consumption, and give you a rough estimate of the amount of carbon dioxide you may need to offset. Some sellers offer different calculators for individuals and organizations, so you can obtain closer carbon estimates for things like business consumables, travel, and waste produced through your work.

Once you have your total, it’s a simple matter of entering your credit card details to buy the offsets. The cost of offsets varies with your carbon footprint and the service you use, but as an example, the cost to offset the 3.34 tonnes of carbon produced by my commuting (30,000 miles last year) and driving the Australian annual average of 6,000 miles in my large, old diesel-powered car was $68 AUD ($62 US)¬† through one offset supplier.

Carbon Offset Controversy

Carbon offsetting is a controversial area, not only because the results are yet to be proven, but because some retailers promote offsets as a means by which people can live a carbon-neutral lifestyle. Many offset companies estimate the carbon that will be sequestered or prevented  from entering the atmosphere on the basis of statistical and scientific analyses, and some argue that these estimates are inaccurate, involve double counting of the possible environmental benefits, and so on.

It seems the best way to assess the value of a given offset activity is to find out about it, by reviewing the offset seller’s information, plus any information your government or interest groups may have produced on the market and seller. In Australia, for example, we have an independent offset rating site which aims to advise on the credentials and capabilities of different offset sellers. Doing your homework on offset sellers in your country is vital.

Carbon Offsets for the Web Worker

Try as we might, most of us are unlikely to achieve a carbon-neutral lifestyle. Even the most environmentally friendly lives in developed countries necessitate the use of technology, devices, transport and consumables whose production or usage contributes to global warming and climate change.

Carbon offsetting is not an answer to global warming, and it’s still in its infancy as far as results go. But even though it’s unlikely to have the same impact as making changes wherever possible to reduce your carbon output, offsetting the carbon emitted through your remote working lifestyle may be a means by which you can compensate in some way for your unavoidable carbon emissions.

Have you ever bought carbon offsets? Would you consider building offsets into your annual expenses?

13 Responses to “Why Web Workers Should Consider Carbon Offsets”

  1. Though I appreciate the concern expressed for the environment, I disagree of the premise that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that through normal living we significantly change its concentration in the atmosphere.

    For starters, carbon dioxide comprises just 0.38% of Earth’s atmosphere and all the efforts being made–combined–will reduce that by at most 0.01%. It’s a mutli-billion dollar storm in a teapot. The real goal is to throttle capitalism.

    I am not saying to live in disregard to the environment and there are things we can and should do … and should be doing A LOT more of. I am saying that so-called global warming occurred long before there was any carbon emissions and is much more closely correlated to sun spot activity than to CO2 levels.


    P.S. We have separated our trash into 5 different materials for the last 12 years. Even though our garbage service only collects “the trash”, we drive the rest to recycling centers.

  2. Georgina Laidlaw

    Hey guys,
    Thanks for the comments. It’s definitely a controversial area.

    I’m curious — do you agree that the fist-world lifestyle naturally entails the production of carbon emissions, and if so, do you think there’s any way at all we can live carbon neutral lives?

    Thanks again,

    • I think the very idea of it being a good thing to be carbon neutral is misleading. People are made of carbon. Carbon dioxide is what we exhale. It’s what plants breathe. Carbon dioxide in the air accounts for less than 4% of what are referred to as greenhouse gasses. What’s number 1? WATER VAPOR. First world lifestyles should not be punished, and furthermore, 3rd world nations should not be restricted from developing (which is a primary goal of climate legislation). I AM NOT CONDONING POLLUTION AND DESTROYING THE EARTH. Our planet and our species are beautiful and we CAN clean up the oceans and stop the toxic waste being dumped into our rivers and lakes by disgusting criminals. We should look at the people who are causing the most harm to the planet (Governments [specifically US] and large multi-national corporations). Don’t blame yourselves!!! PS. I just found this link today and am looking forward to seeing this documentary that comes out in a couple days:

    • As RP said 1st world lifestyle does entail carbon emmissions, but then the question becomes “is carbon bad?” This is the heart of the issue.

      One side believes that carbon gets in the atmosphere and absorbs heat and continues to absorb heat. So increasing carbon would increase global temperatures. But the science seems to indicate that at a certain point the carbon can no longer absorb more heat. The graph is logarithmic (Example of a logarithmic graph: This means that temperature does increase rapid for the first 100-200ppm in the atmosphere which is naturally occuring. But beyond that there is no discernible increase in temperature. In other words as CO2 increases temperature increase actually levels off quickly.

      If this proves to remain true then we are wasting our time fighting CO2 emissions! As RP said, why don’t we focus our efforts on reducing toxicity in local environments and cleaning our water.

      There are also some positive benefits to elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Plants (which use CO2) will thrive. Thye grow bigger, faster, and spread more rapidly. The very thing some believe will be our downfall may actually save us by allowing for more rapid reforestation of many parts of the world. Nature has ways of bringing balance to the system. If you’ve ever seen the models of what would happen if all humans disappeared from earth instantly, it would only take about 500 years for there to be very little evidence that we ever existed.

      Where the CO2 hysteria gets really insane is when you realize that water vapor absorbs heat at an alarming rate compared to CO2. There is a linear effect of increasing atmospheric water vapor to atmospheric heat (energy). And water vapor makes up a HUGE part of the atmosphere as compared to CO2’s 0.038%. But no one is running around calling for decreased water vapor emissions! Sounds ridiculous right? Many industrial plants release a lot more water vapor in the air than anything else. Why aren’t we concerned about that? Because nature has an obvious way of dealing with too much water vapor. It’s called rain. What makes us so naive as to think that nature doesn’t have a way to deal with too much anything in the atmosphere. We may not completely understand how yet, but it’s a bit narcissistic for us to think that such a well design system as nature can be be irreversibly damaged by the newcomers to the scene, humans.

  3. hmmm… History really does repeat itself. Does anyone else think of the Catholic Church selling absolution in the Middle Ages when you think of buying Carbon Offset credits? Same concept, just a different religion. Come pay money to the “priests” (accredited supplier) of the religion (environmentalism) for your “sins” (use of resources) and they will “pray” (plant a tree, etc) in the hopes that you can make it to heaven (carbon-neutrality). And in both cases even some of the followers question the effectiveness of the offset/absolution.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be responsible with our consumption. I just don’t think buying any kind of “offset” will make any difference in any way. Maybe it’s time for the environmental movement to experience it’s one Reformation and return to rational concepts such as conservation and efficient use of resources instead of these overreactions that steal others money for no benefit and make things worse by removing responsibility from the individuals hands.