Reducing Carbon Emissions: Choices, Offsets & Recapture

So apparently if I do not eat 278 beef burgers, I can offset the flight I booked to Argentina at the end of the year. Yay! That's easy because I don't eat beef burgers. Except apparently I still flunk because this action does not meet the test of additionality. I've been reading a lot about additionality lately. Of course it makes sense that for a carbon offset to truly work, it must cut additional emissions, not just the ones that would have been cut anyway.

By the way, if you too want to see if you're making sustainable choices, you can try an easy New York Times quiz, which is how I discovered the hamburger strategy.

Part of my problem is I've recently become a tango addict. This means I've bought more dresses than I should, and I signed up for this tango tour in Argentina. In a perfect world, I would be going on a cargo ship, or not at all. But I gave in to the twin temptations of travel and dance. Because I'm leaving from Philadelphia, my passage will generate approximately 3 metric tons of carbon. I've been searching for a way to make up for it.

While cutting emissions in some realms requires only simple planning, like remembering the reusable water bottle, once we cut the low-hanging fruit, things become more difficult. For me, reducing unnecessary purchases, forgoing all but carbon-free travel, and converting our home to 100 percent green electricity represent the continuing challenges.

I believe one day, hopefully before I'm dead or have driven my family insane, I will get it all done. In the meantime, I shop for offsets. My climate-conscience friends often send me reports bemoaning the high percentage of organizations promoting greenwashed offsets—greenwashed because their projects don't meet that additionality criteria. And if we don't cut additional emissions, it gets us no closer to net zero.

One strategy I mentioned in a previous post, is a subscription to Climeworks to support their carbon recapture efforts. Recapture is the notion that we can suck carbon from the air, or from a drilling operation, and essentially stuff that genie back in the bottle.

Climeworks, headquartered in Switzerland, is a frontrunner in green carbon recapture. What makes it green? For starters, they're committed to using renewables to power the process. (Recapture requires a lot of energy.) The company has found a method for permanently sequestering the carbon onsite in Iceland. Iceland's geology enables them to inject the carbon underground where it naturally mineralizes and bonds with the region's basalt rock, according to Action Aid Recycling.

However, when it comes to recapture, the devil is in the details. My activist friends with PA Climate Convergence do not have a lot of faith in this technology because in the US it has largely been driven by fossil fuel companies seeking to expand profits from drilling, and it has a track record of requiring more energy than it saves. Also, it's dangerous.

In North American the carbon is often captured in one place and then transported to a more favorable location for underground sequestration or for reuse. The general practice in the fossil-fuel industry has been to mix the recovered carbon with water and pump it back into an old well in order to push out more oil. Of course, this takes us completely in the wrong direction. And because it's a highly volatile gas, there is significant danger if it's leaked into the atmosphere. Carbon gas sinks and replaces oxygen, leading to asphyxiation in anyone or anything near the leak. We know this because it's already happened in Mississippi. (See link below for an account.)

The new Inflation Reduction Act will fund many recapture projects, but we will fail to reach net zero if we repurpose the carbon only to generate a greater dependency on fossil fuels. In addition, we must be on guard against poorly executed projects that lay the groundwork for serious accidents. While carbon recapture technology does have potential, it must be done correctly. Our job, as concerned citizens, will be to call attention to every instance where our government makes bad deals that sacrifice safety in the pursuit of profits.

Time is short, so we still need to utilize every strategy available to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. On the personal front, I have resolved to stop shopping for unnecessary items. Through my research, I've learned that if I shop 20 percent less, I can save .3 metric tons of emissions.

I have confidence I can shop less. (Since I've acquired the necessary tango gear—thank you, Philadelphia Argentine Tango School for the recent shoe and clothing swap!) In fact, if I reduce shopping by 60 percent for three years, I'll offset my trip emissions. In the meantime, we will keep working to convert the house to green energy and looking for green-travel opportunities.

How do you balance your carbon-saving strategies? What do you think of carbon offsets and carbon recapture? Please share!

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