This month I've been writing about carbon - what a carbon footprint is, how to calculate it, what it has to do with climate change, and so on.
Our modern lifestyles have released a lot of extra carbon into the atmosphere. Can we somehow trap it again? Trees trap carbon, so does the soil. Can I fly to Malaga as long as I pay someone to plant a bunch of trees for me? Does that work?
There's an interesting video about carbon sequestration which you should look at if you have about 9 minutes to spare. It explains how organic farming can help trap some excess carbon in the soil, which just adds to the long list of reasons why organic farming is a good idea. I love the guy who narrates it, Percy Schmeiser. He's pretty rubbish at looking natural in front of a camera and reading from a script, but this somehow makes his statements more convincing. He must know what he's talking about because he sure as hell wasn't chosen for his presenting abilities.
But that's different from paying someone to plant trees for you so you can fly to Malaga with a clear conscience. Carbon offsetting is a last-ditch option. It's like having chemotherapy when you've got cancer. You don't say "Oh, I might as well smoke as many cigarettes as I like because I can always have chemotherapy if I get cancer". Similarly we shouldn't say "It's perfectly OK to live a high-carbon lifestyle because I can afford to offset it by planting loads of trees someplace". It's a radical attempt to fix damage already done, not a "get out of jail free" card.
Yes, we should be planting trees, returning to organic farming, collecting methane and all the other carbon offsetting things. But we should be doing them to offset the damage we have already done, not as a sort of "indulgence" permitting us to carry on with our planet-damaging activities and still sleep soundly.