Offset properly, don't just plant trees
If you have to offset, focus it on fossil fuel avoidance, not vegetation projects
I imagine if you are relatively new to carbon offsetting and not well read on the subject, you may approach this subject with the same view as I did - that offsetting is just planting trees. Wrong. There’s more to offsetting and crucially, planting trees is not the right answer.
Consider the problem we face. There are too many 'heat-trapping’ greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and we are in this mess because we release these by burning fossil fuels such as coal.
Coal is a formed over millions of years and is the long term, natural, permanent storage of carbon through vegetation. We consume it in minutes.
If you take one thing away from this, you should remember to approach offsetting with these priorities:
Reduce your consumption, ideally where you do not need to offset. But if you have to offset any residual…
Use fossil fuel avoiding offsets (“carbon avoidance”), i.e. funding renewables
Use nature based offsets (“carbon removal”), i.e. planting trees
Planting trees is not the same as avoiding burning those pesky fossil fuels.
When plants and vegetation grow they draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (good), however when they die they release most of this back as they rot (bad). Remember that coals takes millions of years to form - that’s what you want, but unfortunately we won’t capture this carbon in coal anytime soon and we are standing on a burning platform, needing results now.
Oh and then there’s the point that burning coal takes minutes - a pace that planting vegetation or coal formation simply cannot compete with.
And the kicker… the climate change challenges we are facing right now, put much of our vegetation at risk. That offset tree planting scheme you heard about… will it ever make it to maturity or will it suffer from drought, fire, floods, wind?? And that’s assuming it isn’t deliberately chopped down before reaching the promised maturity level you read in the brochure when you signed up.
The way to effectively offset, is to deploy that money towards a scheme which actively works to avoid the future burning of fossil fuels. The impact is far more immediate. Examples of such schemes might be to fund a new renewable energy project, the conservation of a forest at risk of being cut down, or an energy saving lightbulb project in Africa. This does not have to be at a macro scale either - just the same as planting a couple of trees, you could implement this kind of offsetting at a local level such as rooftop solar installation.
A final word on vegetation. Planting new vegetation is not a bad thing - it creates new habitats, adds biodiversity and can reduce air pollution. Just don’t be misled into thinking it is the best way to carbon offset.