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Compensating for our personal CO2 emissions

We are CO2 neutral! “We” means the household of my wife and myself with our lifestyle. Why can we claim that? We have calculated our CO2 emissions per year and have compensated 17 tons CO2 with 420$. Does this feel good? Well, it feels better but it is of course not a true solution.

To give you a feeling about what the emissions of 17 tons CO2 mean together for my wife and myself, or 8,5 tons per person: the average German emits around 11 tons CO2 per year, but only 1,5 – 2 tons CO2 could be acceptable for the planet.

An interesting exercise. We calculated our CO2 emissions with several CO2 calculators. Some we considered too general. They are good for getting a first idea but not appropriate if you plan to compensate with money. In such a case you want to feel “personally reflected” in the answers you give to the CO2 calculator questions.

We opted for The questionnaire really goes into details, for example by checking your hobbies (I admitted that I am ski fanatic), and it took us almost to the limits of our patience. But we also had the chance to answer with our nutrition style (little meat, all organic products), the heating system of our apartment (heat pump) or details about our mobility behaviour. It felt like we could sufficiently measure the positive and negative aspects of our lifestyle.

Considering the results from various CO2 calculators we decided that we together are responsible for 17 tons CO2 emissions.

The next step was to investigate how to compensate our emissions. Yes, this is the “buying indulgences” path, and it is not a real solution to stop the climate change. The real solution is to avoid CO2 emissions altogether. But if CO2 emissions cannot be directly influenced, such as when living in a multistorey house or cannot be quickly reduced like by using only public transport, compensating is the next best solution.

But then you are faced with another question. How much money does it take to compensate for the 17 tons CO2 that we emit with our lifestyle. Various compensating platforms inform on different amounts of money that are required for compensating 1 ton CO2.

The German Federal Environment agency recommends as platform to select projects around the world that prevent CO2 emissions and create value for people. We decided to support a variety of projects, such as help planting biodiverse forests in Panama, contribute to improved cookstoves in Guinea or sponsor a wind power project in India. The projects we opted for require different amounts of money to compensate 1 ton CO2. For the 17 tons CO2 we emit per year, we can compensate with an amount in the range between 165$ to 650$. In the end we felt comfortable by selecting various projects and paying 420$. This part of the exercise was really a personal decision and not based on the recommendation of the compensation platform.

In a nutshell: we are glad that we went through the exercise of calculating the compensation payment for our CO2 emissions. We have once again become aware of the negative impact of our mobility behaviour (16000km/year with mid-size car with diesel engine). It feels good to better understand some numbers related to how we affect the climate change. And the exercise helps us to define our philosophy about how we personally can contribute to saving the planet.

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