Most people in wealthier parts of the world have come across invitations to calculate their carbon footprint, offset their carbon emissions or go on a ‘low-carbon diet’. Many large firms now do the same in order to market themselves as ‘carbon neutral’, often as part of broader climate change Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies as we saw in Chapter 3. Offsets are now routinely sold to firms and individuals, in particular to offset emissions from air travel. Consumers are sold products that both alleviate their sense of guilt and claim to contribute to low-carbon development projects in poor countries. The fact that poorer countries will bear the worst effects of climate change adds to the feeling of culpability. Journalist Mark Honigsbaum writes:
‘Flying over Kenya's Rift Valley … it's hard not to feel a pang of guilt … I feel guilty because as a privileged westerner with an addiction to air travel I am at this very moment spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at the rate of about 1kg a minute, emissions that, according to climate change experts, may be contributing to Kenya's faltering rains.’
Offsets offer the prospect of compensating directly those whose livelihoods are threatened as a result of your actions.
Most European airlines and a growing number of North American ones have direct links to one or other of the firms dealing in carbon offsets, so that when you buy a ticket from their website, at the end of the process the website asks if you would like to offset your carbon emissions.