The guiding principle behind carbon offsets is to have a zero sum effect on the environment at the end of the day. Essentially, when you do something that emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, you can purchase offsets which helps to fund projects that actively or passively take carbon out of the atmosphere. However, sometimes it can seem like carbon offsets simply provide an excuse for someone to feel better about participating in a damaging activity like flying or driving.
It's true there are situations where carbon offsets are an opportunity to "cheat" but there are more often situations where carbon offsets are the only option to green up a must-do activity. Here are a few guidelines for using carbon offsets effectively, so that they accomplish their goal of minimizing carbon emissions.
Excuse: Offsets don't do any good. Only cutting my footprint in the first place is effective.
It's true that carbon offsets won't help save the planet if no one reduces their footprint in the first place. However, sometimes a person reduces as much as they can, but they still need to make that cross-country flight to see their family. That's the type of situation where carbon offsets do their best work. They're ideal for situations when we aren't able to get around the fact that we're setting out more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than we should be, and we need to be proactive about negating it as best we can.
Excuse: Carbon offset projects don't do any good
Admittedly, some don't. That's why you have to be involved in researching just what carbon offsets you're purchasing, and that your offsets are going to projects that actually are doing good, such as helping to get alternative energy sources up and running or planting trees in deforested areas. Often you can even find projects that are helping out locally, so that your offset is making a difference in the same place where your footprint is being felt. There are lots of resources out there that help you determine which offset projects are effective so you can weed out those that aren't effective.
Excuse: I can't trust my carbon offset purchase is actually offsetting carbon emissions
Similar to the previous concern that a project isn't actually doing any good, there's the concern that a carbon offset purchase isn't doing anything at all. Finding a trustworthy source for purchasing carbon offsets is a very big part of ensuring that your offsets are effective and your funds are well-spent. Planet Green can help you out on this front. Check out these posts that will help make your carbon offsets effective, and help you feel like you've done your part for a greener planet!