About Carbon Offsets

What is your carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by activities you engage in. This includes the emissions emitted directly into the atmosphere, like when you drive a car or fly on an airplane. 

However, your carbon footprint also includes indirect emissions. These come from activities like heating your home, which may use electricity produced by a coal-burning power plant, and even the food you eat, which is linked to greenhouse gas emissions when it is grown, processed, and transported to the supermarket.

Ultimately, each of us—particularly in wealthy nations—must work to reduce our carbon footprints through lifestyle changes. These changes include choices like driving and flying less, reducing the temperatures in our buildings, and eating less meat, but do not stop there. For people of faith, these changes also mean taking on new attitudes, grounded in an acknowledgement that the world’s abundant but finite resources are meant for all of God’s people, not just those in wealthier nations, and meant to be cared for as part of God’s creation.

What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets are one type of temporary solution for our enormous carbon footprints, especially for those emissions that we can’t directly reduce. In this approach, you “offset” your carbon footprint by financing an activity that removes greenhouses gases from the atmosphere, or at least reduces what would have otherwise been emitted. Carbon offsets have become a useful tool for individuals and organizations around the world to compensate for these unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. 

It is important to keep in mind that carbon offsets are not a long-term solution to climate change. They are only a stopgap measure, and after we’ve done as much as we can to reduce our emissions, we can use them in good conscience while we try to solve the actual problem—producing those greenhouse gases in the first place. In other words, they should not be used instead of long-term solutions, which decrease emissions at the source, but rather alongside them!

Is CathCAP a carbon offset platform?

CathCAP is a kind of carbon offset platform that gives you the opportunity to compensate for your carbon footprint using calculators to estimate the cost of your emissions and the respective carbon offsets. However, CathCAP differs from other platforms in that it is more flexible about how that compensation happens, and isn’t strictly a one-for-one compensation. In reality, very few carbon offset platforms can guarantee an exact offset for each ton of greenhouse gases produced, since there are so many uncertain variables involved in the process. You can learn more about how we calculate your offset here
Additionally, one of CathCAP’sprimary goals is to promote environmental education and activism in communities of faith. By allowing communities some flexibility in how they spend their offset funds, the platform encourages community engagement and collective decision-making and education.

How does CathCAP estimate carbon offsets? 

CathCAP’s offset cost calculations are good faith estimates of what is both fair and realistic for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

It is difficult to find the exact ecological, social, and economic “cost” of emitting a specific amount of greenhouse gases; thus it is also difficult to determine a dollar value that would “offset” its many negative impacts.

One practical way to approach this question is to calculate the cost of removing that same amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is also difficult to estimate—many variables are at play, such as when, where, how, and by whom the offsets are done. For example, the amount of land available for planting trees and the kinds of subsidies offered for installing solar panels may vary significantly. Nevertheless using this method, CathCAP tries to approximate a dollar amount that is small enough to be affordable, but big enough to make a difference.

What kinds of projects does CathCAP support?

For both individuals contributing to the general fund and communities developing their own projects, CathCAP supports a much wider range of environmental projects than similar offset platforms. These projects can directly absorb carbon from the atmosphere, like planting tree, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, e.g. installing solar panels. They can also indirectly decrease emissions, like reducing food waste in a school cafeteria, which would otherwise emit potent greenhouse gases when breaking down in the landfill.

While CathCAP’s approach is certainly about reducing and offsetting emissions, it is also about taking an integral approach to caring for our common home. This includes addressing other important environmental and social issues, like community development, civic education, habitat preservation, waste reduction, and care for God’s creation. This is what sets CathCAP apart from other carbon offset platforms, and this is what will help communities work together toward an ecological conversion—in the true spirit of Laudato si’.

Where can I find more information about my carbon footprint?

Calculate your carbon footprint here

Would you like to calculate your own carbon footprint? The EPA has a tool for doing just that. 

This calculator tells you how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases your activities emit, while also offering advice about how you can reduce those emissions. Everyone’s carbon footprint is different, depending on where they live what they do every day, so all of these need to be factored into the calculations. For example, some regions get their power from coal-burning power plants, while others use nuclear, solar, or hydropower; some people drive an hour to and from work, while others only use public transportation to get around.

Reduce your carbon footprint here

Do you want to reduce your carbon footprint and encourage others to do the same? Catholic Climate Covenant explains 10 simple ways you can do that.

These include lifestyle changes like using less water, which takes a lot of energy to treat, transport, and heat. They also include targeted activities like writing to policy makers, who have decision-making power over environmental regulations and incentives.

Reduce the carbon footprint of your parish

Do you want your organization to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become more environmentally conscious? Catholic Climate Covenant offers some suggestions for that as well.

You can reduce your organization’s carbon footprint by doing many of the same things you could as an individual—adjusting the thermostat depending on the time of year, installing water and energy efficient appliances, or switching to reusable dinnerware for events. However, working together as a community also gives you many unique advantages and opportunities, which can help you make an even bigger impact than if everyone worked alone. For example, you can create an advocacy group that attends local government meetings or distributes educational materials in schools. Making it a joint effort will not only help you garner more attention and support, it will also help you share ideas and opinions with each other and grow in community.

Learn about renewable energy sources

Do you want to learn more about transitioning to renewable energy sources? Joan Brown writes about these technologies and how they can be used to fight climate change.

How much money is a typical carbon offset contribution with CathCAP?

We calculate a ratio of $15 per ton of carbon emitted, but everyone has unique travel patterns, so your CathCAP contribution could range from $30 to $300 or more. The amount varies depending on the mode of transportation, distance, and energy efficiency of your travel.

Here is an example: 

I drive 15,000 miles per year and my car averages 28 miles per gallon. My total contribution to CathCAP for automobile transportation this year is approximately $75.

I made three roundtrip airline flights this year: one lasting one hour each way (DC to NYC), the second two hours each way (DC to Chicago), and a cross-country trip averaging 4.5 hours each way (DC to Los Angeles). My total annual offset cost for air travel is approximately $46.

My total annual contribution to CathCAP is approximately $131.

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