By Mick Womersley


Q: I've heard about buying carbon credits to offset my family's carbon footprint. Does it really do any good?

A: Buying carbon credits sounds like a good idea, but it may not be your best option.

Here's how credits work: Fossil fuels are burned for nearly every aspect of our lives, from heating homes to driving cars to shipping food and making clothes. As a result, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. The sale of carbon credits (also called offsets) funds projects that work to reduce or offset those damaging emissions.

While those projects are important, remember the old saying "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure"? You will likely do more for the environment by reducing your emissions in the first place than by purchasing carbon credits.

For example, you could use the money to insulate your house or trade old appliances with new, energy-efficient ones. Or if you drive a lot, try saving up for a more fuel-efficient car, and walk or ride bikes for short trips. Also, buy produce from local farmers' markets whenever possible.

There is one instance when buying carbon credits is a good idea: Offsetting air travel. That's because in most cases, there are no greener alternatives.

Mick Womersley, who holds a doctorate in environmental policy, is an associate professor of human ecology at Unity College in Maine. 

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