Your Questions Answered

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Expand or Collapse What are carbon offsets?

A carbon offset is a mechanism for organisations and individuals to use to compensate for their unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions by subsidising the reduction activities of others. The key criterion for an offset is that this greenhouse gas reduction is additional to "business-as-usual" activity.

Expand or Collapse What is a voluntary carbon offset?

Windmills

There are two types of carbon offset markets:

1. The regulated compliance market, which is linked to the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol and to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. These accredited carbon offsets can be traded and used to offset legally binding targets.

2. The voluntary carbon offset market, which is not bound by regulation and allows individuals and organizations to participate voluntarily in offsetting their emissions. PopOffsets is currently a voluntary offset scheme, but we are working to receive accreditation.

Expand or Collapse Are there any standards for voluntary offset schemes?

There are many standards now operating in the voluntary offset market that have different criteria, although most are based on the Kyoto Protocol. With no common standard for comparison it is difficult to assess their efficiency and efficacy.

Expand or Collapse As an individual, should I offset my emissions with PopOffsets or should I concentrate on reducing my own emissions?

It's not "either-or" — we encourage you to do both. Offsetting should be considered complementary to reducing your emissions by adopting a greener lifestyle. Offsetting provides a way to balance those emissions that you cannot eliminate.

Man riding a bicycle

There are many websites that provide tips on reducing your emissions — just search for "reduce my carbon footprint". Most of these sites sadly ignore the most obvious solution — having small families through family planning.

You may feel that what you do is just a "drop in the ocean" — remember that "the ocean is made of drops".

Expand or Collapse Is PopOffsets failing to address our need to reduce overconsumption? Does PopOffsets just give people a licence to carry on driving gas-guzzlers and not bother to insulate their homes and businesses?

Offsetting is not a valid alternative to reducing one's carbon emissions, which should always be the priority. Offsetting sits alongside reducing one's emissions as a contribution to limiting climate change. Slowing population growth is only one of a number of things that we must do. Others include improving resource and energy use efficiency, and reducing waste, inequality and personal consumption.

Expand or Collapse Since most greenhouse gas emissions are in rich countries, the populations of which are fairly stable, isn't reducing per-person emissions far more important than family planning?

We absolutely do need to reduce per capita consumption in wealthier communities. Slowing population growth is not an alternative to this — the two sit alongside each other. This means encouraging members of wealthier communities in all countries to have smaller families as well as to reduce consumption. Simultaneously, we can help poor communities, which have a right to improved living standards (that will inevitably lead to increased greenhouse gases), to avoid unplanned pregnancies and thus reduce future sustainability-related problems.

Expand or Collapse Isn't this the rich dictating to the poor i.e. developed nations wanting to hold back the progress of developing nations?

No. We believe that inequality should be reduced, poverty should be alleviated and developing nations should be supported in their development. However, many developing nations are held back by high population growth and the effects of climate change. By helping people to avoid unplanned pregnancies in both developed and developing countries, we are making it easier for developing countries to progress.

Expand or Collapse I do not believe that we have the right to control other people's lives — what is PopOffsets' ethical standpoint on this? After all, don't people in poor situations where child mortality is high need large families to compensate?

Woman visiting a gynecologist

We certainly do not have the right to control other people's lives. We seek only to provide education and family planning services so women can decide for themselves the number and timing of their pregnancies. Access to family planning should be seen as a human right. It is the lack of quality family planning and sex and relationship education in both developed and developing countries that results in so many unintended pregnancies.

Some poorer people and communities desire large families. However, as population numbers rise and the availability of fertile land and potable water falls, this is becoming less and less the case. Instead, increasingly people would rather have fewer children whom they can afford to educate and care for properly.

Expand or Collapse I support family planning, education and women's empowerment, but not abortion. Can I specify how money I donate is used?

The PopOffsets project does not direct funding towards abortion services. We direct funding towards contraceptive services and supplies; sex and relationships education; and family planning advice.

Good contraception reduces the number of abortions. We would like to make abortion history! PopOffsets helps women to reconcile conflicts between their personal wishes on family size and cultural and social pressures to have many children.

Expand or Collapse Can you know for sure that this is actually reducing carbon emissions? Isn't it all just guesswork?

An absent human being — an avoided birth — cannot produce carbon dioxode — nor can nonexistent descendants. The simplicity of this logic takes away all guesswork. However, more work on quantifying emission reductions is needed, as per-capita emissions vary widely across communities and change over time.

Smokestacks

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions, like most other environmental impacts, is directly linked to the growth of industrial society, consumerism and population. This is the classic "I=PAT" function (Impact = Population x Affluence (Consumption) x Technology). This triple whammy, exacerbated by the unbridled pursuit of economic growth, is causing increasingly rapid climate change.

The logic is simple: a human population no longer growing and making better use of the Earth's resources through "greener" technologies and lifestyles is the only path to a healthy, sustainable planet.

Expand or Collapse How exactly is the price of one tonne of carbon calculated?

There are three key issues.

Firstly, the calculation of carbon emissions.

There are two approaches to this — either calculate your own footprint or the footprint of a particular activity or product, or use a published per-capita value for your country or community. Our main objective is to make you aware of your footprint and how you can reduce and offset it.

There are many carbon calculators on the Web that you can use to calculate your own. Two we can recommend are the UK government's and the excellent Eden Project's calculator, which allows you to put carbon values on holidays, meals out, car purchases and other individual activities.

The United Nations Development Programme publishes country-specific per-capita statistics, but these are somewhat dated and emission levels are changing constantly — some up, some down. There are other sources such as Carbon Footprint of Nations, which includes trade-weighted data. Or you can simply use an approximate figure — 10 tonnes per capita for the UK and northern EU, and 20 tonnes for the USA, Canada and Australia.

Family planning clinic

Secondly, the effectiveness of family planning in reducing carbon emissions.

In simple terms, absent human being — an avoided birth — cannot produce emissions — nor can nonexistent descendants. Family planning and education has been shown conclusively to slow population growth and contribute towards national development with no environmental downside. Conversely all other development programs are doomed to fail ultimately if human numbers keep increasing.

Finally, the price of carbon offsetting through PopOffsets.

PopOffsets is a fundraising program that recognizes that a huge carbon-offset market exists that ignores family planning. We focus attention on family planning as a practical and cost-effective carbon-reduction strategy. This approach avoids technology-based solutions that have the potential to exacerbate other environmental problems.

We don't quantify crabon dioxode savings through family planning at present and acknowledge that more work needs to be done in this area. We use a figure of carbon offset priced at £10 — approximately $15 or €12 — per tonne. We feel that is realistic.

Expand or Collapse What's the anticipated lifespan of the project? Is there an optimum population?

The project will grow as people, organizations and politicians increasingly recognize that tackling population growth is key to addressing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. Few would argue with the statement that "population cannot continue to increase indefinitely".

What is a sustainable world population? A lot less than the current one!

According to the new — and still imprecise — science of footprinting, our collective environmental footprint is already about 30 per cent greater than one that would be sustainable. The global per-capita footprint is about 2.7 hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectares of productive land and water per capita.

Slum

Assuming the global biocapacity and average footprint remain stable, the world population needs to contract to about 5.5 billion. In other words, humanity is already overshooting the total population for whom the Earth can continue to provide.

There is much that developed countries can do — reduced overconsumption and waste of energy and resources, less meat consumption, "greener" technologies... In parallel however, developing countries' footprints will increase as their economies grow.

For a modest world footprint of 3.3 global hectares per capita — an increase in the average footprint, which of course is essential if poor countries are to develop — the sustainable population is 3.6 billion, and if we allow a 20 per cent margin for biodiversity and loss of biocapacity then the sustainable population is three billion!

Expand or Collapse How are the funds distributed? Where does my money go?

A funding committee assesses each application and approves project funding. Many family planning organizations around the world already provide contraceptives — helping to improve distribution and encourage use is one example of how your money might be spent.

We use donated funds to support family planning and wider reproductive health and education programmes in order to help to meet the needs of the mpore than 225 million women worldwide who do not have access to family planning.

Expand or Collapse Why should my company use PopOffsets rather than some other scheme?

Many companies choose to offset their carbon emissions to meet corporate social responsibilities. We recognize that convincing companies to use PopOffsets carbon offsets requires the organizations to be objective, visionary and innovative — not least because of the many taboos surrounding the issue of population growth. Conventionally, the business world is based upon the principle of growth through greater sales to more and more people. We believe that more forward-looking companies — organizations that can look beyond simple economics to the biology and beauty of a finite Earth — will choose PopOffsets.

Expand or Collapse Since the world's poor emit so much less greenhouse gas than the developed world, isn't family planning too late and almost irrelevant?

Woman

We must not expect poor people to remain poor. They have every right to improve their standard of living. This will result in greater greenhouse gas emissions.

Deforestation, which greatly contributes to global warming, largely results from population pressure — this includes poor people who must clear forests for agriculture.

The UN projects a 40 per cent increase in human numbers by 2085 — this is something that we can influence.

Expand or Collapse Isn't this just blaming the victims for climate change?

No. The priority remains for rich individuals to reduce their emissions. However, the poor rightly aspire to improve their living standards. All population growth increases total emissions, especially as developing countries industrialise.

Family planning in developing countries will help them increase their standard of living; the lack of family planning is likely to leave them poor. There are more people living in poverty now than the total number of people on Earth only 60 years ago. We want children everywhere to grow up healthy and happy — not starving and illiterate as so many are now.