It's been a long time coming but finally governments are now talking about the need to embrace a new environmental policy. Over the last couple of years the term carbon neutral has become more and more popular and in fact it was the phrase of the year in 2006 as voted by The New Oxford American Dictionary.
In line with the phrase's increasing popularity there has been an explosion in companies offering carbon offsetting schemes to big business and the individual consumer. If you use airplanes regularly then you're personally responsible for pumping many thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere.
So-called carbon intensive activities have been targeted as a major cause of global warming. And so we have seen the rise and rise of carbon credit schemes in an attempt to offset the amount of CO2 we are personally responsible for emitting into the environment. These offsetting companies urge us all to go carbon neutral.
The basic idea is that you calculate how much CO2 you're creating going about your daily business, whether this be personal activities or activities relating to your work. Once this value has been quantified it is possible to calculate how many trees, for example, would need to be planted in order to absorb this volume of carbon dioxide.
So in theory, and it is a fairly esoteric theory it has to be said, if you invest in a company which plants a certain amount of trees for you then you have successfully offset your carbon dioxide emissions. You have 'gone carbon neutral', you are a 'carbon zero citizen'. But how much truth is there in this?
The problem with this carbon neutral offset theory in as far as planting trees goes is twofold. One, the planting of trees generates more dark areas on the earth's surface and as we know dark areas absorb heat therefore contributing to the global warming problem. Furthermore and more importantly, trees will only absorb carbon dioxide while they are alive. As soon as they die carbon dioxide is released thereby rendering your carbon offsetting schemes useless.
The carbon cycle takes place over many thousands of years. A trees lifecycle takes place over tens of years. So looking at this problem logically the two cannot really be compared and as such it is my belief that planting trees to offset your carbon emissions is not a solution.