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Offset Your Carbon Impact with PopOffsets





Below, underlined, is the preview of the version of the article that I sent out by email in July.

Gail and I will be sailing across the Atlantic to France–in the stratosphere–the day that this essay appears in the Durango (Colorado) Herald. We love to travel and we have a good reason for this trip. I have wondered for years why conservation biologists don’t pay more attention to human population: after all, if human numbers were smaller, biodiversity wouldn’t be so threatened. It’s kind of like a dentist ignoring candy!
Roger Martin (of the British organization Population Matters) and I will be hosting a roundtable to listen to conservation biologists at the International Congress of Conservation Biologists in Montpellier, France. We want to learn what their attitudes are toward human population, and why they don’t pay the issue more attention. Maybe I’ll have more information about this in another essay!
Thanks for reading.

PopOffsets picture handing BCPs


We all benefit from using fossil fuels. As a consequence we all cause carbon emissions, and thus contribute to climate change. Is it possible to compensate for our greenhouse gas emissions?

“Yes and no” is the answer. Once CO2 is in the atmosphere it is almost impossible to take it out. Fortunately there are some actions we can take to decrease our impact.

The most important action is to decrease emissions in the first place. In many cases decreasing emissions has the added benefit of also saving money. Thus there are at least two advantages to walking instead of driving, turning off lights you don’t need and—well, you know the litany.

I’m retired and love to travel. How can I make up for the trip to the south of France (largely for business) this summer? Offsets offer a partial solution.

I am writing about voluntary programs where a person voluntarily pays to compensate for his carbon emissions. The PopOffsets website explains this concept well:

“Offsetting is a way of compensating for our residual “footprint”: the level we won’t or cannot reasonably expect to go below. The idea is to pay for projects – which would not otherwise be implemented – which take emissions out of the system to compensate for what we put into it. In other words if an individual or organisation has done what it reasonably can to reduce its emissions (insulation, green energy, efficiency measures, waste reduction, etc), it can compensate for the remainder by investing in projects designed to reduce the amount released to the atmosphere and/or to capture what is being released. Typical projects have traditionally ranged from hydro-electric, solar and wind energy schemes to more efficient cooking stoves to (re)forestation to biofuels to Carbon Capture & Storage (Sequestration).”

There are many different organizations that will help you calculate your carbon emissions, then figure the amount of money that would offset those emissions. One of them is American Forests. Trees absorb CO2 as they grow as well as providing many other benefits. This organization’s website has a carbon calculator to help estimate your carbon footprint, and thus the number of trees that need to be planted to offset that footprint. It also makes it easy to make a donation to so they can plant those trees for you.

Where does human population fit into this? If there are fewer emitters, then there will be fewer emissions. Family planning programs are a good way to slow emissions and thereby slow climate change. Indeed, sophisticated calculations suggest that voluntary family planning programs can make a significant step toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions. A team headed by Brian O’Neill has shown “…that slowing population growth could provide 16–29% of the emissions reductions suggested to be necessary by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change.”

My column shares its name with an organization in England. The British Population Matters has recognized the advantages of making family planning available to more people. In order to put this noble idea into action they started a unique offset program, PopOffsets. It collects money to support family planning programs. Remember World Vasectomy Day, in which men all over the world get snipped? it received funding from PopOffsets. So has a “backpack nurse” who provides family planning services to people in rural Kenya, and WINGS, a Guatemalan organization that provides reproductive healthcare. PopOffsets has also supported a Population, Health, Environment program in Ethiopia with contraceptive supplies. More surprising is that they also made a grant to an agency close to home—the Utah Population and Environment Coalition.

The goal of PopOffsets is “less carbon, smaller families”. They are apparently unique in the world, and would like to see similar organizations in other countries.

Back to my trip to France. It is roughly 5400 miles from Bayfield to Montpellier, France where my conference will be held. Doubling that for a round trip, we can round up to 11,000 miles, most of which will be flying. The PopOffsets website says that 230 grams of CO2 are emitted for every passenger mile or about 2 ½ tons for this trip. They estimate that $15 spent on family planning will offset one ton of CO2, thus my payment to them should be $37.50. I made a donation for more than that amount knowing that it will support good projects.

For the future of the planet it is important to minimize your carbon footprint. What you cannot get rid of you can offset with PopOffsets!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2015

Hope Population

Contribute to these Organizations


This image from:

Contribute to these Organizations—11-2014

The most common question I get from readers of this column is about what organizations are worthy to receive our donations. I will respond with my opinions.

As you can imagine, some nonprofit organizations are more fiscally responsible than others. I suggest checking with Guidestar or Charity Navigator if you would like objective information about an organization’s financial integrity. Some good organizations are too small to be listed, unfortunately.

I only know of two national environmental organizations that have significant population programs. My favorite is the Center for Biological Diversity. It has recognized that we are in the midst of the sixth massive extinction of species; the last one resulted from a huge meteor and wiped out the dinosaurs. The growing number of people is causing species to go extinct at a rate 1000 times normal. The Center is not afraid to face reality, and they have a sense of humor, too. Have you seen their Endangered Species Condoms?

The Sierra Club has a person dedicated to the issue of population, and soon will have a second. Consistent with other Sierra Club programs, they advocate for renewable energy, reducing resource consumption and empowerment of women and girls. In addition they sponsor youth advocacy trainings and work to increase funding for international family planning.

Dave Gardner is a friend who grew up in Colorado Springs. He worked in Texas for a long time making videos for PBS. When he returned to Colorado he barely recognized his hometown, it had grown so much. He has used his terrific sense of humor and moviemaking talent to good purpose with a full-length video “Growthbusters”. Perhaps his funniest videos feature Endangered Species condoms, or his irreverent “Phone call to the Pope”—both available on YouTube.

When is the best time to reach people with messages about population? It’s certainly not when they are old like me or even in the middle of building a family. It is best that school age children know about the world that they will inherit. Population Connection’s age-appropriate curricula reach 3 million students each year in the USA. In addition, this organization keeps our Congress up to date about population issues, and keeps track of the voting record of our representatives in Washington. Is this organization’s name unfamiliar? Perhaps you will recognize ZPG (zero population growth), its former title. It first made headlines back in the 1970s.

The two most prominent of our country’s population activists are at opposite ends of the USA. Paul Ehrlich is in California at Stanford University and Bill Ryerson’s office is in Vermont—but he is seldom home. In March of this year I attended a meeting these two men organized to look at the next steps in the population movement. It was a little discouraging because we didn’t come up with a unified plan—but these two giants are working hard to help make the world more sustainable.

Ehrlich started the modern population movement in 1968 with his book “The Population Bomb”. It is difficult to remember that, in addition to his concern about human population, he is an outstanding biologist. He and his wife, Anne, have authored three dozen books and almost a thousand scientific papers.

The Ehrlichs realized that science alone is not sufficient to influence the hearts and minds of people. Recently they started the “Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere”—MAHB. This online international network has individuals and nodes all over the world, but has yet to gain much traction. At this time MAHB is looking for people to help it grow. I am delighted that my monthly columns are available through MAHB by RSS feed.

Ryerson’s organization is the Population Media Center. Although only 16 years old, it is making a difference in over a dozen countries, including the USA. My column from July focused on East Los High, an excellent online video series helping mainly Hispanic teens to make wise life decisions. Ryerson uses a model that has been proven to work. In many places people are addicted to “soap operas”. PMC designs characters as role models to reflect local values, while emphasizing empowerment of women, AIDS avoidance and the advantages of small families.

Don’t forget Durango Nature Studies. Although not focused on population issues, it gets kids outside so they learn to love our environment, and will be more likely to be advocates to protect it in the future.

Several organizations are working to make families healthier and smaller. We can help with our contributions.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2014