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A carbon offset credit is a service that tries to reduce the net carbon emissions of people or organizations by compensating their carbon emissions with measures for absorbing greenhouse* gases. A wide variety of offset actions are available; forest planting is the most common. Also popular are credits from renewable energy and energy conservation, as well as greenhouse emissions trading.

The intended goal of carbon offset credits is to combat global warming. The appeal of becoming "carbon neutral" has contributed to the growth of voluntary offsets, which often are more cost-effective alternatives to reducing one's own fossil-fuel consumption. 

We were planning to make a carbon-offset calculator that would allow you to calculate different components of your ecological footprint so that it would calculate with how many "ranger days" you can offset your carbon dioxide footprint by preventing forests from going up in flames. Those are nice internet toys, but unfortunately, the real world does not quite work as simple as that. Let's take a look, and decide then what you should do.

The costs of Carbon Offset from Carbon emission avoidance through forest protection

Assume a tropical forest has about 175 metric tons of Carbon in its trees. The carbon is fixed in the tree trunks, leaves and roots. Did you realize that actually lots of carbon is underground in the roots? So, if a hectare of forest gets deforested, the wood may first be used to build houses, furniture or produce paper, but eventually, it will either rot away or be burned. The branches and leaves will often be burned or left in the field to rot away. The roots in the ground will decay by fungi and bacteria, and eventually all the carbon of that forest will be converted into CO2. The mass of CO2 is more than 3 times more than that of Carbon, so the 175 tons of carbon will produce more that 500 tons of CO2.

We are often asked how much it costs to protect a hectare of natural forest. The answer is: that depends on the size and the location. It costs many times more per ha to protect a few hundreds of ha of natural forest, than to protect a million of ha. The difference may be as much as more than 100,000 more expensive per ha for an area less than 2 ha as for an area larger that 1,000,000. So it is impossible to give a general answer. So, lets assume that we work with an area of 10,000 ha. We like to use the size of an area of 10,000 ha, because it is the same kind of size of many new forest plantations planted for carbon fixation (or sequestration).

In Brazil, the estimated costs of protecting a 10,000 ha natural forests are about $185,000 per year, including staffing, and all operational costs, such as fuel for vehicles, write of of buildings and equipment, etc. $185,000 would thus avoid the emission of 500,000 tons of CO2 into the air. 

So, protecting a hectare of natural forest would be about $18.5 per ha per year. $18.5 dollars per year would prevent 175 metric tons of Carbon become 500 tons of CO2. That is less than $0.04 per metric ton of carbon. You read it well: it takes less than 4 dollar cents per year to avoid 1 ton of CO2 to be released into the air as greenhouse gas. 

As a comparison, the Carbon fixation through a variety of mechanisms, such as planting new forests, is sold from $4,00 - $25 per ton of CO2. But those calculations are made for planting and maintaining a new plantation for the duration of 1 forest cycle about 20 - 30 years. They don't take into account what happens afterward, so they don't set up an endowment fund to keep the area under forest cover forever. 

Now, we only believe in durable avoidance of the emission of CO2, if the emission avoidance of carbon dioxide is really permanent. So in our opinion, you can only permanently avoid the emission of CO2 into the air, if you set up an endowment fund that would generate the capital interest from which management costs can be financed permanently. Assuming a 7% return from the endowment fund, it would take about $2,700,000 to prevent 500,000 tons of CO2 to be released into the air, which is about $5 per ton. That is about as much as for the short-term fixation of Carbon through forest plantations, whereas Carbon dioxide emission avoidance through and Adopt-A-Ranger-Endowment fund would be permanent! 

An average American household releases about 15 tons of CO2 into the air. So to compensate that release forever, it would cost a household about $75 per year to permanently offset its carbon dioxide emission in a natural forest. 

Assuming that you would participate in an endowment fund that pays for ALL the costs of an area with natural forests, so that it will be protected forever! But what is even more important, your carbon offset would help the survival of literally thousands of species of plants and animals. 

Heaving read all this, do you still want to invest your greenhouse gas emission compensation in the plantation of monocultures? Or would you prefer to participate in a Carbon Dioxide emission avoidance programme? Invest it with us, and we will invest your money in an endowment fund that pays for the EFFECTIVE protection of thousands of hectares of natural forests! 

Now, we have used some very coarse data. There are great variations in the amounts of Carbon per ha. Some natural forests have more, others have less. In reality, most areas that we will be working with, are far bigger than 10,000 ha and therefore the protection costs per ha are much lower. So in reality your carbon emission avoidance contribution will be many times more beneficial than a carbon offset through the planting of a new forest. 

Not everybody shares the concerns about climate change and greenhouse gases. Click here to read why you may like to participate, even if you don't believe in Climate change

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