I talk a lot about “carbon offsetting” in my blogs and videos, but what does it actually mean? And how is it relevant to carbon neutral racing? This blog will be a bit of a jargon-buster on some of my commonly-used terms, and will also seek to explain why carbon offsetting is so important.
But hey, let’s start at the top. What’s the big deal with carbon neutral, anyway? Carbon dioxide is a gas found naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere, but only in very small quantities (less than 1% by volume). It’s also produced by every living land animal as part of the respiration process and is considered a ‘waste product’ because our bodies can’t do anything with it. In small quantities, it’s harmless, but as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise, there are implications for our health as well as for our planet, with CO2 emissions one of the biggest contributors to the “greenhouse effect” that causes global warming.
Carbon dioxide is also an integral element of photosynthesis, a process undertaken by green plants that creates oxygen as a ‘waste product’ (this is a very simplistic explanation, but this isn’t a biology blog). In this way, the Earth can naturally offset the carbon dioxide produced by respiration.
However, in recent years due to a number of factors such as population growth, increased industrialisation and increased deforestation rates, the natural balance has been severely upset. Carbon dioxide is currently being produced at a far greater rate than it is being absorbed by photosynthesising plants, and this is having a catastrophic effect on the Earth’s environment.
That’s where artificial carbon offsetting comes in. We need to support the planet in getting rid of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, otherwise we’ll eventually poison ourselves and burn away all of our breathable air. Carbon offsetting redresses the balance of carbon dioxide production in some way (there are a number of methods). But in order to explain it fully, we need to get familiar with a few other terms.
Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of your activities. In the context of motor racing, it’s the carbon dioxide produced through the process of running, transporting and operating a race car. Using race fuel generates carbon dioxide, and there’s other contributory processes as well such as the manufacturing of brake pads, engine oil, etc.
Part of my goal this year is to reduce carbon dioxide production as much as possible, but this will only go so far. It’s impossible to run a race car without generating a significant amount of carbon dioxide. So where does that leave us?
In the modern commercial world, most things can be expressed in terms of their monetary value and carbon footprint is no different. The carbon cost of an activity is a measurement of how much it would cost to artificially offset the CO2 emissions generated by an activity. This can take a number of forms, such as planting more oxygen-producing trees, developing carbon-absorbing energy technologies or tackling deforestation. Thousands of projects are taking place right now to redress the balance, and their impact on the environment is very carefully calculated. So carefully, in fact, that it is possible to put a precise monetary value on the cost of offsetting any given quantity of carbon dioxide.
So, if you are able to accurately calculate your residual carbon footprint (i.e. the net amount of carbon dioxide generated by your activities after carbon reduction strategies are taken into account), you can find the carbon cost of your activities and offset that cost by contributing to carbon offsetting projects.
For example, let’s say you generate 10,000 kg of carbon dioxide per year through motor racing activities. That’s a pretty fair ballpark figure for club racing. In order to “cancel out” those emissions, you’d need to plant an additional 50 trees which, upon reaching maturity, would photosynthesise enough CO2 into oxygen to redress the balance of your motor racing activities. Now, if there are already tree-planting projects going on around the world (and there are), sponsoring these projects to the value of your carbon cost would offset your emissions in full.
When you are completely offsetting the carbon cost of your activities, either directly or indirectly through sponsoring of eco-sustainability projects, your net carbon footprint is zero. At this point, you are running carbon neutral.