After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

Cool Gift for a Warm World

Some people already have so much great stuff that finding something to give them that they don’t have, and might want, can be daunting. And then there are gifts for people who are business acquaintances.

It’s hard to find something meaningful for someone you don’t know very well, and it’s a drag to spend money and the earth’s resources on something that has meaning for no one.

So, instead of buying more items for people whose individual enjoyment is already well-sated, why not give them a greater stake our collective well-being? Like a carbon offset.

My sister, an ethical investment advisor, wanted to give carbon offsets to her clients this year. So she asked some of them what they thought of the idea. She found that, to the uninitiated, receiving a carbon offset doesn’t really feel like being given a gift.

“How is that a gift to me?” one asked.

“Can I resell it if I want to?” asked another.

One client got it.

“Is this like adopting a whale in someone’s name? Or buying livestock through the Heifer Project?” Then she added, “I gave to the Heifer Project in my nieces’ names. They kept waiting for a goat to arrive.”

Okay, so it’s probably not a gift for children, even if motivated by their future. Carbon offsets are pretty abstract, which is also the whole problem with the whole problem: global warming is abstract, and individual measures seem small. Also, carbon offsets are a new phenomenon, with little regulation. This means the purchaser has to think through the[choices] for themselves.

But carbon offsets really are a perfect gift, because they empower the recipient to begin coming to terms with a peril we all find overwhelming. They invite the recipient to think about their carbon footprint. The gift makes for interesting conversation and may even strike a deep chord. And the giver knows that the gift has meaning.

My sister decided to go ahead with giving the carbon offsets to her clients, but was careful to explain just what it was she was giving in her holiday letter:

You know how people occasionally trade their long term financial stability for a big purchase they really want right now? For example, buying a big boat may require taking on debt that makes it hard to prepare for a child’s further education, or to prepare for retirement. The result is a greater risk of financial instability.

It’s the same with our carbon emissions. We are “spending” carbon at a rate that borrows from the future. Climate instability is a burden we and our children will all have to bear.

But here is some great news. For a relatively small amount of money, we can offset our personal carbon emissions by preventing emissions elsewhere. The average Canadian’s 18 tonnes per year of emissions can be offset for $81 to $390, depending on the carbon offset organization.

So my gift to you is an offset for 1 tonne of carbon. This neutralizes the direct and indirect carbon emissions of approximately one 2,700 kilometer airplane trip, or about 1,700 kilometers of driving alone in a car that gets 13 km/l. It’s a good start.

Of course, a different approach would be needed for friends or family. A gift of collective benefit, like a carbon offset, might require the personal touch of a home made card.

Our family sits together at the dining room table with coloured pencils to make our gift cards.

I often draw something that happens to be on the table, like apples or chestnuts or a lego creation, because it’s a window into our life. Sometimes one of us reads out loud while the others draw.

It’s a very cozy way to spend family time, and has no direct carbon emissions.
Read More:

More in Environment

Pavlof Volcano erupting in Alaska on March 26, 2016.

Flights cancelled in and out of Regina, Yellowknife after volcano in Alaska

VANCOUVER — More flights have been cancelled after a cloud of ash spewed from a volcano on the Alaska Peninsula. WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the airline cancelled three flights from...
Canada geese mating ritual

Egg addling program shakes up Canada geese population in Okanagan

VERNON, B.C. — Airborne flocks of Canada geese can be symbols of beauty and freedom, but the mess they leave behind on landing can quickly foul parks and beaches. The Okanagan hosts large numbers of...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.