A lifetime of carbon offsets

Amy Streator Wilson
3 min readSep 24, 2020

How much would that cost?

According to some basic carbon footprint calculations, I will emit around 900 tonnes of CO2e over my lifetime. How much would it cost me, today, to buy offsets for that entire amount?

Pick a project

A quick review of the current carbon offset projects on offer via the Gold Standard website, the price per tonne varies widely. You can support a 100MW wind power project in Andhra Pradesh for $10/tonne or contribute to an integrated plastic recycling centre in Romania for $47/tonne.

The average cost per tonne of these projects, however, ends up being around $18, meaning that for $16,200 I could reasonably say that I have made my life carbon neutral. Or, if you want to look at it per year, that’s around $200. (This is based on the average person in the UK’s carbon footprint (11 tonnes) multiplied by the number of years an average woman would live (82), multiplied by the average cost per tonne of the offset ($18)).

Does this sound too much or too little to you?

Let’s break it down even farther, to a monthly cost: around $16. That’s an average cup of coffee from Starbucks a week, or an average cinema ticket in the UK.

Pick a payment method

What would happen if everyone just paid this flat fee, as part of a universal carbon tax applied across the United Kingdom? The tax should be tiered, of course: means-tested so that someone on the poverty line doesn’t end up paying for my decision to fly more often than average. This is something that the Citizen’s Assembly agreed upon.

In the meantime, before we have this organized way of investing in carbon offsetting, I should at least be doing my bit, and voluntarily offsetting a tonne of carbon per month.

Worst-case scenarios

I can appreciate to some that this approach looks cack-handed at best. Surely the aim of any concerned individual would be to find ways of reducing your footprint first before considering offsetting. I’m just keen to make sure that zero is most definitely reached. If I calculate the worst-case scenario where my emissions are concerned and offset all that before I even think about reductions, I’m more likely to overreach than underperform. How disappointing it would be to be on your deathbed at the age of 82, and realize you’re only part of the way there…

Also, it’s likely that these calculations are off by a significant margin because each carbon calculator adopts a slightly different methodology to measure carbon.

Finally, this is just the first step. By going backward through this process, in terms of offsetting the most realistic outside edge of a lifetime’s carbon emissions, this brings me to a level playing field. All the most interesting, useful activities I can do to reduce the negative impact I’m personally inflicting on the planet, can now be put in full focus.



Amy Streator Wilson

Interested in everything and everyone… yet hiking, travel, mountains, space, energy and sustainability really float my boat