The Offsetter Lifestyle

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly     10-10-16

By Gay Nicholson

What if carbon offsetting was as much a part of the Ithaca lifestyle as recycling? Imagine how we could seed energy democracy and climate justice by the simple step of accepting responsibility for our share of greenhouse gas emissions and helping others in need.

You can start with just a ton. And it will only cost you $25.

The average U.S. resident is responsible for about 22 tons of CO2 emissions every year. That’s a lot of carbon. It may sound exhausting to figure out how to move that kind of tonnage, but like so much in life, if we start small and work together, we can build momentum for our whole community’s carbon diet.

The Finger Lakes Climate Fund offers a quick and affordable way to accept responsibility for our travel emissions and fossil fuel use in our buildings. Since we started in 2010, we have collected more than $33,000 in carbon offset donations from individuals, businesses and organizations who want to take responsibility for their unavoidable carbon emissions. We’ve used these offsets to give out 18 grants to local households to make critical improvements to their homes by insulating, sealing leaks, and replacing decrepit and inefficient equipment.

For example, Dan Fdeteh-paw-and-familyenner and his kids’ 1920 bungalow home in Newfield suffered from lots of air leaks coming in from the crawlspace and garage door, making their 45-year old furnace labor to keep them warm. Deteh and Hakhi Paw (pictured to the left) finally bought their first home in Ithaca only to discover that their 1970s house was so poorly insulated and drafty that they were wearing their coats indoors during their first winter. Out in Caroline, the insulation in the Jensens’ 1860 home wasn’t just inadequate – it was missing! No wonder there was frost every day in one corner of their dining room. With two small children in the house, they were suffering from the high electricity costs of running space heaters in the children’s rooms and cold drafty rooms throughout the house.

All of these families were able to combine grants from the state’s energy programs with gap financing from the Finger Lakes Climate Fund so that local contractors like Snug Planet and Tompkins Community Action could blow in insulation, seal up the cracks, and install high efficiency heating equipment. All told, the Climate Fund has already helped remove 1,736 tons of CO2 from our atmosphere since we started.

Now we are working to offset another 500 tons of carbon dioxide with our 2016 ‘Seal the Cracks’ campaign so we can help more local families gain energy security while reducing their fossil fuel consumption.

This is good work we are doing together. We’re helping families, supporting local green jobs, and protecting our climate. We hope you agree and will participate by making at least one offset for some of your carbon emissions. Nobody expects you to offset all of it! But you may be surprised how affordable carbon offsets for your travel can be. For example, your share of emissions from flying to the West Coast and back would be about one ton of CO2 or $25. Not so much compared to the price of your airfare… or the long-term impacts of your emissions on our climate future.

But why do this alone? Grab your coworkers, your friends, or your extended family. We recently redesigned the website so that you can form teams and join in the “carbon races” to see which businesses or organizations can lead the way toward the goal of eliminating 500 tons of climate-changing emissions this fall. Go check it out at

You might even win a prize. You’ll get to spin the prize wheel after making an offset and see if you win free tickets from Cinemapolis or a gift card from businesses like Waffle Frolic, Autumn Leaves or Ithaca Bakery. The ‘Seal the Cracks’ campaign will run through November.

Let’s bring every home in our community into a clean energy future!

Gay Nicholson is President of Sustainable Tompkins.

Photo by Gay Nicholson.

If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles