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Carbon Offsets

The following information can be found during the registration process for our meetings:

Offsetting the climate impact associated with traveling to this meeting

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) recognizes that personal travel to our professional meetings likely represents the largest contribution to the carbon footprint of our meetings and is probably a significant fraction of your own personal carbon footprint. The average round-trip commercial flight to an AMS meeting is about 2000 miles and produces roughly 1700 lbs of CO2 per passenger. Consistent with the AMS Policy Statement on Climate Change, and in an effort to reduce emissions, we ask meeting participants to consider measures to offset the climate impacts of traveling to AMS meetings. At this time, we encourage either personal actions to reduce emissions or purchasing carbon offsets (what are carbon offsets?). Details of each approach are given below. Clicking on any of those links will open a new window.

What are carbon offsets?

The concept of carbon offsets is to reduce or avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in one place to “offset“ GHG emissions occurring elsewhere. Carbon offsets are typically measured in tons of CO2 so a project that reduces carbon dioxide emissions results in the creation of one carbon offset per ton of CO2. Project developers sell these offsets to finance their projects.

Carbon offsets mechanisms are an acknowledgment that there are practical limits to an individual’s ability to reduce energy use. To make up for the carbon emissions we cannot avoid, we can instead use a third party or take another action to reduce carbon emissions elsewhere. This reduction would not have happened otherwise without our involvement. Carbon offset projects help finance the construction of new sources of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and land-use and agriculture-based projects, such as methane abatement. By purchasing the offsets, you help finance and build projects, and their emission reductions compensate for the carbon pollution you create by driving, flying, etc. Offsetting is not an excuse to pollute. It is a way to take responsibility for pollution we cannot avoid. Ideally, one would reduce his or her energy use as much as possible, and then consider offsetting the climate impacts of energy use that cannot yet be avoided.

Further information on the challenges of effective carbon offsets can be found here.


Challenges, obstacles, and key criteria for effective carbon offsets

We understand and acknowledge that efforts to offset fossil fuel–derived greenhouse gas emissions may be complicated, ineffective, or even counterproductive if not chosen carefully. Nevertheless, we believe the approaches we have identified can be successful. A primary goal of this effort is to help AMS, our members and the larger society to begin learning about and overcoming these complex challenges.

Three broad classes of offsets currently exist: 1) protecting/enhancing natural carbon sinks, 2) energy efficiency projects, and 3) renewable energy projects. Each of these presents potential problems associated with accounting challenges (e.g. the retention time of carbon in fossil fuel is vastly different from that of plants and soil), the potential for triggering alternative environmental or societal impacts, and limited effectiveness.

To be effective, offsets must ensure the following at a minimum:

  1. Additionality—That the offsetting reduction in emissions would not occur without our effort,
  2. No leakage—That reductions do not simply shift emissions elsewhere,
  3. No double-counting—That offsets are not counted in other reduction programs, and
  4. No perverse incentives—That entities that provide offsets do not have an incentive to fight more effective climate policies. For example, a company that sells offsets for renewable energy may face an incentive to block policies that establish more strict renewable energy standards or mitigation efforts that eliminate the need for those offsets.

We cannot currently ensure that the two options we have chosen for encouraging members to offset their participation in meetings meet each of these requirements. We will continue to work to address these issues, and others as they arise, in the future.

Personal actions to offset emissions

There are a variety of actions to offset (or lower) one’s own carbon emissions. Listed below are just a few examples.
Change light bulbs: Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs at your home or the home of your friends or family is a simple way to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. Replacing one 100-W incandescent bulb with a 20-W compact fluorescent bulb will reduce approximately 330 lbs of CO2 in three years of use (assuming average national statistics for electricity energy generation and 3 hours usage per day). So to offset 1700 lbs of CO2 associated with a 2000-mile round-trip flight, one would need to replace six light bulbs. For more info on compact fluorescent bulbs, see www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/manuf_res/CFL_PRG_FINAL.pdf.
Sign up for green power: Ask your local home energy provider if you can get part or all of your electricity from renewable sources (e.g., wind or solar). The additional cost is usually quite modest. For more info, see www.epa.gov/greenpower/.
Power off computers: Use power management software on your home and work computers to reduce energy use. A desktop computer left on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week can produce more than 1000 lbs of CO2 in a year. For more info, see www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=power_mgt.pr_power_management.
Drive less: Transportation is one of the largest contributors to our personal carbon footprint, so walk, ride a bike, or use public transport to work, to the shops, and to friends whenever possible. Each gallon of gas we use is about 20 lbs of CO2.
Think before you buy: While the motto, “reduce, reuse, and recycle” is well known, many people place their greatest emphasis on the idea of recycling. Reducing and reusing means thinking carefully before purchasing something new and asking the question, “Do I really need this?” The energy required to make products (like a car or television) is an environmental cost that consumers often neglect to consider.
Food choices: The carbon emissions associated with growing and transporting our food is significant. Eating more fresh, local, and minimally processed food is good for our health and creates fewer carbon emissions. Consider shopping at farmers’ markets, buying direct from local farms (i.e., community-supported agriculture) and eating less red meat and animal products in favor of foods that require less energy to produce. For more info, see www.fresh-energy.org/publications/flyer_freshfood.pdf.


Purchasing carbon offsets

A variety of organizations will sell you carbon offsets to compensate your travel-related emissions, but the obvious question is, What are you getting for your money? Because offsets are an emerging field and not yet well regulated, one should choose organizations wisely to ensure the purchase really will reduce emissions. Please see the section on the challenges, obstacles, and key criteria for effective carbon offsets above.
We are currently recommending four different offset organizations based on the conclusions of a study done by Tufts University, although we recognize that there may be other equally good options.
Atmosfair is a German offset nonprofit company focusing on offsetting air travel.
Climate Friendly is an Australian for-profit enterprise working with individuals and businesses.
My Climate is a Swiss international nonprofit that supports many small-scale projects in developing countries.
Native Energy is a for-profit Native American–owned company working on renewable energy projects and farm-based methane projects.
For more detailed information on carbon offsets and how to select an offset project or company, please see http://www.tufts.edu/tie/tci/carbonoffsets/.

 

 

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