The climate crisis threatens to devastate the diversity of life on earth. Scientists warn that just ten more years of continued greenhouse gas pollution trajectories may commit the planet to devastating warming, sea-level rise, and species extinction. Greenhouse gas pollution reductions must begin immediately, and all sources must be addressed. In addition to our advocacy for new legislation capping and then rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our efforts to enforce existing laws that already address global warming and greenhouse gases, the Center has also chosen to become climate-neutral by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions for which we are responsible and offsetting those that cannot yet be eliminated.

While the Center has always been extremely conscientious regarding our own resource use, we have now embarked upon a program to explicitly track and then reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. We have also purchased “carbon offsets” equal to the amount of all past emissions since our inception in 1989. These carbon offsets, which support forest conservation in Madagascar, not only help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also produce many direct additional benefits to biodiversity and local communities. Read more about how we did it, how you can do it too, and other topics in the sections below.

The first step in becoming climate-neutral was to calculate our greenhouse gas footprint, that is, the total of the emissions directly or indirectly generated by the organization. We used the Corporate Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Standard developed by the World Resources Institute and others to create an inventory of sources including all electricity and heating fuel used in Center offices, and all automobile and airplane travel on Center business.

As individuals, the most important change we can make in our global warming behavior is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We did this first by reducing energy use, for example by ensuring all lighting is provided by the most efficient fluorescent or compact fluorescent bulbs, that computer equipment is turned off when not in use, and by eliminating or switching to more fuel-efficient forms of travel whenever possible. Next we installed solar panels to generate electricity in our Tucson and Joshua Tree offices without greenhouse gas emissions.

After tracking our energy and fuel usage for the years 2005 and 2006, we calculated total greenhouse gas emissions in these years. We then calculated average emissions per staff member, and multiplied this by the number of staff members in previous years to obtain an estimate of our total emissions since inception in 1989. This total is relatively small, about 480 tons of carbon dioxide. After extensively researching carbon offset purchasing options, we chose to purchase 500 tons of carbon dioxide credits in the Makira Forest Conservation Project. We will continue to track, reduce, and offset our emissions in future years.

Increasing our awareness of the greenhouse gas consequences of our energy use, travel, and food and other choices is the first step towards reducing our own emissions. Use our simple tool to calculate your own emissions.

The average American generates approximately 24 tons of carbon dioxide annually, but this number can be drastically reduced with simple changes, many of which will also save you money. There are many resources available to further reduce your emissions.

Once you have reduced your emissions as much as possible, you can go even further by supporting organizations working for policy change and purchasing offsets. Lending your vocal political and financial support to organizations like the Center that are serious, committed advocates for policies involving mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is key to doing your part. You can give a gift to the Center for our work on climate change and/or invest, as we have, in reforestation and other ecological projects to help offset carbon. To supplement our own program, for instance, the Center supports a project in Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa.

After deciding to purchase carbon credits to offset past emissions, we researched many different options for offset purchases. We wanted an offset that will result in a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions that would not otherwise have occurred, that is verified, that has an acceptable level of overhead, and that will also benefit, and not harm, biodiversity and local communities. After a thorough search, we chose to purchase in the Makira Forest Conservation Project.

The Island of Madagascar off the East Coast of Africa is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Makira Forest, in the northeastern portion of Madagascar, is home to some of the island’s most endangered species, such as the Madagascar serpent eagle and the red ruffed lemur and the silky sifaka, two species of endemic lemurs.

The Makira Forest Conservation Project, a joint project of Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Government of Madagascar, will mitigate 9.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years through forest conservation, while also greatly benefiting the native species and local communities in the area. You can purchase your own offsets in this project here.