Live Earth and Offsets

concertclimate_blurb.gifEverybody seems to be writing long, thoughtful articles on offsets these days. Greenwire (subs. req’d) has a good piece on what Live Earth did to offset its emissions. Here’s what they say:

In the wake of the Live Earth extravaganza, a huge question remains: Did Al Gore’s concert series raise global awareness of climate change enough to justify the heat-trapping pollution they generated?

The answer might depend on what you think of the concerts’ emissions of carbon dioxide that were offset by investments in renewable energy projects.

Carbon offsetting is a hot concept. Businesses are scrambling to use offsets to declare themselves emissions-free.

But the offset marketplace is operating without government oversight and with a lot of questions. And Live Earth generated a lot of greenhouse gases — 35,000 tons of carbon dioxide, according to London’s Daily Mail. For perspective, consider that a typical coal-fired power plant emits about 8,760 tons of CO2 per year, while a hybrid car generates about 3 tons annually, the think tank Sustainable Energy and Economy Network says.

To help neutralize concert emissions — and earn PR points — auto insurer Esurance paid Vermont-based NativeEnergy to offset concert-goers’ travel to and from the Live Earth show at Giants Stadium in New Brunswick, N.J. The insurer has contracted to buy about 1,000 tons’ worth of credits, says NativeEnergy, which charges $12 a ton.

NativeEnergy, which scored highly on transparency in a survey of offset retailers last year by Clean Air-Cool Planet, is taking pains to detail where it buys its offsets.

NativeEnergy spokesman Billy Connelly said the 1,000-ton estimate was based on previous offsetting the company has done for pop music acts that include REM, Bon Jovi, the Dave Matthews Band and Guster. The projection is on the generous side because it assumes one car per person, while U.S. EPA says an average car holds 1.5 people. About 52,000 people attended the show at Giants Stadium.

NativeEnergy buys clean energy from domestic wind-power generators and methane produced from farms that used waste digesters instead of storing manure in lagoons. But the company also offers a “Live Earth special blend” that includes credits from a wind farm in China and a rice-straw biomass project in Brazil, both of which began operating this year.

Connelly said Native Energy’s estimates were good, but final figures would take at least “several days, if not weeks” to produce because Live Earth is being audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers to assess its overall use of resources, including carbon, water and paper, Connelly said.

“It’s going to be extremely green,” he said. “These people don’t miss a thing.”

The biggest question seems to be how to obtain concrete data. At Washington’s Sasquatch Festival, whose emissions reductions Esurance also bankrolled, the cars in the parking lot provided an accurate tally — the venue is reachable only by automobile, due to its position above the Columbia River Gorge.

Live Earth concertgoers are being asked to take a survey asking their mileage and mode of travel. The site will take entries through July 18. While Esurance is planning on spending enough for around 1,000 credit-tons, variables include distance traveled, carpool efficiency and concert attendance.

Of the 52,000 who attended the show at Giants Stadium, about 200 had used the site as of Monday, according to Esurance spokeswoman Kristin Brewe, who called that “a pretty great response.” Of respondents, the average total driving distance to and from the concert was about 200 miles, and there were an average of three people per car.

Joel Bluestein, president of Energy and Environmental Analysis, said overall travel emissions could reasonably be extrapolated from voluntary Internet responses. And he said offsetting those emissions was effective, especially given the current lack of national regulations and the need to reduce emissions from non-manufacturing sectors that “are less amenable” to regulation to begin with.

“If there’s more offsets than we thought, we will gladly and proudly underwrite that,” Brewe said in an e-mail.

3 Responses to Live Earth and Offsets

  1. Jeff Goodell says:

    Excellent, timely post, as usual. For the record, however, I should point out that the facts in this Greenwire story are a little wacky. An average coal plant emits 8,760 tons of CO2 a year? Nope. More like three million tons.

  2. Joe says:

    Good catch. The writer made a mistake and probably meant 8.76 million tons — which would roughly be correct for a 1000 MW plant that Ray of our round-the-clock (note that 8760 is the number of hours in the year so they probably assumed 1 ton per MWhr and full time operation).

    Yet another reason to stick to Climate Progress — we are self-correcting!

  3. The article was corrected. See the new graph below:

    But the offset marketplace is operating without government oversight and with a lot of questions. Live Earth generated 35,000 tons of carbon dioxide, according to London’s Daily Mail. For perspective, consider that a typical coal-fired power plant emits about 3 million tons of CO2 per year, according to Joel Bluestein, president of Energy and Environmental Analysis. A hybrid car generates about 3 tons annually.