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Cutting Through That Jungle of Carbon Neutrality

by Garland M Baker on August 20, 2007

What does it mean to be carbon negative or carbon positive? What does it mean to be carbon responsible? The country aims for carbon neutrality by the year 2021. Expats living in Costa Rica can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Carbon may also be good business for Costa Rica. The country’s carbon real estate business is still in its development stages but it’s heating up fast. There are also ways to use the Costa Rican civil code to build carbon responsible communities.

Carbon buzzwords are important in this day and age. Nature Air, an airline based in Costa Rica, is advertising heavily, stating the company is the world’s first and only carbon neutral airline.

Many people confuse the terms carbon negative with carbon positive much as they do with the commonplace expression, a glass is half empty or half full.

Burning fossil fuels sends carbon dioxide emissions — referred to as carbon waste — into the atmosphere. This waste contributes to global warming and leads to human and animal respiratory problems. Plants, on the other hand, live on carbon dioxide and gobble it up.

Everyone expends carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Breathing is a natural part of life and the biological cycle of nature. Electricity to heat or cool one’s house, those cars in the garage, the trips one takes, the gadgets, and all the extra stuff making up one’s lifestyle are not part of the natural cycle of life. All these components generate impact on the planet, referred to as a carbon or environmental footprint.

An average person in Britain is responsible for 10 metric tons of carbon waste per year compared to an American who is responsible for twice that amount or 20 metric tons per year, according to CarbonFootprint.com. In comparison, Al Gore, past vice-president of the United States and global warming doomsayer, generates about 20 times the waste of an average American — 40 times that of a Brit. Gore has come under criticism from a number of sources for items like his $30,000 annual utility bill.

Singer Madonna with 50 times the waste of an average American and 100 times that of a Brit also has been criticized for hypocrisy. The huge amount of her emissions is because of the many performance tours she takes.

Here is what most people do not understand. Being carbon positive is bad. This means a person is putting carbon waste into the environment. Being carbon negative is good. This means a person is doing more than their share to offset their impact on the environment, offsetting their waste by more than their contribution of waste. In other words, to leave less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than one puts into it.

For example, a person can become more carbon responsible by putting in alternative sources of energy in ones home like solar, water or wind generated electrification systems. Planting trees and leaving parts of a property forested instead of cutting everything down to subdivide the property into lots to sell to other expats is another way of being carbon wise.

Some development projects in Costa Rica are striving to be carbon negative or at least carbon neutral using carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is where forests are used to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere offsetting carbon waste put into the atmosphere. Reforestation projects are encouraged by the government.

Calculations are complex and sequestration rates vary by tree species and soil conditions among other factors, but a good guesstimate is a hectare of land, 2.471 acres, can sequester between 5 to 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

An expat living in Costa Rica generating 10 metric tons of carbon waste per year must own two hectares, 4.94 acres, of trees to be carbon neutral and more than two hectares to be carbon negative.

Over the years, the country has received bad marks in many areas of conservation, particularly in deforestation. Today, they are changing attitudes because there is money in carbon. One thing for sure, the country’s bean counters are trying to figure out what is better to fill up its coffers — like the China Taiwan scenario.

Expats should get on the carbon bandwagon, too, because it is good for the planet and understanding the dynamics is good for business and real estate values. But they must also be alert to carbon credit scams that have generated a lot of publicity elsewhere.

A readable summary of carbon emissions and global warming can be found at http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html

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