Attractive or Distractive?

If you care about the Earth and climate change, you can’t ignore that air travel is a significant source of C02, accounting for 2.5% percent (and growing) of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Statistics vary widely, but only a very small percentage of the global population has ever flown.

There are some who have committed to never fly again, (further down you’ll hear from Kate Logan who’s joined the “No Jet Set”). I am not there yet, so what to do?

We’ve started by drastically cutting back on air travel, but what about carbon offsetting, a practice where people voluntarily pay to “offset” their flight emissions by investing in CO2 reduction projects? But is it a helpful action or a pointless distraction?

Last week’s flight from JKF to Miami for winter break prompted me to investigate further.  Here’s what I learned:

    • One of the main critiques of offsetting flights is that it assuages our conscience, making us feel absolved of the real change that is needed (less (or no) flying).
  • There are two main types of offset projects (1) Forestry projects which either prevent existing trees from being cut down or reforestation projects which plant new ones. The trees act as carbon sinks, removing C02 from the atmosphere. (2) Energy projects which reduce the amount of fossil fuels used by investing in renewable or energy efficient technology or products.
  • The efficacy of many offsetting schemes are questionable—some are even run by for-profit companies—so it can be unclear if they actually deliver on their claims.
  • There are few verified offset providers (try TerraPass).
  • Around 1/3 of airlines allow you to offset your flight during the booking process, how that works (and its efficacy) varies among airlines.
  • The cost to offset your flight varies based on distance and class but can be anywhere from $8-$80 per flight.
  • Because most jet fuel is used during take-off, a stopover or layover drastically increases your emissions, so fly direct whenever possible.

My verdict? If using a verified scheme, carbon offsetting is not a bad thing, but this small, relatively inexpensive action should be accompanied by an effort to fly less and finding alternative methods of travel.

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