Hey friends, I hope all is well with you. It’s a beautiful autumn day here on the sunny side of the Cloud!
The last few blogs I’ve written have highlighted certain cities and how they are addressing climate change. A few readers have asked about more direct involvement and how they might participate. I received one question about Carbon Offset. So today, I’ll answer some questions about carbon offset and how you might use it. In the future, I’ll provide more tips on what you can do to take personal action against climate change when you travel.
What is Carbon Offset?
Every time you fly, carbon dioxide is released from the aircraft’s exhaust. Because it is released at altitude, it has a more significant impact on climate change. So, simply put, carbon offset is the process of offsetting the amount of carbon pollution by a ‘carbon sink’ that takes carbon out of the atmosphere.
There are two primary programmes related to carbon offset:
- Forestry Projects – These projects plant trees because they are a natural carbon sink that absorb carbon dioxide and released oxygen.
- New Energy Projects – These projects fund alternative energies that seek to permanently replace polluting agents with greener technologies
Both of these types of projects are delivering real benefits. It should be noted, however, that the New Energy Projects provide permanent solutions while the Forestry Projects “address the symptoms without curing the disease.”
Is Carbon Offset Simply to Assuage Guilt?
Carbon offset has been criticised by environmental activists as a balm for the conscious of travellers but these programmes are much more impactful. If a traveller is going to fly anyway, then Carbon Offset programmes are a good way to “do good by doing right”. Simply said, Carbon Offset programmes are better than ignoring the impact. You should change your mode of travel when you can to a less polluting form but, when you cannot, Carbon Offset programmes are a good way of helping to offset the impact of your travel.
That said, the best programmes have certain characteristics:
- Additionality – the programme would not happen without the funding of the Carbon Offset programme.
- No Leakage – the programme should not cure one problem by creating another. For example, the programme should not reduce carbon while increasing other pollutants.
- Permanent – the programme should produce permanent solutions that will not be reversed in the future.
Are All Carbon Offset Programmes the Same?
There is a wide difference in the Carbon Offset programmes available for your selection. While many airlines have excellent programmes, the programmes offered by some airlines have their issues. First, the method of offset calculation is not always accurate or clear. Second, while convenient, the costs of some airlines’ Carbon Offset programmes are not very clear before the ticket is purchased. Airlines worry that, if the number is too large, the passenger might choose not to fly. So, the airlines can be rather opaque about their Carbon Offset programmes. Finally, some of the airlines using the oldest technologies avoid the programmes all together.
Commercial aviation is taking action on climate change, however. By 2050, the industry has promised to be emission-free. Current research is working on low-polluting biofuels and electric powerplants for aircraft. These technologies, however, will take time to develop and test. So, good Carbon Offset programmes are approaches that can be implemented now.
In my experience, the programmes supported by the ‘Gold Standard’ are perhaps the best available (https://www.goldstandard.org). This non-profit group, based in environmentally-active Switzerland, sponsors New Energy Projects specializing in ones that support developing countries. With most of these programmes, you can choose how your carbon offset monies are spent. This gives you freedom to invest how you deem appropriate.
How Much Does Carbon Offset Cost?
If you are ‘normal’ reader of this blog who flies 3-4 times per year on various length flights, then annual carbon offset should amount to about £200 (€220, $250) per year. Very frequent travellers may need to offset 2x or even 3x of that number but, it must be said that the number is small in relation to the costs of the actual travel. There are online carbon offset calculators that you can use to quickly determine your individual range of spend.
I’ll leave the decision about deploying carbon offset to each of you. I want you to be informed about such programmes so you can take a measured decision.