Air travel scores rock-bottom on the eco-friendly scale. When you’re buying an air ticket what goes through your mind? “Is this cheap? Are the flight timings good? Do I need food on-board? Do I need check-in baggage?” None of us, me included, ever stopped to think of the environmental impact our flight could have, even if we did, we go “oh well, can’t be helped, gotta get to the Greek Islands.” While there is no immediate alternative to air travel (of course you can take cross-country trains/buses but time is another issue,) there is still a way in which we can reduce our carbon footprint from flying.
For the average person, airline travel, which New York Times writer Elisabeth Rosenthal has called “the biggest carbon sin,” is one of the largest individual contributors to climate change. In October 2013, meteorologist and Slate writer Eric Holthaus vowed to give up flying completely, after calculating that air travel accounted for almost half of his household’s carbon emissions. -Smithsonian Magazine
In two words, carbon off-setting. This is how we can care for the environment while flying.
What is carbon off-setting?
It is defined as “compensating for the carbon-dioxide pollution you’re making (your carbon footprint) by preventing the same amount of pollution from happening somewhere else. More precisely, one carbon offset means compensating for emitting one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by preventing a tonne of CO2 from entering the atmosphere elsewhere on Earth or by removing a tonne of CO2 that’s already up there.” In short, you are repaying your carbon-footprint ‘debt’ by doing environmental good work yourself or you can finance the work through an environmental organisation.
For example, if you choose to offset by investing in a wind-energy project that may not have been possible without your financial backing, you’re actually adding to the overall supply of renewable energy, reducing the consumption of fossil fuels in the future, and making the world a greener place (no matter how small the effort is).
Is it legit?
Yes it is. But be aware that there are companies out there that boast about offsetting, but in actual fact they’re nothing more than a profit-making scam. So before you go off purchasing offsets, do check the credibility of the company that you are purchasing from. A good gauge would be to see if they are certified with the Voluntary Gold Standard or the Voluntary Carbon Standard, these are the most rigorously certified offsets and the ones most likely to make a difference to the planet. Some companies that you can consider are Terra Pass, Atmosfair and SCS Global Services.
Of course there are bound to be some controversies over carbon off-setting. People argue that it is just a way for people to pay-off their guilt instead of tackling the issue from the root. As English environmental journalist George Monbiot puts it: “Our guilty consciences appeased, we continue to fill up our SUVs and fly round the world without the least concern about our impact on the planet… it’s like pushing the food around on your plate to create the impression that you have eaten it.”
“Can a couple of dollars really undo the damage?” Yes, it can. After all, a single low-energy lightbulb, available for just a couple of dollars, can over the space of six years save 250kg of CO2 – equivalent to a short flight.
I guess at the end of the day, it really is up to the individual to decide how important climate change and environmental impacts are to him/her. For now, our best bet of reducing our carbon footprint while flying is still carbon off-setting. Just imagine if all passengers on the plane bought carbon offsets, this collective effort would definitely help. The biggest change we can make right now, in this lifetime, is to be aware of the ways we can help manage the impact in our daily lives be it at home or while travelling. There are tons of ways we can go about making a positive change in the environment, it’s just a matter of how important this earth is to us.