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During a conversation with a colleague, she asked me about my thoughts on carbon offsets for flights and if I knew of any specific organizations which accept donations. I was embarrassed to say, no I didn’t know of any such programs.
While we all might take small steps in our daily lives to improve the environment like using biodegradable shampoos and soaps, travel is one of the largest expenditures of carbon emissions. Flights can be especially problematic, with large amounts of pollution expended during takeoff.
But cars, buses, cruise ships, and other modes of transportation can also increase pollution.
So are we supposed to not travel? That’s not exactly a practical suggestion, especially if you have family overseas, need to travel for work, or just want to get out there and explore the world.
The question remains: should we help raise money for carbon offsets for flights by donating to various charities and organizations?
Are there other ways to offset your carbon footprint while still enjoying travel?
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) occurs naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere, but only in trace amounts. The element is naturally found in the Earth in places like volcanoes, ground water, and glaciers. We exhale CO2 back into the environment when we breathe, too. Fish “exhale” it back into the water.
According to Wikipedia, “carbon dioxide is the most significant long-lived greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution anthropogenic emissions – primarily from use of fossil fuels and deforestation – have rapidly increased its concentration in the atmosphere, leading to global warming. Carbon dioxide also causes ocean acidification because it dissolves in water to form carbonic acid.”
So, the rapid increase of CO2 since the Industrial Revolution has been a huge problem as companies release massive amounts of the gas into the air from factories, and modes of transportation.
Whether we like it or not, we have become incredibly dependent upon modes of transportation which use fossil fuels. In fact, the EPA reported in 2017 that 29% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. The use of electricity (28%) follows, then industry (22%), residential (12%), and agriculture (9%).
Combined with deforestation, CO2 emissions can have a permanent negative impact on our environment and on life as we currently know it.
To calculate your own carbon footprint, visit one of the calculators at carbonfootprint.com or carbonfund.org. The calculators will guide you through a range of questions about your personal and travel habits.
They’ll ask about your home emissions like electricity or gas; mileage of your recent flights; about your car or motorbike; public transit use; and other lifestyle habits.
The average person has a carbon emissions between 18-24 MT (metric tons) per year. This average calculation, taken from the amounts listed by carbonfootprint.com and carbonfund.org take into account the many variables listed above.
When researching carbon offsets for flights, I also discovered information about cruise ship emissions. I took my first cruise this year, and was naively surprised to learn that cruise ships have a massive impact on our waters, air, and other environments.
The Griffith University Global Sustainable Tourism website has researched cruise and air travel emissions. They state about cruises, “the average cruise ship passenger emits 0.83 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent for their cruise. This is equivalent to a return air trip from London to Tokyo in economy class.”
Cruise vacations are growing in popularity, and the large travel cruise companies are trying to reduce their emissions after a sharp spike in CO2 emissions in 2017.
Their data for aviation emissions shows that the USA emits the most CO2 from air travel, followed by China, and Great Britain. They say, “The peak of global passenger air travel emissions is in July and August due to high volumes from Northern Hemisphere holiday travel. Emissions in these two months alone were 110 Mt of carbon dioxide (18.8% of emissions in 2017).”
Another statistic, “First and business class travel only comprise 5% of all passenger travel, but the related carbon dioxide emissions amount to a share of 10%.” So I guess it helps to travel cheaply, in a way!
Well, that depends on you and how you feel about your personal CO2 emissions.
Some travel companies, like Delta Airlines, routinely buy carbon emissions offsets for its passengers and staff. They have a strong track record of donating towards reducing CO2 emissions, as well as partnering with projects selected for their ability to help reduce emissions and their focus on social responsibility. They’ll also provide a donation option for you to add some money at the point of sale for a flight.
Ride share platform Lyft also works to offset its emissions. They created their own carbon offset program in 2018, and strive to ensure that all Lyft rides are offset by donations they make to the fund. They’re also interested in increasing ride shares and inspiring people to use bikes and scooters.
However, not every organization donates money back to reduce carbon footprints. If you feel you’d like to contribute to carbon offsets for flights and other impacts on the environment, carbonfootprint.com and carbonfund.org offer a variety of ways to donate.
Since it’s highly likely that most people will continue to travel, drive cars, and consume goods made in factories, how can we make a difference on a small or local scale? In addition or instead of carbon offsets for flights and other daily carbon usage, consider some of the following ideas.
If you use car sharing services like Uber or Lyft, consider using a pool instead of a private ride. I know I am guilty of usually choosing direct rides and could definitely pool more often! If your town offers public transit options like metro or bus, it’s also more carbon-friendly to use those options.
Many cities offer shared bikes so you do’t have to purchase one yourself. I love biking around Boston in the warmer months to get to appointments and for pleasure! It’s also a great way to explore new places.
Walking is great for exercise and to discover new restaurants and places of interest in your own town. I love walking when traveling so I can explore a new city on foot and burn off calories from sampling fun new foods.
I was surprised to read that flying direct is actually more carbon friendly than taking a cheaper flight with a layover. Most emissions are released during the takeoff of a plane, so just doing it once is a slight benefit.
As listed above, first class seats take up more room on a flight, pushing more passengers onto other flights. To be most economical on your wallet and the environment, sit in coach.
Get to know your own city or somewhere close to where you live. I know that I am guilty of thinking that other places are more interesting or exotic than Boston. But tons of people are excited to visit here every day! I should be more excited, too, and enjoy our world class museums and natural resources more often.
In addition to sending CO2 into the environment, deforestation is also reducing the number of trees which can absorb CO2. Cutting down trees is also reducing natural habitats for many species, which is a sad and dangerous consequence on many levels for humans and wildlife.
There are a variety of charities you could support to help offset your carbon footprint or help save natural habitats for wildlife.
Consider charities like Goldstandard.org which creates sustainable development opportunities for communities around the world. Donation opportunities include providing access to clean drinking water in Rwanda to providing low smoke stoves in Darfur, to planting forests in Panama.
The Nature Conservancy also helps to tackle climate change as one of the widest-reaching environmental organizations in the world.
I am sure we’ve all heard about those wicked methane cow farts. Those gasses are hugely impactful on the air and environment. Try to have a meatless Monday or swap out red meat for fish, tofu, or other protein sources.
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