By Patti Maw
As we move toward summer and well-deserved holidays, you may be booking flights to faraway places. As part of this process, you might notice your airline offering you the opportunity to buy carbon offsets for your travel.
This sounds like a great idea—pay a few bucks to fly without impacting the environment; why not? Unfortunately, these offerings are an example of “if it sounds too good to be true, it is.” Until we develop better biofuels or batteries for commercial aviation, or perhaps bring back the zeppelin, there is no way to fly the friendly skies without spewing CO2.
Other modes of travel have less impact, so if you can, take your trip instead by car (preferably electric or hybrid) or train. If you must board a plane, then a nonstop journey is the kindest option, because takeoffs are the most polluting part of a flight.
Upgrading to the forward cabin takes a bigger toll on both your wallet and the environment than flying coach, because more fuel is needed to lift the larger space around a first- or business-class seat (plus the weight of the glassware, silverware, and food being carried onboard for your convenience).
If you must go airborne to reach your destination, then buying carbon offsets for your flight is better than not buying them. Their purpose is to try and cancel out the amount of carbon your flight will generate by funding carbon-reducing projects somewhere else on the planet.
Note that this should be a carbon removal that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, so paying someone to save a tree they weren’t planning to cut down anyway doesn’t count.
It is difficult to determine if the offsets available through your airline meet this standard, and an accurate offset amount likely costs more than the airline will charge you.
If you’re serious about reducing your travel impact, you can purchase independently audited Quality Assurance Standard-certified carbon credits directly through sites such as clear.eco.
Using its calculator, you can even go beyond “carbon neutral” to “carbon negative” by removing more than your trip will generate, if you are so inclined.
The bottom line is, the only sure way to offset the carbon generated by airplane travel is to avoid emitting that pollution in the first place. While you’re planning, consider that many people choose to travel to California for summer vacation, and we’re already here.
Patti Maw is a member of the South Orange County Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Education/Lobby. She has lived in San Juan Capistrano for 10 years and firmly believes that life is amazing and that nature is beautiful.
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