I’m flying quite a lot this year, so I used the (not particularly user-friendly)
flight calculator to give me some idea of my total emissions. Most people
fly less than this in a year, I’m sure, but then again I can think of very many
people who fly a lot more. In any case, here are my flights for the year, which
collectively account for more carbon emissions than the rest of my life combined:
|Flight||Tonnes of CO2|
|New York–Acapulco return||0.8|
|El Paso–New York||0.3|
|New York–St Louis return, six times||2.4|
|New York–London return||1.2|
|New York–Los Angeles||0.4|
|Long Beach–San Francisco||0.1|
|San Francisco–New York||0.4|
|New York–Portland (Maine) return||0.2|
|New York–Washington return||0.2|
|New York–Tucson return||0.8|
|New York–Ushuaia return (via Santiago)||2.3|
These numbers are inprecise, of course: there’s no generally-accepted way for
calculating the carbon emissions one is responsible for when taking an airplane.
What kind of airplane do you base the model on? What percentage occupancy do
you assume? How much cargo do you model? What do you use for the CO2 equivalent
of other greenhouse gases emitted? And, most crucially, what multiplier do you
use for the extra harm caused by emissions at 35,000 feet?
In any case, the cost to offset 9.7 tonnes of CO2 emissions, according to the
calculator, is £72.75, which is $137.75 at today’s exchange rate.
A significant sum, but certainly an affordable one, so I’m happy to offset my
flight-related emissions for the year with one donation.
But the weird thing, to me, is that all of the websites I can find about carbon
offsets seem to be based in the UK or Canada.
People there – at least the environmentally-responsible ones – are
very likely to know about offsetting their emissions. In the US, however, when
I bring up the subject, I’m generally greeted with blank stares. Some high-profile
Americans offset, of course: this
article cites Al Gore and Dave Matthews. But the concept is still not generally
known about in this country.
What I would love to see would be the ability for flyers to offset their carbon
emissions when they buy their plane tickets, rather than having to proactively
go to some other website entirely. It shouldn’t be too hard for a progressive
airline like Virgin or JetBlue to add a little button on their ticket-sales
page, saying "offset your carbon emissions from this flight for an extra
$22" or whatever – many more people would do that, I’m sure, than
currently go to places like Climage Care. Of course, all donations would be
At the very least, if the airlines won’t do it, might not one of the big travel
booking sites give it a go? I’d probably switch from Orbitz to Travelocity,
say, if it had those kind of environmental credentials.