You can choose to pay extra on your next flight to help the planet.  But is it a waste of money?

You can choose to pay extra on your next flight to help the planet. But is it a waste of money?

carbon offset

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 public domain

For people trying to reduce their carbon footprint in the world, flying is an enigma.

It’s wonderful to visit family and see new places, but air travel also contributes to carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

Commercial jets and large business jets account for about 10% of transportation emissions in the United States, or 3% of the country’s total greenhouse gas output, according to the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Thus, climate-conscious travelers may be tempted to purchase a supplement to their ticket that claims to reduce the environmental impact of their flights. Several major US airlines offer passengers to purchase these offsets through their websites. And several other companies and nonprofits also sell carbon offsets.

What should the budding green traveler do? Well, it’s complicated…

How bad is flying for climate change?

Flying uses a lot of energy, which means releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Creating the thrust needed to push a 300,000-pound plane 35,000 feet above Earth, hold it there for a few hours, and then bring it down safely takes a lot of jet fuel. And jet fuel is basically kerosene.

If you want to know how much greenhouse gas your flight is emitting into the atmosphere, use this carbon calculator from the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (be sure to change it from kilograms to pounds). He estimates that a flight from Los Angeles to New York uses 623 pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger.

Although estimates vary, on average Americans individually emit between 16 and 20 tons of CO2 every year. For people who travel a lot, air travel can represent a significant portion of their carbon footprint.

What are carbon offsets and what are they used for?

A carbon offset theoretically allows a person to finance an action that would offset a certain amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. You can pay to offset your flights, your home energy use, your daily commute, anything you do that burns fossil fuels and produces greenhouse gases.

Typically, offsets are credits purchased as part of a project designed to reduce CO emissions2 emissions somewhere in the world. It could be planting a forest or protecting a wetland or investing in a low-carbon cement production system.

There are many companies and non-profit organizations that sell carbon offsets. These typically cost between $10 and $20 per tonne of CO2.

Do carbon offsets really work?

It depends on the lag. And who you ask.

“It’s like with mechanics, there are good reliable mechanics and there are less reliable ones,” said Peter Miller, a clean energy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council who has blogged about carbon offsets. . “But many of them have a real and beneficial impact.”

Yet offsets are not a “get out of jail for free” card. Carbon is emitted by the plane, notes Daniele Rao, expert on the decarbonization of aviation at the association Carbon Market Watch. He’s generally skeptical of offsets, but is willing to say they’re “probably” better than nothing.

“It’s good to buy offsets. But you have to know that you’re not reducing your emissions, you’re still having an impact,” he said.

How do you know which compensation programs are good?

None of the environmentalists interviewed by US TODAY were willing to give a list of offset programs they endorsed because they hadn’t done all the research to thoroughly examine them.

In general, Miller said, you want to look for programs that have been around for a few years, are transparent about what they do, provide detailed information about the projects they fund, and work with an independent third party to verify that projects have really took place. .

What about airline carbon offset programs?

Several airlines have their own carbon offset programs, including Delta, Southwest and American. Sometimes when purchasing a ticket, customers have the option of paying a few extra dollars to offset the CO2 pollution that their flight will create.

These generally don’t offer much transparency to consumers about what they’re doing, said Rao, who isn’t convinced they’re very useful but acknowledges that “sometimes that’s the only thing the customer can do”.

Some airlines, like United, don’t offer offsets at all, but instead invest the money in what’s called SAFs, or sustainable aviation fuels. These are considered the gold standard for what will one day make aviation carbon neutral. However, they are still in the early and very expensive development stage.

“We are investing in cutting-edge companies that are creating technologies that will decarbonize our planes. These investments include electric planes and air taxis, hydrogen engines, as well as more sustainable aviation fuel,” United said in a statement. at US TODAY.

Each carrier has its own carbon offsetting practices, and not all airlines offer them. US TODAY contacted the four largest airlines in the United States – American, Delta, United and Southwest – about their policies.

Statements from several airlines indicate that carbon offsets are only part of their attempts to reduce their carbon footprint.

Does anyone verify carbon offset programs?

Several organizations are working to thoroughly investigate these programs, but so far, no one has released an in-depth list. “I haven’t seen anything really successful yet. Watch this space, maybe in the next six months some of them will really emerge and be seen as credible,” Miller said.

So what are climate activists doing?

Climate investor and author Ramez Naam summed up his flying advice this way: “Fly less. If you have to fly, buy offsets. They’re not perfect, but something is better than nothing. But try to fly less. .”

He was also the only person US TODAY spoke to who would name a compensation program he likes. “I use, they are very transparent.”

What else can I do to help the planet when I’m flying?

First of all, if you only fly a few times a year, don’t beat yourself up too much.

“People flying home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, flying maybe twice a year, aren’t really the problem. It’s those people who fly almost weekly or use private jets,” Rao said.

If you want to minimize the carbon produced by your flights, here are some tips:

  • Non-stop mode is the best, as it is the most fuel efficient.
  • Take a train, bus, or car for trips of 600 miles or less, especially if multiple people are leaving.
  • Do not fly business class or first class. The amount of energy needed to fly an airplane is distributed among the people flying. The coach is the most energy efficient.
  • Use a program like Google Flights to see the actual carbon footprint of a given flight, so you can compare. Newer planes and denser seats mean fewer pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger.

Will flying become better for the planet?

Better solutions should become available in the next few years, said Sola Zheng, an aviation researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation.

The availability of sustainable aviation fuels is slowly increasing, and eventually passengers will be able to pay extra to use more of them. This will help develop the market for them so they can be produced cheaply.

(c) 2022 USA Today
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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