Ethical Air Travel?

I travel a fair bit for work. Less than I used to, thankfully, but certainly enough to have me concerned about my carbon footprint. 

I’ve been giving some thought lately about how to mitigate the damage that these flights are doing to the environment. Behold the results of my (preliminary, and hopefully evolving) research! 

Any offsets that you purchase should follow five principles. They should be: 

  • real
  • verifiable
  • enforceable
  • permanent
  • additional

Additionality is basically the concept that the project would not have happened without the offset. 

I think it’s also important to keep in mind some pros and cons in this space. High-quality offsets support carbon-fighting projects, but opponents also argue that these are a license to pollute. 

I don’t really think that that last piece applies to me, but I was interested in seeing what the cost of the offset was, and whether it would actually hurt ($5 vs. $500). 

I was quite taken with the idea of planting trees to offset my carbon emissions, but there are some downsides to that because some of the five principles are difficult to enforce and verify with tree planting (i.e. permanence). I came to the conclusion that re-forestation may need to be one of my charitable categories (more on that later). 

I learned that carbon offsets can be created through: renewable energy such as wind farms, solar installations, small hydro, geothermal and biomass energy; energy efficient projects, methane capture from landfill or livestock, destruction of potent greenhouse gases, and carbon-sequestration projects (reforestation or agriculture) that can absorb carbon dioxide.

I did some quick searching (while getting ready for my upcoming trip) and learned that AirCanada (who I fly with, although I think that’s going to change a bit next year, since I’m not in control of my flight bookings as much) has an offset program that seem to meet these criteria. 

Using the tool on the website, I calculated my CO2 emissions for my upcoming (long-haul) trips: 6.24 tonnes. 

YIKES. Also. The cost to offset that was $226 (including tax). 

So that’s definitely enough that I feel it, but not so prohibitive that I won’t do it. Add a zero to that number and that’d be a pill too big to swallow. Maybe it’s a tax-deductible business expense? 

Tell me: what carbon offset programs do you use when you travel? What other criteria should I be looking at? 


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