Although travelling to other countries is one of the joys in life, it’s a privilege that also creates a negative impact on the environment through the emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). Luckily, people are more frequently looking for sustainable alternatives, such as staycations within your country of residence.
For those that do still travel by plane, many feel the need to give back to nature to neutralise the carbon emissions associated with their travels, but have doubts about the typical ‘offset my travel’ button at the end of a typical checkout process. They question whether their flight can actually be compensated for such a relatively cheap price and because they never get to see the results of their contribution. So let’s dig a bit deeper into the world of carbon offsets to address these concerns.
Let’s start with what carbon offsetting is - it’s typically defined as an avoidance or removal of emissions to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. It’s a system based on the trade of credits: projects can issue carbon credits, after going through expensive certification trajectories, which can be sold to parties seeking to offset their emissions.
The problem is that the vast majority of these credits, more than 96% according to a 2022 Bloomberg study, aren’t actually removing carbon from the atmosphere. They are based on the idea that carbon emissions are avoided elsewhere. To put that simply: you’re not cleaning up your own mess, you’re paying someone else to not make a mess as well whilst still polluting yourself. This might slow down the pace at which our climate is heating up, but it doesn’t do anything to reverse that trajectory and clean up our atmosphere. This claim is a lot more easy to make than taking carbon out of the air, and also explains the low price that people typically encounter in their airline checkout.
The other issue with the carbon credits, is that it’s pretty arbitrary when an emission is actually avoided as it speculates on future outcomes. To put that simply: if one points at a tree in a forest and says that from now on they’ll protect that tree they might issue carbon credit for that. But this simple example immediately raises questions like: Would that tree have been cut down without the protection? Can you be 100% sure the tree will not be cut or die anyway? What about the trees next to it? The recent Bloomberg study found that many of the forest conservation projects inflate their predictions and overstate their impact.
Okay, but what if you actually want to make sure the emissions associated with your travel will be taken out of the air? There are various platforms where you can contribute to actual carbon capture, preferably traceable via GPS and other forms of proof. For example, restoring forests by planting trees, creating natural carbon sinks. As the tree grows, more and more carbon will be stored in the trunk and the roots so that over time, your emissions will be absorbed into the wood of the tree.
Tree planting projects often provide estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the trees they plant (when it’s fully grown!) - the average is about 200 kg per tree. To give you an idea of what impact your travels have on the environment:
Be conscious when picking a mode of transport. Avoiding and reducing your carbon footprint is crucial to fight climate change. After planning your trip, do make sure to give back to nature and neutralise your emissions. There are various projects available on Sumting that focus on carbon capture, so have a look and find a tangible, traceable way to offset your holidays.
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