Carbon Offsetting, Is it Helpful or Harmful? - Leaf'd

Carbon Offsetting, Is it Helpful or Harmful?

by Sofia Russi
thermal power plant against a blue sky PRS5JTR Earlier this week I used an online carbon footprint calculator to see my personal effects on the carbon emissions. The results? It told me it would take more than TWO planets to sustain us all if the entire population adopted my same habits. I thought about the times I lectured my friends, digging into their trash cans to show them how much waste they collected. But all of a sudden I realized, I was an environmental monster too! Take for example, traveling. Flying regularly and extensively is a treat, as well as a necessity at times. Naively enough, I thought I could make up for my love of travel through a series of good actions: I haven’t consumed meat for many years, I try to buy local and organic only, I don’t drive, use public transportation, and I’m currently on a 12-month detox from fast fashion. Since I moved to from Italy to Los Angeles, flying means being able to see my friends and family, at a cost of 1.5 metric tonnes of CO2 each way that I fly. Knowing that I can’t stop flying entirely, I wanted to see if I could somehow improve my carbon footprint in other ways. I was sure I could give up a comfort or two. According to footprintcalculator.org, my options included going vegan, and/or sharing a highly efficient 50 square ft. house with more than 10 people, while still flying 50 hours a year – the equivalent of two round-trips between Europe and the US. However unlikely, I agreed to do so and to my surprise, the answer remained the same – one planet was still not enough! Airline emissions account for around 12% of all transportation-related emissions in the US, and the industry is subject to very few regulations compared to other sectors. Carbon offsets are currently the most viable option we have to mitigate pollution caused by aviation, both for individuals and companies. But carbon offsetting comes with a great deal of controversy. Could this be an option for me?

What are carbon offsets, and how do I buy them?

Carbon offset schemes allow individuals and companies to make up for their carbon footprint by financing programs that reduce emissions elsewhere. In other words, after calculating the quantity of CO2 that enters the atmosphere following your flight, you can pay someone else to avoid that from being released at a later stage. Most offsetting programs are based in developing countries, and they are based on the fact that air pollution knows no geographical boundaries. Buying carbon offsets is as easy as booking your flights, and you can do it before or after your trip. Carbonfootprint.com lets you calculate the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere, and then you can pick a program that you would like to support. In other words, you can trade favors with a company that is eco-friendly. The general rule is: carbon offsetting does not in any way reduce your emissions. In some cases, offsets can be purchased directly through airline companies before you complete your checkout. Offsetting a round-trip to Europe would cost me something between $50 and $100, and although it makes travelling more pricey, it’s something that I’m willing to pay for, since flying across continents with low cost airlines has never been this cheap. Carbon offsets companies such as TerraPass say I can invest my money in programs such as FarmPower, a collaboration with farmers across the United States aimed at making the best of animal waste and other carbon-reducing operations. Others, such as CoTap, go as far as promising that by purchasing offsets, I can help alleviate poverty in third world countries through community projects and other sustainable initiatives.

To offset, or not to offset?

The downside is that some argue that carbon offsets simply allow wealthy people in first world countries to get away with bad actions. To be honest, I also felt like I was being sold the opportunity of flying with a clean conscience by buying a “free pass.” The problem is, it doesn’t cancel pollution. What’s more, some organizations found that offsetting programs in poor countries can cause more harm than good, in the long run. With little ability to check whether carbon offset companies  do what they say, it’s hard to tell whether investing money in these projects is a good remedy to my frequent flying. I feel that simply by learning how to live sustainably, and making choices that have less harmful impact on the planet, makes the most sense in the short and long run. Fly, drive, use less and recycle more, and that’s the best way to honor the planet. I like to think of myself as an eco-conscious consumer, and consistency is the key. Your children and future generations depend on it!
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