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

carbon offset

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For people trying to reduce their carbon footprint in the world, flying is a puzzle.


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

Commercial airliners and large business jets account for about 10% of US transportation emissions, accounting for 3% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas output, according to the latest Agency figures. of Environmental Protection.

Therefore, climate-conscious travelers may be tempted to purchase an add-on to their ticket that claims to reduce the environmental impact of their flights. Several major US airlines offer to allow passengers to purchase these compensations through their websites. And many other businesses and non-profit organizations also sell Coal compensations

What is the aspiring eco-traveler to do? Well it’s complicated…

How bad is flying for climate change?

Flying requires a lot of energy, which means releasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Creating the thrust needed to push a 300,000-pound plane 35,000 feet above Earth, keep it there for a couple of 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 flight you’re putting into the atmosphere, use this carbon calculator from the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (be sure to change it from kilograms to pounds). It is estimated that a flight from Los Angeles to New York uses 623 pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger.

While estimates vary, on average Americans individually emit between 16 and 20 tons of COtwo every year. For people who fly a lot, air travel can be an important part of their carbon footprint.

What are carbon offsets and how do they help?

In theory, a carbon offset allows a person to fund an action that would offset a certain amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. You can pay to offset your flights, your home energy use, your commute, anything that causes you to burn fossil fuels and produce greenhouse gases.

Offsets are typically credits purchased on a project designed to reduce COtwo emissions somewhere in the world. That could be planting a forest or protecting a wetland or investing in a low carbon cement production system.

There are several companies and non-profit organizations that sell carbon offsets. These typically cost $10-$20 per ton of COtwo.

Do carbon offsets really work?

It depends on the displacement. And who do you ask?

“It’s like with mechanics, there are good, reliable mechanics and some not-so-reliable ones,” said Peter Miller, a clean energy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council who has blogged about carbon offsets. “But many of them have a real and beneficial impact.”

Still, the reparations are not a “get out of jail free” card. The plane is emitting carbon, says Daniele Rao, an aviation decarbonization expert at the nonprofit Carbon Market Watch. He’s usually skeptical of trade-offs, but he’s willing to say they’re “probably” better than nothing.

“It’s okay 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 I know which compensation programs are good?

None of the environmentalists interviewed by US TODAY were willing to give a list of offset programs they supported, 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 the projects actually happened. .

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 are offered the option of paying a few dollars more to offset the COtwo the pollution your flight will create.

In general, these don’t offer consumers a lot of transparency about what they’re doing, said Rao, who isn’t convinced they’re very useful, but acknowledges that “sometimes it’s the only thing the customer can do.”

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

“We are investing in cutting-edge companies creating technology that will decarbonise our aircraft. Those investments include electric planes and air taxis, hydrogen engines and more sustainable aviation fuel,” United said in a statement to US TODAY.

Each airline has its own practices for carbon offsets and not all airlines offer them. US TODAY contacted the four largest airlines in the US (American, Delta, United and Southwest) about their policies.

Statements from various airlines indicate that carbon offsets they are just one part of your attempts to reduce your carbon footprint.

Does anyone review carbon offset programs?

Several organizations are working to conduct thorough investigations of these programs, but so far no one has published a fully vetted 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 do climate activists do?

Climate investor and author Ramez Naam has boiled down his flying advice to this: “Fly less. If you must fly, buy trade-offs. 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 usually nori.comThey are very transparent.”

What else can I do to help the planet when I fly?

First, if you only fly a few times a year, don’t feel too guilty.

“The people who come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, who fly maybe twice a year, are not really the problem. It’s those people who fly almost every week or use private planes,” Rao said. .

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

  • Nonstop is best, because it is the most fuel efficient.
  • Take a train, bus or car for trips of 600 miles or less, especially if there are multiple people.
  • Do not fly business class or first class. The amount of energy required to fly an airplane is divided among the people flying it. 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 seating arrangements mean fewer pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger.

Is flying going to be better for the planet?

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

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

(c)2022 USA Today
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Citation: You can choose to pay extra on your next flight to help the planet. But is it a waste of money? (2022, November 18) Accessed November 18, 2022 at https://phys.org/news/2022-11-opt-pay-extra-flight-planet.html

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