I have a confession that I’ve been holding out on sharing, and it’s left me feeling both shame and annoyance with myself for taking the easiest, not greenest, option. Earlier this year, in my excitement and haste, I booked a much anticipated round the world trip through a series of chartered flights. As many of us do when purchasing something of substantial cost, I was looking for the cheap and quick option to navigating the world. What I did not consider, however, was its impact on the planet. Text book mistake for an aspiring greenling!
Though naturally it would be a long and arduous task attempting to travel across the world avoiding flights altogether, with a little more insight and forward planning I could have done much less than the 13 I’ve now booked!
London to Delhi, Udaipur to Goa, Thrivandrum to Columbo, Columbo to Kathmandu, Kathmandu to Singapore, Singapore to Bangkok…the list goes on. My flights have become a dirty secret that I keep hidden under my pillow, too afraid to reveal in fear of losing my green badge of sustainability honour. My trip is everything I could ever dream of, but nightmares of my carbon footprint loom.
The uncomfortable fact is that aviation travel has been rapidly increasing over the last decade, along with the growing knowledge that it’s having a massively negative impact on our planet.
Across the world approximately 8.3 million people fly every single day; with their journeys contributing to around 2% of all global CO2 emissions. The UK alone is estimated to contribute around 13%–15% of total greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are adding not only to the acceleration of global warming, but also ocean acidification, which drastically alters the biodiversity of our planet.
It’s ironic to think that we fly to see the world, but by doing so we are actively, if not consciously, killing it.
But the evils of aviation aren’t just about the cocktail of fumes and cloudy plumes of smoke it chokes out daily; which leave its mark across our delicate skies and pollute the air we breathe. The sheer energy and waste created at the airport itself is immense. From the restaurant cookers and toilet lighting, to the security machines and runway vehicles; every airport (apart from maybe Bergerac in France is which is literally a barn) burns energy to host the millions of people who use it 24 hours a day.
Even thinking of aviation’s impact on the environment has me hanging my head down in shame and asking myself if it’s too late to get a refund and go camping in my garden instead! But my mistake has been made, and I have vowed to make sure every step I take for the rest of my travels is conscious, respectful and green.
So are my flights a completely lost cause? Maybe not, because I could Carbon Offset them.
Carbon offsetting is a scheme which allows individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world, in order to balance out their own carbon footprints. Sounds a little like paying your friend to do your recycling for you, but many see some merit in the scheme.
By purchasing carbon credits to offset your emissions, you can financially contribute to renewable energy, forest protection and reforestation projects around the world who would not otherwise be financially viable. These projects play an important role in the mitigation of climate change, and you in turn can feel less guilty for your unsustainable actions. You can literally buy back your soul.
So will Carbon offsetting help stop/slow down Climate change? Sadly not.
Offsetting is like buying off mother Earth for a pre-made mistake, and only attempts to equal out damage rather than reducing existing issues. Whilst it is good practice for businesses and individuals who cannot avoid their emissions – but claim to care about the planet – it is by no means better than avoiding producing carbon emissions in the first place!
There are heaps of Carbon Calculators out there, which help you work out your emissions, but I used this one to look at how much it would cost for my round the world trip. If I was to offset my 13 flights, I would roughly pay an additional £90.28. This really doesn’t seen that much, and makes me wonder how much impact that would have in helping more environmentally friendly projects.
I’m also a little confused as to its effectiveness. As offsetting is optional, I’m not sure I understand what the incentive is for individuals to do so if it’s not law; especially when many people shop around to save as little as £10 on flights!
One of my green idols, George Monbiot, famously compared carbon offsets with the ancient Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences: where absolution from sins and reduced time in purgatory could be gained in return for financial donations to the church. Monbiot claimed. “Our guilty consciences appeased, we continue to fill up our SUVs and fly round the world without the least concern about our impact on the planet … it’s like pushing the food around on your plate to create the impression that you have eaten it.”
In a similar, yet more humorous way, this point is made by the spoof website CheatNeutral.com, which parodies carbon neutrality by offering a similar service for infidelity: “When you cheat on your partner you add to the heartbreak, pain and jealousy in the atmosphere. CheatNeutral offsets your cheating by funding someone else to be faithful and not cheat. This neutralises the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience.”
These tongue in cheek, but ultimately accurate, observations ring true to me. Personally I would rather suck it up and carry the weight of my environmental faux pas in my luggage across the world; rather than pay less than £100 to clear my conscious, and memory, of what I’ll be doing to our O Zone. I believe we learn by our mistakes, especially when we have no one to forgive or forget them!