Carbon Offsets: More Hype Than Help

From NMT Images

Travel honchos in the travel and tourism industry are running a bit scared.

With all the hand-wringing about climate change/global warming, the execs wondered if they are about to become the next Exxon Valdez of travel, villains in the making: major contributors to global pollution.

Will the government, they worried, come out with a slogan: “Save the Planet. Travel Less?“

Actually air travel pumps far less carbon dioxide into the world’s atmosphere than automobiles. But carbons emitted at higher altitudes do significantly more damage to the atmosphere.

So no wonder the industry is embracing the many carbon offset programs springing up on the web.

These programs offer travelers a chance to travel carbon-neutrally (Guilt Free?) by buying back the carbon their trip generates.

For example, my recent trip from Boston to San Francisco covered 5,426 miles. At (a 501C3, private-not-for-profit organization ), I calculated I’m responsible for .98 tons of CO2, so they sell me my offset for $ 11.33  bucks…which they say they‘ll use to plant trees, generate wind power or fund some other kind of green cause.

There have been some unsavory companies that don’t use the offset money as they’re supposed to. Be sure the company is a not-for-profit, and ask who audits their books.

With all respect to the Queen of England who purchased carbon offsets on her last her trip here, we’re not sure the program works.

Yes, it’s a “feel good” program. But it‘ll take 50 years for 50 Douglass fir trees to reach efficiency.

A spokesperson, points to an impressively long list of partners, including Virgin American.

But wwe think the real solution is to fly more fuel-efficient planes, use less congested airports, improve air traffic efficiency…and stop buying big cars, big houses and big burgers.

Carbon-offset programs are helpful, but they’re not “get out of jail free” cards.

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  • Yes, Sam, I do too, but I wish I felt better about their effectiveness.

    I suspect whn we've been thoroughly  wrung out by the housing disaster, job market decline and related "assaults" on our vaunted standard of living, we may see long term changes to our values and systems.

    Thanks, though for writing in


  • Kaleel, your point that what we really need is more fuel-efficient planes, and fewer big houses and cars, is correct. From what knowledge I've gleaned from various reports, your premise that carbon offsets are not as effective as we'd like them to be is also true.

    The sad thing, I think, is that America may never get over its addiction to big houses and cars because the country appears to be wedded to the suburban ideal. For now, I continue to buy carbon offsets, flawed as they are, because doing so is better than doing nothing. 

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