In my last blog post I talked about easy-peasy ways to make your travels more sustainable. They were easy-peasy enough, as long as you knew what I was talking about. Looking back at my post, I realized I hadn’t given nearly enough information about Number Four: Carbon Offsets. This blog post aims to remedy that! So strap yourself in for a primer on what carbon offsets are, and why you could—and should!—purchase them to offset your travels.
What is a carbon offset?
Carbon offsets offset our emissions, and lower our carbon footprint. But before I discuss carbon offsets more in depth, I’ll expand on emissions and carbon footprints. You probably hear emissions talked about in every aspect of life: cars give off emissions, coal (a main source of electricity in my home state of Kentucky) gives of emissions, cows give off emissions. These emissions are greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. So the more emissions released, the worse for the environment.
Our carbon footprints measure how much carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) is given off in our daily lives. Every time we use electricity or drive--or even eat—we are contributing to our carbon footprint. A large carbon footprint—like more emissions—is a bad thing. Travel, if done mindlessly, can contribute to increasing your carbon footprint and emissions. In fact, airplane travel contributes to 5% of global climate pollution. Only about 6% of the world’s population flies in a year, so imagine if 50% or even just 25% of the population flew—it would be a climate catastrophe!
In order to reduce our carbon footprints and emissions we can do two things: rethink the way we travel or purchase carbon offsets to offset the greenhouse gases we emit when we travel. So now we know why we need carbon offsets, but that doesn’t answer the question, “What is a carbon offset?”
A carbon offset is purchased from a company who then spends the money on projects dedicated to reducing and eliminating emissions. There are several companies who work with businesses and individuals to offset their carbon emissions. Purchasing carbon offsets is as easy as going online to TerraPass or a similar company and buying them online. If you want to offset a specific trip, you can use the calculator to see how much carbon was released when you traveled.
For example a roundtrip flight with each leg being 2-4 hours long would cost about $17 to offset.
So now we know the who, what, why and how of carbon offsets. But where is your money going? What sorts of projects do these companies support? The projects can range from supporting sustainable forest management, to wind power projects, to helping landfills and farms capture and/or reduce their emissions. (Yes, farms can contribute a lot of greenhouse gases. It’s estimated 18-51% of greenhouse gases originate from livestock.) Not only is your money going to offset your carbon emissions, it’s also helping pave the way for future renewable energy. It’s a win-win!
If you’re someone who is really concerned about your carbon footprint, you may wonder why you should even bother with the carbon offsets--why not just stop traveling? I’ve written several blog posts about the benefits of travel, but I feel I’ve never thoroughly articulated why travel is so important to me.
Travel is a tangible experience that changes us in intangible ways.
The reason I became a travel agent was because I believed that travel could save the world! I look back on that statement as naïve and arrogant (but well-meaning).
When I went on the Fathom cruise, I had the mindset that I was going to help the poor (literally and figuratively) Dominicans by working in their co-ops and reforesting. I was going to, with the help of other people, “save” the Dominican Republic. But the Dominican people don’t need tourists to come in and save them. They need to be allowed the freedom to come up with their own solutions, and only then should outsiders offer their support. I only experienced this change in philosophy by visiting the Dominican Republic and interacting with them as fellow humans instead of poor, helpless people in need of saving.
I continually change because of my travels, and it’s examples like this that truly make me believe that even if travel can’t save the world, it can definitely change it. So why not stop traveling in the name of reducing your carbon footprint? Travel is too necessary to knowing ourselves and connecting with others to just be pushed aside in the name of sustainability.
With your newfound knowledge of carbon offsets and travel you can get out there and go! (But don’t forget to offset your carbon emissions!)