Carbon credits — my opinion

airliner.jpgIf you bought an airline ticket lately, you were probably offered a chance to buy “carbon credits” or “carbon offsets.” The credits are sold to balance out the carbon dioxide emitted by all that fuel the airline will burn to take you where you want to go.

To buy or not to buy?

That would be an easy question if in fact your fee meant the CO2 emissions from your airliner would actually be scooped up somehow and deleted from the atmosphere. But it doesn’t really work that way. The carbon cycle is a complex, global system. If you plant a tree in Kentucky, it’s not really soaking up the CO2 from your flight across the Pacific. On the other hand, it doesn’t do any harm, and adding more trees to the world is definitely a step in the right direction.

If you want to buy carbon offsets for your travels, check first to be sure where the money is going. If it goes directly to tree planting or alternative energy projects, that makes sense. Those projects will either absorb CO2 or prevent more from being pumped into the atmosphere.

If you have a choice and can take a train instead to get to your destination, that’s a more fuel-efficient way to go. And slowness has its pleasures… why not walk, or bike, or sail, or ride a horse for some of your travels?

But you shouldn’t feel too guilty about flying. An airliner is a form of mass transit, after all. It’s going to Prague whether you’re on board or not. The newer models are getting to be more and more fuel-efficient. And there’s so much good comes from mobility. We do plenty of worse, more pointless, damage to the planet. Flying less would be way down my list of worthwhile green steps you can take… that list, by the way, starts with living in less space, buying less stuff, and eating less meat.

If you fly in a private jet with your own two-pilot crew and a wet bar, though, that’s a different story. Then you’d better start planting trees right now and don’t stop, to make up for that.