Fly Green With Carbon Offsets for Air Travel

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Spring break is finally here and many are headed to BWI to hop a jet and get out of Dodge.  Unfortunately, air travel generates the highest greenhouse gas emissions per passenger as compared to cars, trains and ships. The good news is that individuals and businesses can choose super-cheap air travel carbon offsets that zero-out the pollution generated from an airline trip.     

A carbon offset is when you pay for greenhouse gas reductions elsewhere that equal the amount of greenhouse gases you’re generating.  People and businesses can buy offsets through credible, do-gooder, non-profits; Terrapass, Carbon Fund and Renewable Choice are the consumer biggies. The offset cash is invested in 2 types of emission-reducing projects: projects that eliminate greenhouse gases (planting trees or capturing landfill methane,) or projects that develop solar, wind and geothermal energy. 

Carbon offsets are one piece of a two piece puzzle. The first step is to take actions to reduce your carbon footprint to a minimum. Fuel-efficient cars, airtight homes, buying ENERGY STAR appliances, and choosing green electricity suppliers are the bang-for-your-buck changes. Then, offset, or cancel-out, the unavoidable emissions your activities emit from driving, flying and powering your home.

Most offset companies opened their doors years ago, offer easy-to-use web sites and even offer frequent flier packages.Buying carbon offsets is inexpensive. Compare the prices below to offset one roundtrip* flight between Baltimore and Orlando.

                   Offset org.                      Price*

                    Terrapass                             $5.95

                    Carbon Fund                       $3.77

                    Renewable Choice              $5.35

In the early days of carbon offsets, critics hammered the non-profits for poorly verifying the offset programs, choosing programs that were not “additional” (would have happened without offset funds,) and inconsistent reporting. That’s all changed. The groups mentioned above submit to third-party verification and  work hard for transparency. Governments, corporations and individuals world-wide contributed $379 million in voluntary offsets in 2013 eliminating 76 million tons of CO₂. The cost to offset each ton was only $5.90. 

Each year, Maryland households generate ~ 50,000 pounds greenhouse gas emissions.  Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane are the biggies) are the gas by-products of burning fossil fuels in our cars (52 percent), heating our homes (24 percent), using electricity (21 percent) and dumping our trash (4 percent.) Carbon offsets for travel seem a smart action to take as our planet marches toward the “we’re cooked” level of 450 parts per million CO₂. We’ve hit 400 ppm this year. Read our recent post: Climate Change: Why the Numbers 450 and 7 Matter. 106 degree summer days sound awful.

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every other Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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