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I offset the carbon emissions from my fam trip – was it enough?

My roundtrip from London to Madrid emitted 241.8kg of CO2 which is around 0.27 tonnes. This is the equivalent of charging my phone 29,000 times or burning 267 pounds of fuel.

Given that our individual personal carbon budget per year, in line with the Paris Agreement is three tonnes, I would appear to have plenty of non-guilt flights left to take this year. But considering I run a car, buy clothes, eat cheese and heat my home with a gas boiler, I’m most likely way over budget already and it’s only September.

Although travelling is part of the job (my job description actually said: “If you’re the person who can jump on a plane and fly to a far-flung destination, apply now”), I must think about how my actions affect others. Specifically, those who have never stepped foot on an aircraft, but will ultimately be the ones who pay the highest price for my polluting behaviour.

So where does that leave us? Honestly, I love travelling, exploring, meeting people and getting lost in cultures that don’t involve going to the pub on a Friday night. But there are ways I can stem my carbon-emitting actions.

Reducing travel, finding alternatives and offsetting

Reducing. Frankly, we shouldn’t travel unless it’s by foot, bicycle, horse and cart or husky sledge – the most environmentally sustainable methods of transport. But let’s face it, nobody can justify the time out of the office to take a horse and cart to Madrid – we also don’t live in the 18th century.

Finding alternatives. While flying is the most time-efficient method of transport it’s also, by far, the most environmentally damaging. Aircraft burn a huge amount of fuel and because it happens high up in the troposphere, it’s around seven times more damaging to our environment than emitting carbon emissions on the ground.

Less polluting methods of transport and still efficient would be car, train, bus or ferry. These methods also have the benefit of allowing you to see more of the places you’re travelling through.

And then we come to offsetting. While offsetting has negative connotations similar to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, it’s better than nothing and can have some real benefits – if you research it properly.

But planting trees isn’t going to cut it, “because we’ve seen how forests planted for offset schemes can go up in flames in our warming world,” explains Andrew Simms, co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance. While trees are excellent at carbon capture (quick, someone tell Jair Bolsonaro), there simply isn’t enough room to plant the number of trees needed to store the CO2 we are emitting at this rate, nor the acceptable rate in line with the Paris Agreement.

As John Vidal, The Guardian’s environmental editor puts it, “offsetting means calculating emissions and then purchasing equivalent credits from projects that prevent or remove the emissions of an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases elsewhere. One tonne of carbon is usually the equivalent of one credit…”

My flight was with BA, an airline that as of 1 January 2021 made all UK flights carbon neutral. But as I was heading outside of the UK, my offset was going to cost me around £1.40 according to the Pure Leapfrog Carbon Calculator.

It then offered me the chance to find out more about the offset projects it works with. Among them was Cardamon in Cambodia which protects the Cardamom Mountains in southwest Cambodia. There was also projects to protect Cordillera Azul in Peru’s Andes ranges and the Darfur Cook Stoves project in Sudan providing low smoke cookstoves to communities, replacing wood and charcoal burning inside the home.

Of course, I signed up, handed over my money and I received a certificate. But I didn’t feel as though I could pat myself on the back just yet.

Knowing that £1.80 doesn’t even buy you a single espresso, I’m sceptical of the impact my nominal contribution would have on these projects.

I was still writhing in guilt, so I chose another charity – Possible.

Possible is a charity that enables people to take practical action on climate change and combines these local actions to inspire a more ambitious approach to the issues at every level of society.

Alongside environmental projects, Possible is also committed to helping people. When it comes to the aviation industry, Possible campaigns for people not profit and holding airline bosses accountable for paying at least the Real Living Wage, pressuring airlines to commit to reducing emissions and paying fair taxes.

My offset decisions don’t vacuum the CO2 of my flight out of the sky, and won’t directly prevent it from causing environmental damage. However, I’ve made the choice not to ignore these facts – and it’s a start.

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