What I learned in offsetting my flights

I may have been a bit dramatic when I said, “I have neither the time nor the will to comprehensively review what’s out there” two weeks ago. Yes, there’s a lot to read about carbon offsetting, and yes, it can be technical and confusing. But fortunately, there are good people in the world trying to make this process easy on all of us.

There are several excellent resources out there to help consumers navigate the world of retail carbon offsets. I recommend this one and this one for information on how to assess offset providers. I also found two resources that look at the issue from the side of the airlines: from reviewing their sustainability reports to an objective assessment of their actual efficiency.

So what did I learn after spending a couple hours trudging through the material? I learned that there are a few excellent standards for offsetting that are accepted and complied with internationally; that there is a fairly consistent set of criteria that can be used to discern a “good” offset from a “bad” one; and, that independent, 3rd parties are diligently verifying and ranking providers on their claims of impact.

All these things led me to look more closely at a handful of providers and finally decide on one: ClimateCare. I chose this one not only because it does well on all the important criteria, but also because it is one of the cheapest (this reference will tell you why cost doesn’t necessarily correlate with quality), and because it has a focus on Sub Saharan Africa and the Least Developed Countries, which is an added bonus for me.

As promised, I took action before I stepped on my next flight. I decided to pay to offset the carbon emitted by ALL the flights Graham and I took this year, and I feel pretty good about it. Success!

More importantly, though, the process made me realize that offsetting is an imperfect answer to a complicated—and urgent—problem. I need to think long and hard about all the ways I can reduce my footprint by making small and big changes in my life, and that includes addressing the thorny question I skirted in my last post: Do I really need to fly as much as I do?

This is perhaps the crux of the issue. It seems that we’ve valued freedom to the point of forgetting about responsibility. I don’t think taking responsibility means we should all stop flying or driving (as some would have us believe). I think it just means we need to be honest about our expectations for life and make commitments – over and above offsetting – that minimize the impact of those expectations.

And so, the exasperation of my previous post has given way to a more tempered understanding. Practicing freedom with responsibility is a challenge worth taking on.

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