Decide To Offset Flights With Solar Lamps in Africa
This is the big one. Listen up. For many of my friends, air travel is the largest part of their annual carbon footprint. My decision today is to offset my flights. Reducing the total number of flights, flying direct, and flying in economy are also great ways to reduce flight-related CO2 emissions, but today I’m focused on the easy short-term band-aid to the problem that is emissions. I admit it’s not a long-term solution, but it sure beats doing nothing, and this blog is all about doing something!
My children are fascinated by planes and look forward to seeing their grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins every time we travel. I can feel the excitement radiating from their little bodies as they look out of the airport window at planes taxiing on the runway. I am pretty straightforward with my children when it comes to talking about climate change, but this is one area I have yet to tackle, mostly because I don’t want to ruin the trip for them or me. Okay, mostly me.
We’ve looked into cutting down on air travel by being more efficient with the flights we do make. For example, I take work trips on the back of family trips and vice versa. Our family holidays this year will either be spent in the U.K. or somewhere near our extended families’ homes. Assuming we didn’t do either of these things, our annual carbon footprint as a family of four would be an additional 6 metric tonnes of CO2. That’s a pretty big amount of CO2 abated considering the US EPA estimates that the average car produces 4.6 metric tonnes of CO2 every year.
But how about travel where we are not willing to compromise? The Christmas flights and weddings and required work travel? For the past couple of years, I have donated money to a charity that plants trees at a price of $1 per tree. I assumed that each tree will absorb roughly 1 metric tonne of CO2 over the course of a 40 year lifetime. Following the recent IPCC Special Report on the 1.5 degrees celsius scenario, I wanted to do something that would have a bigger impact reducing my emissions now.
Carbon offsets are more than just planting trees or carbon credits; there are actually a number of ways to accomplish your offsetting goals. For example, I am now offsetting my emissions through a charity that provides solar lamps in place of kerosine lamps to people in Africa. Not only would the solar lamps reduce the emissions coming from solar lamps almost immediately, the solar lamps are safer and healthier for the people using them. A win-win.
I decided to use Solar Aid, as they’re a reputable group backed by the likes of Richard Branson, and who doesn’t love a good celebrity endorsement? They take donations both in GBP and USD, making it easy to send funds in my multi-currency life.
You’ll need to start by calculating the carbon footprint of your flight. You can do this by using the carbon calculator found on Carbon Footprint. Looking at my family’s Christmas holiday flights as an example, a roundtrip flight in economy for a family of four between London and Boston comes to 3.61 tonne’s of CO2. Carbon Footprint has a list of suggested carbon offset providers on their website, but I am firmly decided on using Solar Aid this year.
I then went to the Solar Aid impact calculator to figure out how much CO2 I am able to offset based on my donation. They also calculate the other benefits associated with solar lamps, such as additional hours of child study time. If that doesn’t make you feel good, you might be the Grinch. You’ll need to play around with the site a bit by entering different donation values, but it didn’t take me more than 15 seconds of trial and error to figure out that I would need to donate roughly 15 GBP to offset my family’s Christmas flights.
Given the price of the flight and the relative amount of CO2 offset by the donation, it seemed like a bargain. I then calculated my the estimated work and personal travel for the upcoming year. This came to 27.06 tonnes. I am aware this is A LOT, and I am not proud of it.
Since I don’t want to feel like I am just “treading water’ with each flight and only offsetting the carbon I have emitted, I decided to double the offset amount, bringing my offsets to 54.12 tonnes of CO2 per year at a price of 205 GBP in donations to Solar Aid. Pound for pound (of CO2 to GBP), a pretty cost effective way to reduce your impact on climate change today.
Additional Resources for Curious Minds
To Fly Sustainably Changing Engines Mid-Flight Is Our Only Option (Forbes)
The Four Most Effective Ways to Decrease Your Carbon Footprint (Forbes)
Flying Is Bad For The Planet. You Can Help Make It Better (New York Times)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle (US EPA)
IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 degrees celsius
Solar Aid Impact Calculator
Carbon Footprint Calculator