Saturday, March 15, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Airplanes and Offsets

The Fifth Saturday in Lent
Flying, or taking a long driving trip? Consider a carbon offset to balance the carbon impact

Despite all my carbon savings from not owning a car, I do fly a lot. I’ll even be flying on Easter Day, which is an unhappily ironic way to observe the end of the Carbon Fast for Lent.

At the very least I want to purchase a carbon offset to counteract the negative effects of my flights (even though the jury is out on whether this truly helps or just makes one feel better). I did some quick research and narrowed it down to two vendors. TerraPass is larger and better known, a for-profit that partners with Expedia and also powers Care 2’s Race to Stop Global Warming click-to-give page. positions itself as a nonprofit alternative to TerraPass and allows consumers to choose from three types of offsets: reforestation, renewable energy development, or energy reduction projects. (TerraPass’s projects include clean energy, farm power a.k.a. repurposing methane from animal waste, and landfill gas capture, in a predetermined ratio).

For my upcoming trip, calculated my 1,630-mile round-trip flight trip as producing .29 tons (580 lbs.) of CO2 with an offset cost of $1.61. But if I check a box marked “include radiative forcing” — the contrails one sees leaving traces from planes and other high-altitude effects — my impact increases to .79 tons (1,580 lbs.) of CO2 and an offset cost of $4.36. gave me the option of buying an offset in that amount, or choosing a pre-set “Plane Climate Tag,” beginning at 6,000 miles/ 2500 lbs. C02 for $6.25. At check-out they offered a choice of allocations: reforestation, renewable energy, or energy efficiency.

TerraPass’s calculator returned 1,618 miles and 729 lbs. of CO2 for the same trip. They recommended a 2,000-lb. offset intended to balance 6,000 miles for $9.90, which is their lowest-priced option.

I have a few more days to decide, but I’m leaning toward I like being able to choose which type of offset to fund, they seem to be taking more environmental factors into consideration, they charge less, and it’s a nonprofit. Any thoughts? Chime in!

Today’s mitzvah: Consider a carbon offset for the next flight or long car trip. (TerraPass and even offer wedding offsets!)

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