Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Scientists can also wear their citizen hats

Offsetting the Fear of Flying

with 7 comments

It was only after reading George Monbiot’s book, Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, that I first became aware of how much CO2 is emitted by air travel.  

According to Carbonfund.org, CO2 emissions in air travel vary by length of flight–ranging from .24 kg CO2 per passenger mile for short flights down to .18 kg CO2 per passenger mile for long flights. I believe these calculators assume a full plane so the carbon offset value is based on each person’s piece of the total.  Unfortunately, I had already booked a round-trip flight from New York City to Aruba and guilt immediately set in.  How could I be a climate change evangelist and then step onto that plane knowing I was greatly contributing to global warming?  And just how much CO2 were my wife and I going to be responsible for?

Fortunately, there is a solution to this dilemma known as carbon offset.

A carbon offset is a certificate representing the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 lb) of carbon dioxide emissions.  Any project that reduces carbon emissions such as wind farms, reforestation, biomass energies, and hydroelectric power, among others, can be financed by carbon offset sales.

Of course, the best solution is to not fly or to do anything that emits CO2, but that is not a practical reality.  If one must emit CO2, purchasing carbon offsets can at least make that activity carbon neutral (in theory).  There are some controversies to using carbon offsets mostly concerning large corporations, but for individuals, I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

The image below shows that for our flight we would be responsible for about 1 metric ton of CO2.

CO2 Emissions for Our Flight

CO2 Emissions for Our Flight

To calculate this value I used the Carbon Footprint Calculator at terrapass.  I can see that I will need to buy about one carbon offset to offset our emissions.  Now I can at least fly with less guilt.  (BTW, 2,284 lb of CO2 is about what our two cars emit in two months.  One round trip flight = two months of driving.  Wow!)

In my blog post titled I am Saving 21% on my Electric Bill – So Can You! I showed how I became more energy efficient and saved money when I did so.  Even a good energy-saver still emits CO2 so I decided to use a carbon offset calculator from e-Blue Horizons to figure out how much CO2 I emit from home, auto, and air.  See the image below for a look at that calculator:

Carbon Offset Calculator

Carbon Offset Calculator

To get the most accurate measure, you will need to know your annual utility usage, car mileage and MPG, and air miles flown.  If you do not know these values you can always use the default averages for typical Americans in your individual categories.  I tried the calculator with exact values and then with the averages and I ended up with lower emissions than average, primarily because I use much less electric and heating oil than the average Long Islander.

It turns out that my home, two cars, and limited air travel amount to an annual CO2 emission of 16 tons per year so I need to buy 16 carbon offsets to become carbon neutral for these categories.  There are differing prices for offsets but most range between $5 and $15 US per offset.  That means I will pay between $80 and $240 depending on which provider I choose.  That choice will depend on price and types of projects I would prefer to finance.  I chose e-Blue Horizons and retired 20 carbon offsets.  Hey, who says you have to give the minimum, right?

Carbon Offset Certificate

Carbon Offset Certificate

e-Blue Horizons also sends a nice certificate and offers its clients the option of sending somebody retired offsets as a gift.  So now you know what to give “the person who has everything”.

OK.  Your turn.  J

Written by Scott Mandia

May 29, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. As a person of limited intelligence, I fear this whole explaination of the CO2 emitted on this trip completely escapes me. Was the 2,284 lbs of CO2 just you and your wife’s contribution or the planes contribution in whole. And are you saying that if you weren’t on the plane the CO2 emitted would have been less. Or are you just taking responbility for that portion because you were on the plane. If the later wss true then the CO2 emitted would have been the same whether you went or not. I don’t feel the weight difference would have any effect on power settings on the plane (the two of you together weigh as much as most other people weigh by themselves). Of course if nobody went then the plane wouldn’t have taken off and hence no CO2’s emitted. If that happened they all might have went somewhere else with another type of vehicle that put out even more CO2 when you consider how many vehicles may have been involved. When most people go on vacation they either lower their heat or completely turn off their AC’s while not at home, depending on what time of the year it is. And during that time they are not driving their cars,which in most cases is more than one. I’m giving myself a headache just thinking about this. But with all this being said, you are to be commended for any action that you take which helps, whether you added to the problem or not. Keep up the good work.

    Tom Bove'

    May 29, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    • Tom,

      According to Carbonfund.org, CO2 emissions in air travel vary by length of flight–ranging from .24 kg CO2 per passenger mile for short flights down to .18 kg CO2 per passenger mile for long flights. I believe these calculators assume a full plane so the carbon offset value is based on each person’s piece of the total.

      More information can be found here.

      Scott Mandia

      May 29, 2010 at 9:50 pm

  2. Well, here’s my rant.

    I’ve bought going on fifty acres of wildland for habitat/restoration/preservation during my life — recently I got offered $3,000/acre to buy the ‘carbon credit’ value for some of it (making a 100-year or ‘permanent’ easement contract to keep it stocked to a specific level of timber.)

    The folks were kind of puzzled when I applauded the idea, asked them to help me document the site, but told them I considered I’d already_used_ the carbon credit for what I’d bought and left alone, approximately, by living my life.

    They got more perplexed when I asked how I could legally tie the carbon credit up permanently so nobody could get hold of the property after my time and hey presto changeo declare it available.

    I’m all in favor of this stuff happening, but one suggestion I make a lot is — ask around your neighborhood or the places you go on vacation, look for the ’empty lots’ and grown-up parcels and big areas. Get to know the old folks who may own them and have loved them for a long time.

    Offer them some money and/or help to keep the property from the developers. Not everyone needs or wants to stripmine and consume the life and the land they “own” at this point in their life. Most of them — us — have barely any idea at all how to keep it from being ruined.

    “The measure of a man’s wealth is what he can afford to leave alone.” — Thoreau. You’d be surprised how many of us old folks know that line and live by it or try to. Likely people within a mile or two of wherever you are.

    There’s your carbon credit. In wildlife and topsoil.

    There are little parcels all over, reachable by kids on foot or bicycles, “wild enough” to learn about nature, well worth protecting. Keep your eyes open.

    Best book: Margolin, Malcolm, The Earth Manual: How to Work on Wild Land Without Taming It, Borgo Press, 1991.

    Hank Roberts

    June 1, 2010 at 12:03 am

  3. Aside–you got blogspammers. They’ve now showed up in your recent comments links; beware, don’t click those, they take you to their “blogs” which are word salad and could have malicious code under them, or just redirect you somewhere you don’t want to go.

    At least don’t click unless you’re using Firefox with some protection enabled.

    That’s the posts from “Laurie Quintana” and “Russell Morris” as of right now.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=complain+spam+blogger

    Mandia: Thanks, Hank. I removed those two comments and will try to be more vigilant.

    Hank Roberts

    June 1, 2010 at 12:09 am

  4. Offsets are — and should be — a very troubling issue. Those who call them 21st century indulgences have a lot of basis for that commentary / belief.

    Having said that, it is near impossible to avoid emissions as part of one’s life — especially as part of the industrialized / ‘developed’ world (which everyone who might read this is within). Thus, the Energy 3Rs: ‘reduce’ usage of energy, ‘renewable’/clean energy, and then ‘remediate’ — carbon offsets can be a form of remediation.

    However, there is a path toward judging what is a reasonable offset approach. One path is to consider the social cost of carbon (SCC). (For a discussion, see: http://getenergysmartnow.com/2010/04/16/the-most-important-number-youve-never-heard-of/) Best analysis suggests that it is somewhere in the range of $80 per ton of emissions. Here you are discussing/promoting offsets that look to be 1/16th to 1/5th the SCC. What does that suggest to you?

    A Siegel

    June 6, 2010 at 5:42 am

  5. The price of a carbon offset is based on what it costs to remove or replace a ton of carbon regardless of the costs associated with that ton of carbon. If I offset one ton of carbon I offset the costs associated with that ton regardless of how much I paid to do so. True?

    Having said that, I completely agree that “pricing carbon” as it relates to the Carbon Fee & Dividend, Cap and Trade, or Carbon Tax approaches is a complex issue.

    I have bookmarked your blog post because this is a critical issue that policy-makers and thus, voters, need to get right. Thanks for the help.

    Scott Mandia

    June 6, 2010 at 8:58 am

  6. Checking back, hoping for more — I look to you and Jim Bouldin in particular for perspective about forests and carbon. I know this area isn’t well understood yet.

    But here’s what I want people to think about.

    Keep aware of the difference between the carbon in an ecosystem, and the carbon in a coal bed.

    Taking X tons of carbon out of circulation as timber or biochar is not a fair offset for digging up and burning X tons of coal.

    Why not? Collateral damage is ignored everywhere in that equation — not just immediate damage but long term loss.

    Hank Roberts

    November 25, 2010 at 4:33 pm


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