Eco-series: Carbon Offsetting

Greening your daily commute by taking public transport or biking is all good and well, but what happens when you have to cross an ocean. Air travel has always been one of the worst ways to travel from an environmental perspective, but what choice do you have when New York calls and a swim across the pond is out of the question?

Enter carbon offsetting, which offers travellers the opportunity to "offset" the damage they do by funding environmentally friendly projects - or does it? Some have accused the scheme of really being a guilt offsetting con: pay a bit of money, clear your conscience and continue on your merry way. We weigh up the pro's and con's for you to make up your own mind.

Green Footprints

Anti:

  • Offsetting projects are often carried out in developing countries, providing no benefit in the developed countries that account for most emissions.
  • Offset projects encourage consumers to continue environmentally unfriendly practices by offering an easy way out instead of encouraging "real" lifestyle changes. Responsibletravel.com, a leading ethical travel firm, has dropped carbon offsetting as an option for their travel programmes because of this.
  • Projects that plant trees as their strategy have been shown to be ineffective in some circumstances. David Suzuki, a noted environmental activist, has come out against some of the sloppy and counterproductive ways tree-planting has been implemented by carbon offsetting firms (read here).

Pro:

  • Air travel is a modern necessity and doing away with it entirely is unreasonable. The next best solution, for now, is individual and corporate carbon offsetting. With time, better ways to improve air travel's environmental profile may become a reality, but in the meantime sitting on our collective hands is not an option.
  • The carbon offsetting community has come a long way in terms of professionalism. It is no longer an unregulated market where anyone could claim to be an ecowarrior. Organisation like the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA) have rigorous standards, monitoring and reporting procedures to back up their claims (and that of their members).
  • The community has moved away from planting trees as a solution and have implemented more meaningful programmes like providing cooking stoves in developing countries to improve air quality, lessen the need for wood and the deforestation that comes with it.

Verdict:

Carbon offsetting is by no means perfect, but the alternative - waiting for direction from government and industry - is not going to change anything anytime soon. What do you think? Write your comments below.

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Gugulethu Hlekwayo

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

A timid traveller, but a traveller none the less; Gugulethu is in his element lost and without a map - preferably with a companion willing to listen to his tall tales. He's our resident expert on the best muffins in town.