Carbon Offsets Take New Flight

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By Mark Mondik

The transportation sector and its customers keep returning to offset projects in the absence of other near-term solutions.


Recently, Tony Tyler, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said a global carbon offsetting system was the way to tackle the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

He is not alone when it comes to addressing transportation emissions.  About a year ago, Fedex launched a new initiative to offset the emissions from shipping documents, while UPS has had one for longer.  Companies in other industries worried about employee travel have joined in too:  last year Microsoft announced that it would charge a “carbon fee” to its business units for their business travel (among other things) and use the proceeds to invest in carbon offset projects.

Carbon offset projects have had many detractors over the years—mostly from the far left, which believes that more should be done to reduce transportation emissions directly, and from the far right, which believes that nothing should be done at all.  So why are so many people turning to carbon offset projects?

The answer, at least for now, is simple:  there is no better option—except for not flying at all.  As IATA states on its website:  “There is no alternative to aviation when it comes to long distance and low carbon travel. Carbon offsetting can therefore be seen as an immediate, direct and pragmatic means to encourage action to limit climate change impacts, at least in the short-term.”

In the long term, we may have renewable jet fuel as a solution to this problem.  Unfortunately, scientists tell us we don’t have a lot of time to wait—ias we just hit a climate milestone with the measurement of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million.

We should all seek alternatives to flight (like “staycations” and video conferencing) and to support efforts to commercialize renewable jet fuel.  In the meantime, millions of pounds of CO2e are released every day from small facilities throughout the U.S., like dairy farms and landfills.  You can help these facilities capture and destroy greenhouse gases by supporting emissions reduction projects—usually at a fraction of the cost of reducing emissions in other ways.  Here’s an example of how one company is doing this.

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