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Who Knew Seeing The World Was Good For Your Soul But Bad For The Environment

by | Oct 3, 2018

Every day I scan news articles in search of the latest news on climate change and carbon offsets. 

Recently, there were two articles that caught my attention: 

A SunTrust Bank article that talked about a survey they did that revealed that the #1 priority for Americans saving money is to see the world, topping other typical reasons for saving, like for emergencies, retirement, or buying a house.

An article in The Los Angeles Times revealed that global travel may be good for the soul, but its huge carbon footprint means that it’s bad for the planet.

Reading these two articles jogged my memory about an article I wrote a few years back for ECOgo.org.  It was published in their Sustainable Tourism handbook and featured tips regarding how to offset travel emissions.  I felt it was time to revisit this subject again and spread the word on how to travel for fun and/or for business and still be good to the planet.

The LA Times article referenced a report from Nature Climate Change that stated, “global tourism accounts for about 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.”  However, the report also stated that many of these destinations rely on tourism as their main income stream.  So, should we stop traveling?  Do we stop supporting these destinations that rely on our money to support their economy?  Can we be a conscientious traveler? 

I say no, you do not need to stop traveling, I say yes to supporting those destinations that rely on our money, and I will tell you how you can be an environmentally-conscientious traveler. 

Offsetting Travel Emissions

So, you are going on a family vacation, a prosperous business trip, or any number of other reasons why you’d leave the comfort of your home and drive, fly, sail, or rail to your destination. Unfortunately, one of the greatest environmental impacts of travel is the emission of greenhouse gases from your mode of transportation.  So, how do you continue to travel yet leave a less-negative impact on the environment?

In most cases, we do not have the ability or funds to install technology that would reduce the emissions of a plane, car, train or ship.  However, we can calculate the amount of GHG emissions that result from our own travel and then pay to reduce an equivalent amount of emissions from projects that have already been undertaken solely for that purpose.  Since climate change—the impact to our environment from the emission of greenhouse gases caused by human activities – is global pollution, emissions that take place anywhere in the world have the same negative impact.  Conversely, emission reductions from projects anywhere in the world can have the same positive impact in the fight against climate change.

Greenhouse gas emission reductions are commonly referred to as carbon offsets.  A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases that is voluntarily made to compensate for (or offset) an emission that is generated elsewhere.  One carbon offset equals one metric tonne of CO2 equivalent reduced. 

What should you look for when purchasing offsets for your travel emissions? 

First, find a carbon calculator that you trust.  Trustworthy calculators should include, or link to, an explanation behind its calculations, and use widely recognized data and emission factors.  A web search for “carbon calculator” will bring up many calculator choices.  Find one that’s easy to use and offers a simple calculation for what you desire to offset.  There are some available that are dedicated solely to travel while others may incorporate or require the calculation of emissions resulting from other aspects of your life, up to and including your entire carbon footprint.  Complex calculators can be time-consuming, so if you only wish to offset your travel emissions, finding a simpler one would be more efficient.  I recommend EPA’s carbon calculator, which you can find at https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/.

Finding a calculator and calculating the emissions resulting from your travel is the easy part.  On the other hand, finding quality carbon offsets that best suit your needs may prove more challenging.

Be careful to only purchase quality offsets based on these four standards: additionality, prevention of leakage, permanence, and venerability. 

Additionality:

Additionality means a project is beyond business as usual.  In other words, the GHG reductions from these projects wouldn’t happen if the project site goes about its normal business, is regulated regarding carbon emissions, or would not have been possible without the revenue gained from selling offsets. The point is to ensure that any greenhouse gas reductions from the project are ‘in addition’ to what would have happened anyway. Otherwise, offsets from the project don’t achieve any “additional” environmental benefit.

Prevention of Leakage:

Leakage typically occurs in situations where resources are being protected. For example, if a carbon offset program focuses on storing carbon by protecting a forest from being logged, it’s entirely possible that loggers might move their operations down the road to another forest, which is referred to as “leakage”.  In this case, the emissions weren’t actually reduced, they just moved to a different site. 

Permanence:

Permanence is typically a concern on projects where greenhouse gases are being stored, rather than reduced or destroyed.  If there is a significant risk that the stored carbon could be released through events such as a forest fire or a leak from sequestered carbon, the project developer should note the steps they’ve taken to avoid such releases and, perhaps, offer to supply other types of offsets to the buyer (in case the stored carbon is released).

Verifiability:

The last requirement is verifiability.  A third-party verifier must be able to look at project data and confirm that the carbon reductions are real and credible. They determine proper baselines and verify that the reductions adhere to strict monitoring and reporting standards.

It is very difficult for most individuals to test for the criteria above, however, there is an easier way

…Purchase offsets from projects that are registered with a credible carbon offset registry.  Examples of these include the Climate Action Reserve, American Carbon Registry, and VERRA among others.  These registries require their projects to meet the above criteria.

There are some additional criteria that you may wish to consider that won’t affect the quality of the offsets but that may be personally important to you.  For instance, you may wish to purchase offsets that align with something that you are passionate about, such as saving trees or supporting agriculture.  Or you may wish to support projects that align with your geographical interests, whether it be close to home, a developing country or somewhere you are passionate about.  It’s important to remember that one metric tonne of CO2 reduction made anywhere results in the same positive impact on climate change everywhere.

Ultimately, if we expect big corporations to be environmentally conscious, we must expect the same from ourselves.  Traveling carbon-neutral through the purchase of offsets is simple and inexpensive.  Most importantly, by purchasing offsets, you are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as these projects would not take place otherwise.  

Thank you for reading my blog and for doing your part in the fight against climate change!

If you are looking for more information on how to offset your carbon footprint, please contact our VP of Voluntary Markets, Dan Linsky at (772) 323-2055.

About the Author

Dan Linsky serves as Vice President, Voluntary Markets at ClimeCo, where he leads the company’s commodity trading group and specializes in the sale and management of the firm’s carbon offset portfolio for the Voluntary market.  He is a graduate of the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Science in business and finance and has been working in the carbon and renewable energy fields for more than 15 years.