Next week we’ll be uprooting ourselves from the comfort of our corner of Scotland to head to the US for a couple of weeks visiting the other half’s family. I’ve been watching with mixed feelings as friends and online acquaintances take the pledge to give up flying in light of the climate crisis, but unfortunately I don’t think we can join them. Much as I’d love to never have to shuffle through an airport security queue in my socks – let alone get into a plane – again, even George Monbiot allows us love miles and regular flights across the Atlantic are going to be unavoidable for the foreseeable future.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to dismiss the issue, however. I’ve already decided to cut out all unavoidable short-haul flights – our last one was to attend a funeral – and am doing my bit in other ways to cut emissions, from cycling as much as possible to wearing as many jumpers around the house as is compatible with also moving my arms. We’ve installed solar panels and we’re upgrading our insulation – but according to the various carbon calculators available online, pretty much all of this effort will be wiped out by a single visit to America.
So that leaves offsetting, in itself a bit of a thorny topic. I understand that it’s not a get out of jail free card – and that it would be better not to fly than to fly and then attempt to undo the damage, but it does seem to me obvious that if you’re going to fly anyway then balancing that damaging action with something that will help to mop up the emissions, or cut them in other ways, seems the least worst action. The question is how to actually take that balancing action, or fund someone else to do it. Naturally, I asked Twitter:
Equally naturally, I got a fair few people who just wanted to shout at me for not just flying but for having the temerity to ask about offsetting my flights because apparently that’s somehow worse – and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything different (note to ecowarriors: it was still annoying though). I also got some replies from people who know me who were kind enough to suggest that I was doing enough already with the cycle campaigning, which is flattering (and in line with this excellent article) but I suspect a bit over-optimistic about the impact my efforts are having.
More surprising was the volume of useful responses I got which actually answered the question – including a link to this article in the Guardian which led me to the Atmosfair carbon calculator, and links to various other resources: in particular the excellent Drawdown site which analyses which interventions are likely to be most effective and the Gold Standard site which lists projects which don’t just help to mitigate carbon emissions, but do so in a way that contributes to sustainable development.
So I’m now, thanks to Drawdown, a fair bit better informed about how we might get ourselves out of the planetary-sized mess we’re in (and it confirms my gut instinct that educating girls and providing family planning are two things we should definitely be doing more of). And, thanks to Gold Standard, some trees will be planted in East Timor (and more importantly, subsistence farmers will get some money for looking after them), a small patch of degraded pastureland in Panama will be replanted with trees, and some refugee women in Chad will be able to use solar cookers rather than having to risk their lives to go and cut firewood to cook.
As to whether any of these actions will do anything to offset the impact of our flights, I don’t know. But it does seem to me that they do have the potential to make some people’s lives a little better in some small way, and that seems to me to be a good thing whatever else they achieve.