The issue, how it works, how it doesn’t and why you should still be doing it.
How bad is flying really?
I assume that you all know, at least, that by taking a flight one emits huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, which causes our medium temperature on earth to rise, which leads to severe changes of our climate and will likely effect almost all of us directly or at least indirectly. And by effect I mean you will certainly notice and feel it.
Personally I did fly a lot in the past and still fly occasionally - simply, because it’s the only way to get around the globe quickly. (Which to me is a very sad situation, because I think we, as globally connected species, should be able to install more efficient infrastructure by now.) You may or may not be flying regularly. And even if you’re not, a single trip can account for “the maximum amount of CO2 a person should produce per year in order to halt climate change: 0.600 t CO2” (https://co2.myclimate.org/)
And you don’t even have to go far. One return trip from Munich to Oslo (2.650km total) is pretty much exactly this amount, according to the https://www.atmosfair.de/en/offset/flight calculator.
Shocking! Isn’t it?
How Offsetting works
Don’t worry, you can offset your emissions. The idea is simple: By investing into reforestation or other sustainability focused projects you can make up for your personal CO2 impact. There are many different websites and donation pages which offer services to soothe your bad conscious. They plant trees, invest in renewable energies, support sustainability projects in developing nations, etc. The picture below nicely illustrates this simple concept.
but it’s actually not that simple
Sorry, I, too, wish it was. Biggest criticism, in my opinion, is: “Carbon emissions from burned oil, gas or coal cannot be considered as equal to the same amount of biological carbon in a tree,” write scientists at the Forests and the European Union Resource Network (FERN 2005). Whereas in nature, carbon moves freely, it took millions of years to be stored in fossil resources. Ranil Senanayake, founder of Earthrestoration, put it in numbers: Biological carbon is bound for roughly 4.000 years, until it is released into the atmosphere again. But CO2 emitted from fossil fuels has been stored for approx. 2 Million years! No project will guarantee to repeat their planting efforts every 4.000 years for 5.000 times in a row…
Also to be considered it the reliability of offsetting projects. They might plant many seedlings, but are then left behind without maintaining it together with local people.
Which makes me go: “Damn it, but I want to take at least some responsibility!”
Still - you have the power!
The carbon cycle is similar to the material cycle. Most effective for your environmental impact improvement is
reducing overall consumption. Only take flights where really important and no alternative possible, like Skype for a business meeting. Check for alternative means of transportation like bus or train, which might be a little more expensive or take a little longer, but are far cheaper when the actual future costs of flight emission are taken into account.
If you choose to fly, take the most direct route and select an efficient airline. Atmosfair’s website is very informative and their calculator user friendly. And last, please offset! Yes, I recommend it despite criticism and some uncertainty. Because there is little to no harm when done properly and it help the globe cool at least a bit. Make your neutralising efforts as direct and simple as possible. To me, replanting natural forests seems to be the most obvious solution. Ranil Senanayake is my main inspiration and on the very front of natural reforestation. Contribute to tree plantings in your area, financially or with your hands. Doing the planting yourself is very satisfying and you meet nice people in your community. I like to do both. For convenient financial donation I choose http://www.iplantatree.org/projects?. Their projects are based in Germany, you can choose a location and the type of tree and the progress is documented. They also offer to plant yourself!
You can calculate and research a lot and get many different opinions.
But most important is to take responsibility and get going.
Dedicated to you Frieda, because you’re the one struggling with and working on this topic even more.