Most sustainable travellers around the world have heard of carbon offsetting, a scheme providing travellers with a way to purchase ‘carbon credits’. These credits are invested in projects that absorb the carbon from your footprint, the aim being to make you and your travels carbon neutral. Carbon offsetting seems ideal: it appears to be a quick solution to absorb our carbon footprint. If everyone did it, we could save the world. Couldn’t we?
Carbon offsetting has risen in popularity along with sustainable travel. The consumer is now taking responsibility for their excess carbon emissions, and this promotes awareness of the idea of our carbon footprint. If you are not already aware of your own carbon footprint, you can use the WWF calculator for a rough estimate here. Rough, because our footprints change each year dependent on circumstances. But as much as we might dislike it, our previous impact on the planet cannot be erased: though carbon offsetting claims to balance out our carbon impact on the earth, it cannot undo the damage already caused.
Whether you’re an avid carbon off-setter or not, you are probably aware of the debate that surrounds how effective carbon offsetting really is. Although there have been many arguments surrounding carbon offsetting, the intention behind it is good. To give people a way to contribute to projects that will help the earth can never be a bad thing, as long as those projects are actually supported. News outlets have reported scams in which people will claim to offer carbon offsetting, but not actually follow through with investing in carbon-neutralizing projects. Carbon-offsetting initiatives often offer tree planting for a charge; however, these actions are offered for free by companies like Ecosia and TreeApp.
According to Greenpeace ‘A newly-planted tree can take as many as 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon-offset scheme promises. We would have to plant and protect a massive number of trees for decades to offset even a fraction of global emissions.’ Their statement goes on to note how, although the trees are planted, they may not survive long enough to cancel out the proposed CO2 emissions. In theory carbon offsetting does provide a solution to excess carbon, in execution, however, many companies fall short.
Offsetting places the blame on the consumer, which is good to promote awareness, however, in doing so, companies avoid taking action themselves. Some airlines now offer carbon-offsetting solutions with your plane ticket, but they don’t reduce the amount of flights they offer. Airlines continue to pollute, but place the entirety of blame on the consumer. Even if the consumer finds a way to effectively carbon offset each trip, this will not have the same impact as an airline scaling back on daily flights. By passing blame onto the consumer, the use of carbon-offsetting makes us feel better about our impact – and we all want to feel like we are helping our planet rather than destroying it.
By making saving the planet as easy as typing in our card details, it diminishes our awareness of the extremity of the current climate emergency. The best way to carbon offset is to not create the carbon emission. Carbon offsetting cannot take away the carbon you have produced, but by donating to organisations that have a long-lasting positive impact on the planet we can lessen the impact on the earth.
You can use the following websites to check if your carbon offsetting or donation does actually help the earth: