Summer is a heavy travel time and eco-tourism is on the rise. In fact, the UN has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
A 2013 NY Times Sunday Review article entitled “Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel” says that one round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.
One way to minimize the environmental impact of your travel is to purchase carbon offsets. A carbon offset is essentially a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that compensates for an emission produced somewhere else. But when buying carbon offsets, it is important to be clear on what offset sellers are guaranteeing. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the offset should be real, verified, enforceable, and permanent. Also, the offset should be additional with no leakage. In a 2016 article entitled “Should You Buy Carbon Offsets?” they give the following example:
If the offset seller is giving money to a landowner in the Amazon who promises to leave his/her trees standing to maximize carbon sequestration, there needs to be a way to ensure there is an actual landowner with the trees, a way to penalize this landowner if s/he does not follow through, and guarantees that the trees won’t be burned down six months later. Also, if the landowner was not planning on removing the trees anyways, this would be considered a gift rather than an offset. Finally, if the logging company just buys the land next to the landowner’s land, then the carbon offset just shifted deforestation rather than prevented it.
According to the NRDC, “The best carbon offset programs are transparent. If you have concerns, you should contact the seller to find out exactly what you’re buying. Many will allow you to direct your money to specific projects or away from others.”
There are numerous carbon offset sellers online. Be sure to read the fine print.