By Sarah Cobb
You’re doing your best. You’re eating less meat, accumulating less stuff, buying local and organic. You’re cutting down on plastics, you’ve made your house more energy-efficient and maybe even switched to an electric vehicle. But faced with the thought of not taking that trip you’ve been dreaming of is getting you down. I could say get over it or I could suggest that you temper the damage by offsetting the carbon your portion of the flight produces.
My daughter and I recently went to the UK to visit my very aged aunties and to scatter my dad’s ashes at some of his old stomping grounds. After purchasing the tickets, I visited Less.ca and the website performed a quick calculation of the carbon we were responsible for.
Our two seats on a 747 from Montreal to London and back produced a whopping 4 tons of carbon. The offsets cost $165. My money went to fund a chlorine dispenser program for rural Ugandan communities to provide safe water. No more burning wood to boil water means clean water for them and cleaner air for their neighbours. Closer to home, some programs fund the capture and destruction of landfill gas in Windsor or Fredericton while others involve tree planting schemes across Canada. It isn’t free but if those of us who are fortunate enough to travel can’t afford it, who can?
Don’t get me wrong. Buying offsets does nothing to eliminate the harm we do. And it’s certainly not a reason to go flying off to the four corners of the earth thinking all is well. But it is a tangible way to compensate. And it needn’t be just for flights. There are a million calculators out there like carbonfootprint.com where you can calculate the energy you use to heat your home, the gas you burn to drive around, the energy that goes into growing your food. Offsetting can mean planting trees, financing carbon capture schemes, helping communities move away from fossil fuel dependent energies, providing seed money to alternative energy projects that are having trouble getting off the ground. Not all offsets are equal. It’s important to pick ones that are verified by a third party. And aim for ones that focus on shifting away from carbon toward renewables.
My goddaughter took part in a theatre day camp this summer. The culmination of their week together was a musical play written entirely by the kids. Their families and I sat quietly in the church hall. We watched as the girls and boys sang and danced and performed little skits. An alarming amount of the show seemed to be about their collective sense of impending doom about the planet and its inhabitants. It was so heavy—in a way it just shouldn’t be for happy, healthy ten-year-olds living in a community like ours. Instead of feeling buoyed by all their youthful creativity, I left in tears. I was completely disheartened by the legacy we are leaving the next generation.
We need to do better. We need to consume less. A great deal less. But if we have to fly, offsetting our carbon is the very least we can do.