Feeling kinda shitty about flying?

You’re not alone.

There has been increasing awareness of the environmental impact of flying as of late. It’s clear that CO2 emissions from aviation are a big contributor to climate change. And what makes it more complicated is that there aren’t, as of yet, any ‘green’ ways of flying. (You can’t switch to using electric planes, for example.)

But there is a solution. Or, at least, let’s call it a stopgap. 

The next time you fly, you can use an online calculator to see how much CO2 emissions your flight will cause. Then you can make an environmental donation to compensate for exactly those emissions.

It’s called carbon offsetting — and it’s a kind of service that’s been around for many years. I thought everyone already knew about it, but seeing Facebook threads like the one below reminded me that not everyone does!

So, here’s how to do it.

How to carbon offset your flights

Offsetting your flights is easy.

Sometimes airlines let you do it by ticking a box when you’re booking your flight. But you can also do it yourself. 

There are reputable organizations like Myclimate, Atmosfair and Terrapass that let you offset your flights. But my favorite site for offsetting is FlyGreen.

Their calculator will give you an estimated carbon footprint for your flights in terms that are easy to understand. For example, a return flight from London to Bangkok results in 3.24 tonnes of CO2 emissions. That’s as much as 4625 laundry washes or 1686 days watching TV!

By making an environmental donation — in this case, €25 for the London to Bangkok return — you will fund projects that prevent CO2 emissions elsewhere. For example, the donation will pay for installing solar panels, planting trees, or making houses more energy-efficient.

Try using the calculator at FlyGreen to find out the carbon footprint of your most recent flight.

Does this really solve the problem?

No, it doesn’t truly solve the problem. Preventing CO2 emissions elsewhere, of course, does not make flights any less polluting.

But I think it does help society tackle the low hanging fruit first. 

Aviation is responsible for about 2% of CO2 emissions worldwide. Other things make up a much bigger portion; electricity generation is 31% and manufacturing and construction account for 12.4% (source). The good news is that it’s easier to tackle those at the moment as the technology for it is ready (like cheap solar panels or electric cars).  

While carbon offsetting is not a true solution, it’s better than doing nothing. It helps to balance out the climate change effects of your flying with mitigations somewhere else.

I believe offsetting is ultimately a good thing, which is why I want to bring more attention to this practice. By offsetting, you can help society make the transition to clean energy faster. The more people offset their flights, the better!

I’ve been offsetting all my flights since 2017 (and donating to climate change causes). My aim has been to make my travels climate-neutral, at least as far as reasonably possible, and I hope to encourage others to do the same.

Besides carbon offsetting, I also support Cool Earth. (This is their project in Cambodia.)

It’s still better to fly less

Maybe one day planes will be flying on battery power or synthetic fuels (if so, it’s still a long way out). For the foreseeable future, flying won’t be clean. Even if carbon neutral flights become possible, we may still have to fly less anyway, as they may be much more resource-intensive.

That means that flying less is definitely also helpful in addressing the climate crisis. Overland travel is almost always better for the environment than flying, especially when it’s shared transportation like buses or trains.

That’s why even though I like to fly to far-flung destinations, I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful with my flying habits this year. Instead of just booking flights willy nilly because they’re cheap, as I’ve done in the past, I’ve been a bit more considerate in picking my destinations and making the most out of those trips. 

I’ve found this easy to bring into practice. Rather than flying to lots of places for short trips, you can fly once on a longer trip, better justifying the miles flown. Or you can replace one of your long-distance trips with one that’s closer to home. 

You can also travel more overland. I’ve been adding more regional and overland travel into the mix lately (which for me means more travel in southern Europe, since I live in Lisbon). It’s not always practical to go to places overland, but going by bus and train can be a lot more comfortable (and fun) than by air.

Climate change is a big hairy topic and there are many aspects to the climate impact of travel that I’ve not even mentioned here. To be honest, I actually believe the most effective solutions must come from the top through our elected leader. But by offsetting our flights and making more of our trips overland or closer to home, I also believe we can each make a small contribution to solving the problem. 

Do you offset your flights? And has climate change been a consideration in your travels? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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