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Carbon offsetting - good or bad?

Is carbon offsetting an important aspect of living sustainably or is it just a ‘cop out’ from making the changes that are necessary to protect our wonderful planet.  
Carbon offsetting is "the counteracting of carbon dioxide emissions with an equivalent reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere". It's really easy to calculate how much carbon your flight has emitted  and how much you would need to pay to help reduce the same amount of carbon. Offsetting projects vary greatly, from tree-planting schemes in the UK to energy-saving lightbulb installation programmes in Africa. 

Offsetting is often seen as the environmental action in regards to flying as the facts about aviation's impact on the planet, although well known, is startling.  

The facts 

  • The aviation industry relies on the fossil fuel industry. The industry burns through 5 million barrels of oil every single day, which results in 2.5% of total carbon emissions worldwide. 
    Flights grew in use as a result of a convention in 1944 which decided that international flights would be free of jet fuel taxes and VAT. While taxes for other kinds of transportation, such as cars and trains, have grown unchecked.  
  • Lots of people talk about the carbon emissions (we even focused on it in our title), but let's not forget about other aviation emissions that have a warming effect, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), water vapor, particulates, contrails (the trail a plane leaves behind in the sky) and cirrus (thin, wispy strands of cloud) changes. All of the above combined contribute to global warming with the same 2.5% as the carbon emissions, putting the overall aviation contribution to about 5%. 
  • According to Stefan Gössling, a professor at Sweden's Lund and Linnaeus universities and co-editor of the book Climate Change and Aviation: Issues, Challenges and Solutions, "On an individual level, there is no other human activity that emits as much over such a short period of time as aviation, because it is so energy-intensive". 

We believe that offsetting although not always an effective tool (apparently nearly 85% of the schemes are ineffective), it can still be a useful aspect of the sustainable movement that we need to follow. There are flaws in the process but the way to reduce the need to be dependent on offsetting is to make more favourable consumer decisions such as walking, taking public transport, buying British etc. Once decisions such as this are made we can then use offsetting as a replacement for specific actions (have a look at Almond for measuring your impact) and its purpose can be fulfilled in a better way rather than just being seen as a cop out.  


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