Wednesday, February 13, 2008

offset this

For my trip to Winnipeg last week I bought “carbon offsets” for the first time. Through zerofootprint I invested in planting trees that will absorb an amount of carbon from the air that is apparently proportional to the carbon emissions caused by my flight (or, to be more precise, proportional to my share of the emissions - 0.4 tonnes of CO2 - caused by my flight). And after my carbon purchase (very easy to do - just a click on the link on my e-ticket from Air Canada) I got a very perky e-mail message in a huge yellow font saying “Congratulations, Bryan Suderman. Your flight is carbon neutral!”

So how much do you suppose it costs to buy “carbon offsets” for a return flight between Toronto and Winnipeg?

$50? That was Pieter’s guess.

$20-$25 or so? That’s what I was thinking.

How much was actually charged to my credit card?


Actually, it was $6.40, plus GST (Goods and Services Tax).

I find this surprising and rather disconcerting. I feel a bit like a repentant sinner, ready for some good old-fashioned penance, being “let off” too easy. Like a Wild West outlaw whose reward poster offers an embarrassingly low amount. Surely my transgression is more serious - is WORTH more - than that?

In fact, I’ll admit it, one of my immediate gut-level reactions was to think “Hey, that’s not so bad, maybe I can fly more than I thought...!”

hmmm... I don't think that's the way it's supposed to work... Romans 6:1-2 comes to mind...

Don't get me wrong. In spite of some misgivings and skepticism, I still think buying carbon offsets is a good thing to do. Maybe pricing it this low (zerofootprint pegs it at $16 per ton of carbon emissions) will help more people to take the plunge (and, as I discovered, it's really not much of a plunge. More of a dip - or maybe a sprinkle - in this case).

Considering that my $159 airfare (each way) included these charges added on...

- $9.34 for the post-9/11 "Canada Security Charge"
- $35 for a "Canada Airport Improvement Fee"
- $36 for "Navcan and Surcharges" (whatever that is)
- $23.90 GST
(Grand Total - $422.24)

... I don't see why a "carbon tax" - in this case, $6.72 - shouldn't just be LEGISLATED as one of the standard costs of travel anyway...

Now I'm not much for math, but if my calculations are correct - $16 to offset 1 ton of carbon emissions, 100 km of driving my car producing roughly 0.03 tons in emissions (according to zerofootprint's carbon calculator) - that comes to roughly $0.50 per 100 km of driving for carbon offsets. I think.

So, a question: since I track my performance-related mileage anyway, should I simply calculate the carbon emissions and offsets and pay it myself (as I will for other work-related and personal travel)? Or should I add a $0.50/100 km "carbon offset" charge as a standard cost that I include on my invoices and pass on to whoever is having me travel for a performance? Would that get a few more people thinking, I wonder...?

In any case, I'm not convinced that my flight was really as "carbon neutral" (and therefore, in perception at least, as benign) as the perky yellow font would have me believe. And it certainly doesn't absolve me from taking more significant steps to change my lifestyle and reduce my ecological footprint.

But I appreciate the encouragement. We have to start somewhere.

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At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting questions you raise. Your point that it seems almost too easy may be correct. The one problem is that the offsets you are purchasing are not immediate and it may take 20-30 years to absorb the carbon you have emitted. The climate change problem may be more urgent than this. However, you could accelerate the sequestering process by over-purchasing offsets, by say a factor of 5, and your carbon could be absorbed in a more reasonable amount of time. (4-6 years?) That said, what you are doing is better than doing nothing, and I applaud you for taking this initiative. Furthermore, I agree with you that a state imposed carbon tax would be a progressive move, especially if the funds raised by the “additional” tax were used to invest in green technologies.


At 7:03 AM, Anonymous Eugene said...

Well, I went on-line and paid my guilt tax - 28.56 for two months of flights between Toronto and Montreal. Decided to 'charge it' to IBM - see how they react - and what (if any) policy it violates. Could be an intersting discussion with the expense department ... will keep you posted.


At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read something recently that said airplanes are actually, or can be, more efficient forms or transportation than cars and trucks. Any recommendations on how we should "offset" our cars and other energy consuming things?


At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Eugene said...

A small thumbs up for big business. My claim to reimburse my carbon offset went into 'Mandatory Review', but was subsequently approved for payment. Could be it was so small that no one really noticed ...


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