How to compensate flights

Five days at luxury resort somewhere in Mexico, three days in Vegas for partying and gambling or a week in Hawaii for a complete reset – this is how my life could look like as a full-time traveler.

Great offers are coming into my inbox every day, but for my wallet’s and the environment’s sake I must resist. Yes, I have taken a lot of flights in the last two years, but I’ve also started getting familiar with the environmental consequences this has and since then I think a little different about everything.

Unfortunately, these kinds of issues are not really handled like they should by our politicians, same with plastic, one time use items and reforestation. Same with many other problems regarding the environment – therefore we all must take action!

Why is flying so bad for the environment?

Just saying: Flying is the worst type of travelling for the environment! Burning kerosene creates carbon dioxide which damages the ozone hole. Generally natural emissions protect the earth; however, transit, industry and factory farming make the unnatural emissions rise and so force global warming.

Planes also cause nitrogen oxides, water vapour and soot particles that also partially contribute to global warming and a changing of the atmosphere. As our population is constantly rising, more people produce, consume and travel, the earth’s temperature rises too quickly and it won’t be able to cope with that.

Source: European Commission
Source: ZME Science

Global warming causes many problems and some of them we can already see: droughts, fires, storms, floodings, water shortage as well as species extinction. As a result for mankind that means hunger and more and more refugees over the years.

The temperature rose 1 degree Celsius already since 1850 and because of industry, technology etc. it will rise a lot faster in the next few years. Therefore the developed countries set a 2-degree limit, but this seems unachievable because of the big emitters like the US, China and the EU.

What is my job here?

Well, as we all share the same planet, everyone needs to budget their emissions, so we can comply with the 2-degree limit together. There is a calculation, that we have an emission budget of 750 billion tonnes CO2 until 2050 (an average population of 8.2 billion people assumed).

This means every person would have a yearly emission of about 2.3 tonnes CO2. Our ecological footprint shows though, that we’re massively over that. Our life standard, which means energy consumption, transit, food and a lot more aspects contribute to an average of 4.4 tonnes per person in Canada, so double as high!

Source: MAHB

ust recently, some countries were campaigning to reduce the limit to 1.5 degrees, which just seems more unrealistic because we would need more drastic actions or negative emissions (e.g. planting trees). The latter can be eliminated just because of our growing consumption of furniture, paper, wood etc.

Flying: Just one trip to Thailand from Europe cause 6 tonnes of CO2, a trip to Australia 11.5t CO2 and flying to popular Bali 8.5t CO2. These sums do not include any of our daily emissions (food, transit, heating, air condition etc.). If we really had a CO2 account, we would only be allowed to book a long-distance travel every few years.

As we don’t have overdraft or a loan on our CO2 account, everyone can just use as much as they want. So unfortunately, there is nothing preventing people from damaging the environment with their behaviour. No surprise, especially with European discount airlines, that allow you to fly for 1.99EUR.

These statistics include people that almost never fly, but also a lot of frequent travelers: Especially instagrammers, influencers and travel bloggers inspire a lot of people to copy their dangerous behavior.

Why should I be responsible if others are not?

Many people never thought about climate change, some others simply don’t have a reason to change. On the other hand, travelling is a big status symbol, just like cars, house, clothes and brands. But there are some more important aspects:

  1. Fairness: Imagine, you would live in Bhutan or on Fiji. The happiest people in the world live there, and interestingly they don’t need traveling or flying to have a satisfied life. They stay in between their CO2 limits. How would we like it, if we’d reduce ourselves and other people are just damaging the nature without wasting a thought on it? Would it be fair for us to live with the consequences of climate change? I don’t think so!

  2. Social Responsibility: In many countries of the world people don’t have the opportunity to get a new home or work in case of droughts, floodings or fires. We all need to understand, that while we happily sip from our coconut, someone else somewhere else is suffering because of some natural disaster, water shortage or hunger.

The more CO2 we cause with our high life standard, it will be even worse for those who are destitute!

What can I do if I still want to fly?

While flying is way to cheap anyway, it would be very important under the current regulations, that people pay a compensation fee with their flights.

Why is flying so cheap?

It’s been subsidized for years!

Airlines don’t pay taxes on kerosene!

Governments think there’s bigger problems than the environment!

Compensation means: According to the CO2 emission of your flight you’re donating an amount, that will be invested in a project of an NPO to save CO2 in the future. Simply put, you’re making up for something you’ve caused before.

These projects often don’t only save CO2 through new technologies (clean electricity, biogas plants etc.) but also promote sustainable development, work against poverty and improve health.

How can I compensate my flights?

Every company in the travel industry knows the problem, but of course no one wants to become unpopular. If the compensation would be included in the price, companies wouldn’t be able to compete with all the other discount prices anymore. So, no one talks about this matter, even though it influences our future in a negative way.

Very few providers give you the opportunity to pay a contribution in the end – “Offsetting” – but that’s often less than the donation for an NPO would be. These are some interesting projects I found:

Egain: Egain Edge offers property owners a simple solution for ensuring efficient and climate adapted heating in residential buildings. The system applies weather forecasts to regulate the temperature. The heating system is connected to the mobile network, allowing it to receive hourly forecasts.
Situation without project: conventional fossil fuel heating

Community Reforestation: This community-based reforestation initiative is situated upon a critical watershed that feeds into Nicaragua’s most important estuaries, the Estero Real. The project addresses the causes of deforestation, ensures direct, ongoing community involvement and technical training and provides financial benefits.
Situation without project: deforestation, forest degradation

eCargo: The goal is to stop the use of vans driven by fossil fuels for transporting goods in city centres and replace them with electricity-powered cargo bikes. This will reduce exhaust fume emissions and eases road traffic.
Situation without traffic: Use of diesel or petrol-run vans

myclimate: Initiative with swiss roots, invests in international projects. I found all the other projects on their website. 80% of the donations are being reinvested in projects.
Rating Stiftung Warentest: 2.2 (good)

It’s up to yourself which project you decide to support – it’s important though to compensate when you’re flying. Some countries also acknowledge your donation with your tax return.

That being said, not flying is always the better alternative. However, flying and compensating is always better than flying and not doing anything. Of course it’s not a solution to fly more just because you’re compensating now 😊

As I’ve just started familiarizing myself with the issues I wrote about, I don’t have an exact plan of how I’m going to compensate my future flights. BUT – I definitely will – I just compensated my flight from Seattle to Vegas with a donation to myclimate! I learn new things about the environment all the time and I’m convinced that everyone needs to stand up for the environment so that our kids – or future kids – can enjoy and grow old on this earth as well.

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