Flying Hurts Reefs – We Buy Carbon Offsets to Help

We love coral reefs and sea life. And our traveling has allowed us to see first hand the very rapid and devastating impact that global warming is having on ocean life.

But it is also true that by flying we are personally contributing to the destruction of the reefs we love, which is seriously depressing. This climate crisis is human made, and flying produces a lot of greenhouse gases.

For example, a flight from Seattle to Honolulu through San Francisco produces about one ton of CO2, round trip, per person. That is more CO2 than many people in the world produce in a year.

We Invest in Carbon Offsets to Reduce Our Impact

Airplane wing with Bermuda coral reefs below - buy carbon offsets to help save reefs

We are not yet ready to stop flying. Snorkeling is our great love and our business. We do have a very energy efficient small house. Everything in our home is run by electricity that comes from 95% carbon free sources. We drive very little and we don’t have any kids. We also donate monthly to four organizations that are working to combat global warming. And we spread awareness about the grave situation our reefs are in. But none of that negates the fact that we do fly several times a year.

To help reduce the impact of our flying we buy carbon offsets. We consider it our responsibility for our actions. And after researching the subject heavily, and seeing some of the great projects the money funds, we are happy to do it. Although making ourselves feel better is completely beside the point. In fact, after seeing what the money goes to, we buy offsets monthly, at more than the amount that our yearly flights create in CO2.

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What Is a Carbon Offset?

When you buy an offset, with your hard earned cash, you are funding a project that reduces greenhouse gas, to make up for the greenhouse gas you are creating. It might fund green power plants, like solar, landfill gas capture, and wind farms, or pay for energy efficient public buildings and transportation, or a reforestation project. There are lots of interesting options. The idea behind buying carbon offsets is to invest in something that removes an equivalent amount of CO2 as you are creating by flying.

Is It Expensive?

Does this cost us hundreds of dollars for each trip we take? No, it is remarkably affordable in our minds. A shorter round trip flight may produce around 900kg of CO2 per person, which is almost exactly one ton of CO2. The cost for a carbon offset is generally between $12 to $47 per ton. So you might only spend $25 to offset your flight, which is a complete no-brainer to us. And by 2021 many international flights from the USA will automatically include an offset in the ticket price.

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How to Pick Carbon Offsets That Are Not Worthless or a Scam?

Many airlines give you an option when buying your ticket of buying a carbon offset, through partnerships with carbon offset organizations. We would research carefully what is offered, and verify it is legitimate. Some are not worth contributing to, although many now have great partners.

Airplane wing with green fields of Maui below

The other option is to buy carbon offsets directly from different organizations, selecting programs that you are happy to help. That is what we do. And we have a monthly subscription for a set amount, so we don’t need to bother with it every time we fly.

When carbon offsetting started there were scams and programs that were not monitored and did not really do any good, and there undoubtedly still are. Many reforestation projects fell far short of being useful. But it is easier today to buy carbon offsets with good confidence that a very high percentage of your money is going to where it should, and that it will do some good. There are now entire organizations that certify offset programs, to make sure that they are valuable and doing what they agreed upon, like the organizations below. Gold Standard is often recognized as an internationally trusted certifier of these programs, even by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Gold Standard

Climate Action Reserve

Green-e Climate

Carbon Offset Calculators

Before you buy carbon offsets, you may like to know how much to buy. You can use one of the calculators below to determine how much personal greenhouse gases your flight will create. You may have to put in each leg of your flight and add them up for a total. There are many other calculators available around the web if you don’t like these.

ICAO Carbon Offset Calculator Carbon Offset Calculator Carbon Offset Calculator

Where to Buy Carbon Offsets Directly?

The links below are to organizations that either run offset programs themselves, or promote others. Take a look through their programs and see if you would like to fund one of their projects with your carbon offsets.

If you can’t decide on a project you can just sign up for the Gold Standard Climate Variety Portfolio, and they will divvy up your payment across multiple projects.

Monthly Subscription Offset Options

The biggest problem with many of the websites above, is that they really don’t make it easy to figure out what to buy, or how to buy it. And if we had to figure that all out for every trip we take it probably would not happen.

So what we do is figure out the CO2 footprint for an average year for all our travel, plus a bit extra for our personal lives, and we sign up for a monthly subscription for a set amount. So we pay a monthly amount for our carbon offsets, and never have to think about it again.

The following organizations have monthly subscription options.

  • Terrapass is who we buy with. They have numerous projects they support. With Terrapass you buy subscriptions in increments of 1,000 lbs. Read below for help on how much a ton of CO2 is.
  • Carbonfund has a monthly donation option. On their projects page they describe where that money goes to. 
  • Native Energy has a monthly subscription plan, but it is limited to one project, and it changes at times.

Just How Much Is a Ton of CO2?

Depending on what website you are looking at, CO2 tons may be expressed in either pounds or metric tons. You may need to convert things a bit to achieve your offsetting goal. In the US, a ton of CO2 is 2000 pounds (907 kilograms), or about the weight of a compact car. That is actually considered a “short ton”.  A metric ton of CO2 is 2000 kilograms, or 2204 pounds.

What About All the Arguments Against Carbon Offsets?

There are many arguments people come up with for why buying carbon offsets is a bad idea. Although there may be merit to some of the arguments for some people, for our personal situation the arguments don’t hold water. We consider offsets a solid investment in the future of the world. It’s not perfect, but much better than doing nothing.

In this article, author Christopher Preston talks about a few of arguments against carbon offsets, and provides some useful counterpoints that we agree with for the most part.

If you would like a more detailed understanding of carbon offset standards, read this article from the World Wildlife Fund.

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