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Flying over the Rocky Mountains in Colorado

How to carbon offset your flights

It was nearly a year and a half ago when I last brought up this issue.

Since this subject is incredibly important – not just to me, but to the future of our planet, I’ve decided to refresh the post and publish an updated version.

Carbon emissions are a huge deal. If we don’t do something about it right now, we may never be able to turn back. So, my friends, here are some damn good reasons to carbon offset your flights, and how to go about doing it.

Our flights contribute a huge amount of carbon emissions

Our flights contribute a huge amount of carbon emissions

Most of us are already taking steps to reduce energy use in our homes. Using fresh air to dry our clothes instead of a tumble dryer, installing energy efficient lightbulbs, or reducing the amount of meat we consume all helps cut carbon emisisons.

But… what about our travels?

Most of us don’t realise that jumping on one long-haul flight could cause the same or more greenhouse gas emissions per person than an entire year of home electricity usage, and the effect of airplanes emitting carbon gases as such high altitudes could be two to four times more damaging than other forms of ground transport.

Crazy, right!? This is not an issue that we can ignore.

While commercial jets are about 70% more fuel efficient now than they were 50 years ago, they still inject an alarming amount of carbon into the atmosphere. According to the Air Transport Action Group, flights contribute a whopping 800 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. This is about 2% of ALL man-made carbon emissions.

That sounds pretty damn terrifying to me.

Carbon offsets are a great investment in our planet

Carbon offsets are a great investment in our planet

To make it easy to visualise, think of the environment like a chain smoker. With many years of inhaling bad air, it now has yellowed teeth and struggles to breathe properly. Obviously, we don’t want to continue forcing the environment to continue inhaling all this bad air. We want it to get back to a healthy lifestyle.

This is where carbon neutral programs come in. These charities or non-profits receive donations from individuals and businesses, and they use those funds for projects that will assist in soaking up carbon in the atmosphere, or developing cleaner energy so that we emit less carbon in the future.

These projects can include financing renewable energy, conservation and forest protection, planting trees, or installing energy-saving technologies in businesses and homes.

If you’re wondering whether carbon offsets can be easily measured, the answer is… not really. If carbon offset funds have been used to finance clean energy projects, the payoffs may not be seen for another 10 years, so you can’t say whether your donation has directly offset your last flight.

But carbon offsets are still a valuable investment in our planet. If we don’t finance these projects now, then it might be another 20, 30, or 50 years until we can live off clean energy, and all those extra years of carbon emissions will basically put the environment into a hospital bed breathing through a ventilator. Who knows whether it will be able to pull through.

The point of carbon offsetting is not really about neutralising the exact amount of carbon emitted, but working towards a cleaner and more energy-efficient future.

Carbon offsetting is far easier than you think

Carbon offsetting is far easier than you think

Some airlines offer carbon offsets as part of their online booking process (you might see a ‘carbon offset’ option before you pay for your flight), but most airlines don’t have this option so we have to make sure we’re offsetting our flights elsewhere.

Let me show the process step by step. This is exactly what Rob and I do to offset both of our carbon emissions each year.

Step 1 – Find a company to carbon offset your flights. We have used carbonfund.org in the US (which was recommended by a popular finance blogger that we follow) and the Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund which plants trees in Australia. We’ve also donated to WWF as they distribute some of their funds towards limiting global warming and supporting green energy projects.

You can do a Google search to find more options. The best way to check whether the site is legit is to look up their projects and see where they distribute their funds.

Carbon offsetting flights

The calculator on carbonfund.org

Step 2 – Use a calculator to enter your emissions. We enter every flight, every long-haul bus trip, and the fuel emissions from any rental cars. We don’t own a car (here’s why!) so we didn’t include any other car fuel emissions, but you definitely should add that in if you drive regularly.

Step 3 – Press calculate, and donate that amount. Easy.

It’s important to remember that carbon emissions aren’t cheap. Last year, Rob and I donated over $500 AUD towards offsetting our flights. We factor in this amount as a necessary travel expense. Everything we can do to become carbon neutral is worth the cost.

I’ve previously recommended that you watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to take an in-depth look at the human environmental footprint. Make yourself a large bowl of popcorn then prepare for your mind to be blown.

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