Are Carbon Offsets Legit?

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Air travel is pretty normal for most people these days. Most people end up flying a few times a year for holidays, weddings, business, and vacations. A few years ago, airlines and airfare websites started adding an option to purchase carbon offsets. What are carbon offsets exactly and are they legit? It’s something I’ve seen and wondered about but never went through with. Along with the purchase price of the airfare, I also wasn’t keen on spending more money on something I didn’t know was legit or not.

Last week, I ended up buying an airplane ticket to fly to Seattle for my sister’s birthday in a few months. She had suggested carbon offsets as a topic for this blog before, so I thought it was a perfect time to see if I could buy some carbon offsets and see what they really are. I went through Expedia, Orbitz, and Virgin America, only to find no carbon offset options. So now, it was up to me to do some research of my own to see what carbon offsets are and how much I needed to buy to negate my trip to Seattle.

So the basic idea behind carbon offsets is to compensate for the carbon you create. First, you should be trying as hard as possible to reduce waste, recycle, buy less and smartly, and reduce your overall impact on the earth. It is nearly impossible to entirely erase your carbon footprint though, so that’s where buying the carbon offsets come in. They are, in theory, supposed to zero out the rest of your carbon footprint so that you can live a carbon free life. Individuals can do this, and so can companies. For this post, I’ll focus on the individuals like us. We can buy carbon offsets for our lifestyle or for single instances like an airplane trip.

The money you give for carbon offset programs are used in many different ways. All with end goals to reduce the amount of carbon in the air, either by taking out existing carbon or preventing it in the first place. Forestry programs are a big one where trees get planted and forests are maintained. Trees are a popular method to reduce carbon in the air. Other programs can create alternative forms of energy production. Instead of coal plants, your money could be invested in wind or solar power. Money can be used for energy efficient buildings or distributing earth-friendly appliances to people who need them. There are many ways carbon offset programs work, and a legitimate company will tell you what their program does and how they implement it.

There is a controversy over carbon offsets. People against carbon offsets say that it allows people to simply buy carbon offsets to be earth-friendly, instead of actually taking action to reduce their impact. Critics say that businesses use carbon offsets to justify their unclean practices. Instead of actually trying to make their business run with less of a carbon footprint, they simply purchase carbon offsets. Other cons are that there are many carbon offset companies that can be scams or just out for profit. Some forestry efforts do not result in any carbon reduction at all. If the trees planted only survive one year, then not a lot of carbon has been reduced.

Overall, carbon offsets are another method to try to reduce our impact. If properly done, we would only buy carbon offsets after doing all we could to minimize our impact. Plane trips are one example, as there’s not much I can do to minimize that, other than driving or taking a train.

So now, I needed to figure out how much carbon to actually offset for my flight. Using a flight calculator I found online (which may or may not be entirely accurate), this is how much carbon one round-trip to Seattle would create:

660.593 pounds of carbon = 0.33 tons of carbon (1 ton is 2000 pounds)

Now that I knew how much carbon my flight would approximately create, I then needed to research how to buy carbon offsets. Most carbon offsets programs are run by for-profit businesses. Since those are harder to research and ensure they are legitimate, I decided to find a charity instead. Also, by donating money to a charity, I get the potential tax breaks too!

I decided to go with the Nature Conservancy. They are a decently well known charity that has a three out of four star rating on Charity Navigator. Always research charities and make sure they are well rated on Charity Navigator before donating! There are plenty of scam charities out there ready to take your money. The Nature Conservancy also has a section where they really explain carbon offsets and how their program works. Their carbon offset program starts with donations at $15 for a ton. Since my flight to Seattle is 0.33 tons, technically $5 should cover that. I went ahead and donated $10 to cover two round-trip flights to Seattle though. I’ll be going up there in the near future again at some point anyway.

The Nature Conservancy Carbon Offset Program FAQ’s
Charity Navigator

Buying carbon offsets to reduce your overall impact is another thing that you can do. I’ll have to look how much my lifestyle affects my carbon output at some point. Of course, my attempts at reducing my carbon footprint are absolutely essential! I’ll keep working on that and hopefully will reduce it down as much as possible.

For further reading, check these two links out.
Wikipedia – Carbon Offset
How Stuff Works

What’s your opinion of carbon offsets?

Flying out on a Jet Plane

Photo courtesy of Wynand van Niekirk

We are flying out on a red-eye to the big apple tonight! It happens to be my husband’s 10 year college reunion, so we have taken off a little less than a week to attend events and catch up with friends. Manhattan is always going to be a place that we both love going to for vacation, not for living. The living costs there are even higher than Los Angeles! There is absolutely no hope of ever buying your own home unless you happen to be filthy rich!

Airplane travel can be one of the most expensive and exhausting ways to travel for sure. Not only are airline tickets expensive, everything you buy at the airport is overpriced. The TSA can be extremely rude and have implemented so many ways to “keep us safe.” Those methods though, also can cause a huge hassle when trying to get through security. There are ways to keep your costs down when traveling, and to get through the whole experience as painlessly as possible.

Packing lightly

Since we are only going for five days, we both plan to just bring carry-on baggage only. A majority of passengers also do this to save on baggage fees. I believe Southwest is the only airline that still does not charge fees for checking-in luggage. Make sure your baggage is within the size restrictions, I have seen many passengers with bags much too large to fit in the overhead bin. They try to fit their bags up there by force, crushing other people’s bags in the process. In the end they have to gate check it, which is free, but is an extra inconvenience. Of course having fewer things mean you have to lug less around too!

Bring some snacks and a water bottle, a meal if traveling during food times

I always bring some snacks and a reusable water bottle. Everything at the airport is overpriced and if you find yourself hungry, well you are going to be shelling out a lot more. A bottle of water costs a few dollars at the airport! Save some money by just filling up a reusable water bottle at a fountain. Sometimes the water tastes like tap, but that could save you $3 or more. Do not be afraid to pack a meal if you are flying during lunch or dinner. Airlines do not even have real meals to offer anymore. All I have seen are sandwiches and snack packs. Might as well pack something yourself and bring it. Just make sure its not too smelly for the people around you. Good suggestions are a sandwich and some veggies and dip. Anything that does not need to be microwaved.

Keep your liquids separate in a clear quart size bag and less than 3.4 oz

Every airport is different in how they treat liquids. Smaller airports will be more lax on the rules, while larger airports can stick to it word for word. The safest thing to do when going through security is to make sure all liquids are less than 3.4 oz. The container itself needs to be that size or smaller, not the amount of liquids inside. I save any containers that are travel sized to reuse instead of buying new bottles. Each person can carry enough liquids to fit into a quart size bag. I usually keep mine in the most accessible location so I can easily pull it out at security. One exception to that rule is contact solution! Anything medical or baby related I believe is exempt. Double check that before you bring it though! Contact solution is definitely okay in larger sizes. I just make sure to put it in a bin so they can see it.

Radiation or a pat down?

Airports now have that super mega crazy machine where they scan people for dangerous objects. While it may be the “norm” and relatively quick, there are concerns about radiation. If you do not want to risk it, you can ask for a manual inspection. Be aware though that this is basically a full police pat down. Before, the pat down was much less invasive. Now, they will literally touch you everywhere. When I say everywhere I do mean almost everywhere. For women, they will even skim the underside of your chest. They will also do this in front of everyone else. Some TSA agents do not give you any warnings before doing a pat down, some will be nicer and tell you exactly what they are going to do. Plus, if you are a woman, you will get a woman TSA agent. It is a hard decision as both methods are not fun at all. Both are invasive, but the scan does take much less time. After going through the pat down once, I generally go through the body scan.

Bring something to kill time

One of the worst things you could do is not bring anything to kill time with. Instead, you end up at the stores shopping, or buying a book or magazine or two or three. My husband likes to bring the nook to read, while I bring a book or my Nintendo DS. Either way, just bring something to occupy your mind or else you will end up being something unneeded!

What do you do to save money while flying? Do you have any tips to make flying less of a hassle?