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Take a Flight, Save a Tree

Cindy Loose

Although it hasn't been publically announced yet, Orbitz will soon join Travelocity and Expedia in offering customers the option of paying to offset their share of the CO2 emissions that their plane will spew into the air during their trip.

Skip this graph you're already clued in about carbon offset programs: Basically various groups out there have computer programs that figure out your share of the carbon output of a plane -- or bus or train or whatever. They've also supposedly figured out how much it costs to offset those emissions, and if you volunteer to pay that amount, the money goes to a nonprofit group that does something to "offset" your pollution, like planting trees or erecting a windmill to replace coal-produced electricity. The travel sites mentioned above have partnered with these nonprofits. When you buy your plane ticket you click a box saying you'd like to pay for a CO2 offset, say about $5 for a regional flight or $17 for a cross country one, for example.

If you don't believe in global warming, discussion over.

But if you do, are you willing to pay to offset part of your contribution to it?

I do happen to believe in the obvious, but am a little torn when asked if I want to pay for my plane emissions. The selfish voice in me says, "Why should I if everyone else isn't; in fact probably only a tiny majority does it." Then there's the practical voice too that says, "I really don't have time to investigate these nonprofits to see if what I give 'em is being well spent for the intended purpose."

Then again, both those voices could be quieted if the payment were an edict -- as in everyone pays, as in taxes or fees, and an auditor is assigned to police the folks who get the money. I actually think I could accept that more easily than I do the thought of checking the "yes, charge me" box.

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By Cindy Loose |  March 22, 2007; 12:15 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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when you think of how much you throw away on a trip (the latte at the airport, the overpriced paperback books and magazines you buy there 'just because I am on vacation') the amount this costs is nothing and it does real good. Why wouldn't you do this?

Posted by: DC | March 22, 2007 12:41 PM

Not all these programs are created equal, nor are all of them non-profits as noted above. The program Travelocity uses (the North Face also uses them) - Go Zero - is run by the non-profit Conservation Fund, which gets the highest possible grades in accountability and performance. However, Expedia's program is run by a for profit group, TerraPass, which refuses to disclose its finances.

Posted by: Offset note | March 22, 2007 1:49 PM

good point, Offset. I checked out GoZero and the Conservation Fund after reading your post and you are right. for people's info, here is the link about Go Zero http://www.conservationfund.org/?article=3128&back=true

Posted by: Arlington traveler | March 22, 2007 1:52 PM

This is feel good, but ultimately not very effective. Raise the fuel tax, make it a percentage like a sales tax instead of a fixed amount, or do any of the other methods.
Until the cost of using fossil fuels is high enough, there won't be timely alternatives, including higher efficiency, and new technology developments. When gas is $5.00 a gallon, and it costs $20 or more per air ticket, then maybe we'll see real change.
If the extra money goes to Uncle Sam, and is used partly for the new technologies, etc, more bang for the buck, and real changes across the country, instead of this type of band aid. Part of the tax could go to mass transit, inter-city trains, etc.

Posted by: Big Picture | March 22, 2007 3:19 PM

Another such project is Native Energy www.nativeenergy.com.

Posted by: Kevin | March 22, 2007 4:28 PM

Global warming? The next thing you'll try to tell me is that the earth is round and orbits around the sun!

Posted by: skeptic | March 22, 2007 4:30 PM

Does anyone remember the credit company scams of the 1990s through today? That's what these programs are. Note that the Oscars, Al Gore, and any of a number of "true believers" are not ALTERING their lifestyles as many of us have.

TerraPass is who gave the "carbon neutral" rating to the Oscars. They're a _scam_. You may as well allow the Church to start selling Indulgences again, which is the same principle: don't change your lifestyle, just pay some money and feel better.

This system also favors the rich/credit addicts - and to some of us who don't like carrying huge debt burdens, every penny matters. But just because on the one flight I take in a year I don't feel like tossing away money I could spend on something for my infant child, something I need every penny for, someone will judge me?

This carbon credit business is a _completely unregulated industry_, just like the credit card debt scam companies, whose primary purpose is to make guilty people feel better about themselves.

Why not participate in conference calls instead of fly in a plane, which dumps more pollution into the upper atmosphere - doing more direct, immediate harm than any traffic at ground level. When the planes were grounded for two days in 2001, temperatures over the US returned to expected norms. You want to help for real? Stop flying altogether. Grow your own food. Buy local. Join a freecycle group.

Giving money to someone else to make yourself feel better does nothing except...make yourself feel better.

Posted by: John M | March 23, 2007 10:46 AM

If you want to donate toward carbon offset programs (with all the caveats referenced above) then fine, do so... directly.

This program collects money from people and lets the travel agencies take the tax advantages. I wonder if the amounts they collect directly correspond to the figures given by the offset programs, or if the travel agents are collecting an additional amount from the consumer for processing the payment.

This sounds like a scam to me.

Posted by: ThinK | March 23, 2007 12:00 PM

No, I would not participate in such programs.

Posted by: Sara | March 23, 2007 5:32 PM

I understand the criticism above, but if you are going to use these travel services, then why NOT give the extra money? Yes, you should change your lifestyle and give directly, but WHAT HARM DOES THIS DO??? Are you honestly telling people not to give money this way to plant a tree because they "could do better"? Why not do this AND do other things, too?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 10:56 AM

To anyone who would say yes - just go ahead and send ME the $20, and I promise I will not eat beans for a week to reduce by an appropriate amount of greenhouse gas being emitted...

Posted by: larry | March 26, 2007 4:50 PM

thanks, Larry, for that intelligent contribution.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2007 11:18 AM

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