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Contrails Are Not Pretty

Carol Sottili

We all know we're polluting the environment when we get behind the wheel. Turns out we're also damaging the environment when we board a flight. And travel organizations are lining up with ideas to assuage our guilt. It started with small eco-conscious tour operators, but now such major players as Travelocity have joined the crowd.
Here are some of the ways to offset those environment-damaging vapors:

* Go to and plug your flight plans into its carbon calculator. It'll tell you how much you need to donate to offset the flight. Two round-trip tickets from Washington to London, for example, create 4.49 tons of carbon dioxide, which requires a carbon offset donation of $68.47. The organization promises that at least 85 percent of your donation is invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries.

* is working with the Conservation Fund with a "Be a Hero, Go Zero" program. Book a vacation package, and you can donate varying amounts to a tree-planting program. The carbon zero calculator used by the Conservation Fund is a bargain: 12,000 miles of flying equals a $15.56 carbon neutralization donation (it'll pay for planting two trees).

*'s calculator says it'll cost you $31.35 to offset 12,000 miles of flying. Donations to that group go to a variety of programs, from renewable energy projects to reforestation.

* A guy in Wales started He plants trees to make up for your flights. It costs $18.70 to plant a tree in the Welsh forest, which he estimates is equivalent to a round-trip flight to London.

Anyone feel guilty enough about flying to make donations? Know of any other groups that offer travel carbon offsets?

By Carol Sottili |  April 13, 2007; 10:08 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Carol Sottili
Previous: Are Guidebooks Over? | Next: Who Pays for Private Jet Services?

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I could swear you guys already blogged about carbon offsets and air travel. Did I dream it?

Posted by: h3 | April 13, 2007 3:38 PM

h3 - you're not dreaming, I was thinking the same thing so I looked back. The archives show that Cindy Loose wrote about this on March 22.

Posted by: Manassas, VA | April 13, 2007 4:00 PM

Interesting article in the Economist that some of these carbon offset companies are scams (maybe not the ones mentioned here). There's also some debate about how much carbon you need to offset and how much it costs to plant a tree. Another concern is that if you plant trees, you INCREASE global warming because tree leaves are darker than ordinary ground and hence absorb more energy. I'm not arguing against carbon offsets, just pointing out that the issue is more complicated than writing a check. Another concern is that instead of changing people's behavior towards reducing greenhouse gases, these offsets encourage people to do whatever they want as long as they send a check for a tree.

Posted by: Rick | April 13, 2007 4:11 PM

Speaking of scams, just because trees are darker doesn't mean they contribute to warming. Quite the opposite. They shade the ground, which is a heat sink, keeping it cooler. The energy hitting the leaves of the tree is converted into food for the tree. In addition, trees absorb and retain the carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, the first a crucial part of warming, the second kind of essential for all of us carbon based creatures.

And really, the most effective means of curbing our bad habits and changing behaviors is to tax energy. When solar, wind, nuclear, whatever can compete on efficiencies instead of just cost, you'll see fuel efficient cars, planes, and more new and better technologies, faster, than we will if oil based fuel remains cheap.

Posted by: Enviro | April 18, 2007 5:05 PM

Enviro, I agree with you to a point. The problem with the tax is that it puts the burden of solving global warming on the poor. 50 cents a gallon isn't going to phase somebody who makes $100k per year, but it would be a huge burden on somebody who makes $20k. Somebody said they should reverse frequent flyer programs. Instead of getting a discount for flying many segments, this should trigger a surcharge.

Posted by: Rick | April 19, 2007 6:17 PM

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