The problem with offsetting. And why we still do it...
Updated: Aug 3
Capture aims to enable users to track, reduce, and remove their emissions. Using GPS tracking, Capture will automatically help you keep track of emissions from your mobility choices. Taking the metro to work? A 10-hour road trip? We’ve got you covered.
Capture will generate a footprint for you and analyse your impact, informing you of how choices could affect the world in the years to come. We know, we know--it sounds frightening, daunting, and negative, especially when the app tells you that if everyone had the same carbon footprint as yours, the earth could get 3 degrees celsius warmer in 10 years! Nevertheless, we think this is important information to have and will help our users think long and hard about the transportation choices they make.
This leads us to discuss the major contributor of carbon emissions--flights. Flights produce large amounts of greenhouse gases - mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) - from burning fuel. These emissions contribute to global warming when released into the atmosphere, acting akin to a blanket around the world.
An economy-class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, according to the calculator from the UN's civil aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Global carbon emissions from the aviation industry are increasing much faster than expected, with passenger numbers expected to double to 8.2 billion in 2037, and if left unchecked, pose a serious risk to the world’s climate efforts.
“Flygskam” or “flight-shame” has become a more popular concept, with people starting to boycott flying in an attempt to reduce global carbon emissions and combat the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenaged climate activist, has made it a point not to stop flying, and has very publicly denounced the aviation industry for its contribution to global emissions and warming.
The rise of the flight-shame movement, has spurred airlines and travel companies to offer customers the option of offsetting the carbon emissions of their flights. But not everyone is convinced that climate sins can be absolved through projects based on simple carbon accounting.
This has pushed people to find solutions and seek out ways to remove, or balance out their carbon footprints through purchasing carbon credits - the process is often termed ‘carbon offsetting’
Carbon offsetting includes calculating greenhouse gas emissions from a trip or activity and then purchasing ‘carbon credits’ from projects that prevent or remove the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases elsewhere. It’s important to mention that many of these credits were created historically. Carbon offsetting projects are typically either nature-based, or industrial - for example, a project could sell carbon credits based on CO2 absorbed by a protected forest, or alternatively through CO2 prevented from being produced by a renewable energy project.
Many airlines have pledged to offset their flights, including EasyJet, British Airways, and more recently, Delta and JetBlue in North America. British Airways said this year that it plans to start offsetting the carbon from all its domestic flights. For passengers travelling further afield BA offers a carbon calculator and a range of accredited offset schemes to invest in.
Earlier this month, JetBlue announced that it will begin offsetting carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from jet fuel for all domestic JetBlue flights starting in July 2020, making it the first major U.S. airline to take this step towards reducing its contribution to global warming.
They’re not the only ones putting their faith in carbon offsetting. If you download and use Capture, you will find four offsetting projects in Panama, North America, Iceland, and Taiwan that are based on a mix of reforestation, clean energy and carbon capture. Projects are verified predominantly by Gold Standard, which was established in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs to ensure projects that reduced carbon emissions featured the highest levels of environmental integrity and also contributed to sustainable development.
You’re probably reading this and wondering: What’s your point? What are you trying to say?
Well, here it is: We know carbon offsetting is flawed. The primary criticism of carbon offsetting is that it may do more harm than good by offering airlines a licence to keep polluting and encouraging travellers to continue to choose the most polluting option guilt-free. Greenpeace UK described easyJet’s carbon offset scheme as “jumbo-size greenwash” and warned that expert analysis has cast serious doubts about whether offsetting schemes work at all. Instead, policymakers should put in place a frequent flier levy to curb the number of flights and their climate-wrecking emissions, Greenpeace said.
On an individual level, the risk of carbon offsetting is that people may believe they can avoid changing their lifestyle as long as they invest in carbon offsetting projects to counteract their emissions...
From the very beginning, we built Capture with the goal in mind to enable our users to track and reduce their emissions. We know there are more and more online subscription offsetting services out there, but we wanted to build something helpful and empowering for individuals who want to actively learn more about - and most importantly - reduce emissions.
We recognise that carbon offsetting can be far from a perfect process and don’t wish to make the point to people that carbon offsetting will immediately eliminate the effects of the emissions they produce. On the contrary, we hope Capture will encourage people to make changes in their lifestyle first and foremost. Supporting nature-based or clean-energy solutions are the cherry on top of the cake.
Once you’ve calculated your footprint, if you see that there’s room for change, we hope you will make different transportation choices in the future to decrease your emissions. Once you’ve done that, if you would like to invest in one of the projects we have provided, like restoring degraded land in Panama into native, mixed forest, then you are doing some extra good in the world by restoring precious habitats that human activities have destroyed. And who could judge you for doing that?