So Why Can't We Bother to Buy Carbon Offsets for Our Flights?

easyjet airplane photo

photo: jon smith via flickr

If you buy a carbon offset for the flights you take, you're in a small minority--at least according to a new survey by the UK Civil Aviation Authority carried out at Stansted airport last September. As reported by The Guardian, only 7% of flyers surveyed bothered to buy at offset. So, why?It's not that there's total ignorance of the practice--56% of people surveyed knew they could buy offsets and what their money went for (largely funding green energy projects of one form or another).

Is it that people are skeptical of the idea? Has the message that perhaps carbon offsets are most akin to buying indulgences for ecological sins won the day?

Friends of the Earth said: "Carbon offsetting is a con--it encourages businesses and individuals to carry on polluting when we urgently need to reduce our carbon emissions. it allows people to develop the mindset that it's OK to carry on polluting if green schemes in far-off locations make up for it.

Most People Don't Think About the Eco-Impact of Flying, At All
Considering that only 9% of people surveyed took fewer flights over concern for the environment, and just 3% of people chose their airline based on environmental criteria, I can't believe the the FoE message is what's influencing behavior.

Cross out the possibility that it's too inconvenient to offset; airlines flying into Stansted offer carbon offsets directly from their booking websites.

Which leaves one obvious option: That 53% of people who know what a carbon offset is are too cheap to bother paying an additional fraction of a percent of the price of their ticket to help fund a green energy project.

Do You Offset?
So what do TreeHugger readers do? Do you offset your flights (why or why not)? Are you flying less out of environmental concern? Are you as skeptical about carbon offsets for flights as much as Friends of the Earth?

I'll go first: Yes, I offset the flights I take; yes, I fly less frequently out of environmental concern (though don't not fly) and try to combine trips I have to take for work with trips I take for vacation; no, I'm not as skeptical as FoE about personal carbon offsets, though at the corporate and governmental level I agree that offsets are oversold as a way to keep on going with business as usual practices rather than actually making deeper changes.

Are personal carbon offsets ideal? Hardly. But until we retool our long-distance transit system towards something more eco-friendly they can be a way of at least partially mitigating the impact of our activities.

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More on Carbon Offsets:
So What's Wrong With Carbon Offsets As Indulgences?
Carbon Neutral Myth? Protesters Take On Offset Companies
San Francisco Gets World's First In-Airport Carbon Offset Kiosks

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