When I was interviewing this fascinating guy about how to run a sustainable business and travel more responsibly, my own glaring hypocrisy hit me in the face. Air travel is one of the worst offenders of carbon emissions, and as a frequent traveler, I’m pretty darn offensive.
I like to believe that travel is one of those things that has more benefits than drawbacks, that while it might not be good for the environment, it’s good for people on a whole — to connect, share cultures and better understand each other. But it’s a lot harder to measure perspectives than it is to measure carbon emissions. So to see how much my love for travel is harming the environment, I used a carbon footprint calculator.
Just based on my flights so far in 2016 alone, I’m responsible for 8,675 lbs CO2e (3.93 metric tons), not even including my day-to-day life. The average person in Hong Kong accrues a carbon footprint of about 14 metric tons a year, if you take into account air travel. And you should, since it accounts for like 50 percent of carbon emissions every year. The worldwide goal if we’re going to combat climate change? Two metric tons per year, per person. Whelp, that’s embarrassing.
But what the heck is a metric ton? What does it actually mean IRL? According to the calculator, my carbon emissions is the equivalent of about 101 trees. So I could go out and plant 100 trees to make this right, or I could pay US$56 to offset my carbon footprint.
Oh, so you can just throw money at the problem? Yes and no. Essentially a bunch of new apps and websites make it easy to track your personal impact, tally up those carbon sins, and pay your way in carbon credits. Carbon offsets typically go towards renewable energy projects or community projects that aim to reduce and/or capture greenhouse gas emissions — think wind power, methane gas capture at a landfill, or replanting forests. So while it’s an indirect trade-off, you can contribute to the great battle against climate change.
Are carbon offsets going to erase your actual carbon footprint? Nope, and they’re probably not going to erase your guilty conscience either. But if you can’t stomach the idea of cutting back on travel, it’s one small way to make an effort. To travel more responsibly, you can make smarter choices when you travel: Opt for an electronic car if you’re renting, avoid baths and running water, book direct flights rather than multiple connections, stick to public transport to get around, choose not to print out tickets and confirmations, and stay loyal to airlines with fuel-efficient engines.
Make lots of small but manageable adjustments to the way you travel, and the footprint you leave behind will be a tiny bit leaner and greener.