According to the David Suzuki Foundation, carbon dioxide emissions from international air travel have increased a whopping 83 percent since 1990. Thanks to relatively cheap air travel, more and more individuals are flying to their vacation destinations. Unfortunately, the cheap air ticket doesn't reflect the true cost of flying. Even taking into consideration the fact that air travel makes up a relatively small percentage of the total miles traveled globally, it still accounts for between four and nine percent of the impact that human activity is having on the planet.
Consider the following. A flight between London, England and Paris, France would load the atmosphere with 348 kilograms of carbon dioxide. The same distance, traveled by high-speed train, would release a mere 75 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Combining rail with boat travel, whenever possible, is even less carbon intensive. All tolled, a whopping 75 percent of the world's traded goods are shipped by a combination of rail and water, but only contribute 1.75 percent to our global greenhouse gas emissions.
Since most of us don't have time to take a month long cruise to get to the Caribbean, flying south is the only solution for the winter weary Canadian soul. The question becomes how do we protect the planet that we're destroying in our attempt to experience it?
An interesting solution is something called carbon offsetting. Simply put, travelers pay a voluntary carbon tax, based on the distance traveled. The money is used to fund projects that absorb, reduce or avoid an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases elsewhere.
Carbon offset programs began in Britain almost a decade ago and have been running voluntarily in that country even since. Rock fans might remember the Rolling Stones 2003 World Tour that promised to be carbon neutral by subsidizing the planting of trees. Coldplay, another UK band, also pledged to be carbon neutral. The band funded the planting of 10,000 mango trees in India to offset the environmental impact of its 2002 release, A Rush of Blood to the Head.
The idea of carbon offsetting is finally beginning to catch on in North America. In December 2007, NHL hockey players Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins and Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames teamed up with the David Suzuki Foundation to issue a carbon neutral challenge to all NHL players. Based on the regular hockey season, each player contributes about ten tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Thus far 482 members of the NHL have taken the challenge, effectively offsetting the impact of nearly five million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Since carbon offset projects are still in their infancy and largely unregulated, it's important to purchase your offsets through a credible source. In order to help consumers make that choice, a Gold Standard has been established.
Gold Standard projects must meet a very stringent set of criteria and include those projects that replace fossil fuels with renewable energy projects and utilize leading edge technologies and processes. The projects are primarily implemented in developing countries where the need for affordable, environmentally responsible energy is in the greatest demand. The reduction in emissions from these projects must be verifiable and measurable and pass ten sustainability criteria. They must also be validated and certified independently.
Planetair.ca is the first Canadian offsetter to offer Gold Standard carbon credits. Travelers can visit the Planetair website, calculate their emissions and even pay for the online. For example, a return trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica from Toronto, Ontario would net 1.23 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Using the Gold Standard, the cost to offset these emissions would be $ 41.82. If sunny Cuba is more to your liking, a return trip to Varadero Beach is a bargain at 34.34 in Gold Standard offsets and pumps slightly more than one tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
To calculate your emissions and purchase your carbon offset check out Planetair.ca.
Still not convinced? The David Suzuki Foundation is great resource for information about carbon offsetting. Visit www.davidsuzuki.org.and check out the carbon neutral section. You can also check to see if your favorite NHL hockey player is a climate hero.