So, you and the kids are off to Disney World, Whistler or some other far-off pleasure place for March break. Or waiting at Pearson airport for the runways to be cleared.
Either way, you’ve got some hours to ponder our latest challenge.
Which is, simply, don’t do this again. Slipping the surly bonds of Earth is hard on the environment — not to mention your nerves when you spend two days of your week-long vacation embroiled in getting there and back.
The Challenge: Resolve that next year you’ll find your fun close to home instead of thousands of kilometres away.
And for this year, since it’s too late to change your plans, consider purchasing offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions your trip will add to the atmosphere.
Motivation: Air travel is a small but potent and fast-growing cause of climate change. Those turbines spew immense amounts of greenhouse gases and the impact is multiplied 2.7 times because the emissions are at high altitude.
Process: The longer-term part of the challenge is straightforward. You simply decide: No more March break flying. Instead, investigate good things to do near home.
For the short term, offsets pay for each tonne of greenhouse gas emissions your trip produces. Your cash goes to projects that cut emissions elsewhere. Offsets are controversial: They’ve been compared to the medieval indulgences that let sinners buy absolution. If you leap that philosophical hurdle, you can choose which of several offsetters to buy from.
Here's how my fellow blogger Catherine Porter described the options in a recent story on offsets:
Each company has its own method, using different data on fuel consumption, the number of seats, and the effect of the altitude. Most projects aim to avoid emissions elsewhere: Energy-efficient light bulbs in Kazakh schools will reduce fumes belched out by local coal-powered plants.
Some pay to do the same in North America, through wind farms or, in one case, a geothermal well supplying energy to a Vancouver AIDS hospice. Others aim to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by planting trees.
How do you separate good offsets from bad?
First, ask: “Would this project have happened anyway?” If your money goes toward a wind farm the government wants built, you are simply saving taxpayers money.
Are the projects verified by a third party? You don’t want to unwittingly line the pockets of some warlord in Africa. There is a gold standard for offsetting projects, developed by the World Wildlife Fund. It ensures a project does what it advertises, and doesn’t cause damage by, say, kicking people off land to plant trees.
Speaking of trees, a report by Boston’s Tufts University.says to avoid projects that plant them. “You have to ensure they’re around in perpetuity, which is pretty hard to do,” says Paul Lingl of the David Suzuki Foundation.
But there is an argument in favour of planting trees. How sure can you be that the Kazakh villagers don’t unscrew those fluorescent bulbs after the well-meaning Westerners have left? “The only known method we have today for extracting carbon from the atmosphere is planting trees,” says Ron Dembo, CEO of Toronto-based Zerofootprint. The company funds reforestation projects in British Columbia, but factors in a 25 per cent chance they’ll die. “The reality is we need to take carbon out and not just avoid (emitting) it," Dembo says.
There are many offsetters to check out, and while you’re doing the research, dig in to the types of projects they support. It’s a good education in how to reduce emissions. Check out zerofootprint, Carbon Neutral, Planetair and Carbon Zero Canada. This partial list isn't meant as a starting point, not an endorsement. Most of the offsetters offer carbon calculators.
Cost: Expect to pay around $10 per tonne of emissions. The 3,376-kilometre round trip between Toronto and Orlando emits 400 kilograms of greenhouse gases per passenger.
Savings: There’s no direct financial saving from offsets. But staying home is usually cheaper than being a jet-setter.
Those of you planning to spend March break here can designate one Green Day during the week when you can try out one or more of our previous challenges or the Star's green tip of the day, or come up with something else to reduce your footprint. Let us know what you decide and how it goes.
-- Peter Gorrie