Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The impact of airtravel

To date, only about 5% of the world's population has ever flown. However, the IPCC estimates that 3.5% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions stem from aviation. Taking a long distance flight, say from Munich to San Francisco, is about the worst climate offense one can commit in a day. Air planes are per person not much more efficient than cars. If you consider the distance being about 5870 miles one way, a round trip can be equivalent to your annual car mileage!

But given that our lives at times require air travel, it is important to mitigate its impact. There are many sites selling carbon offsets, but they all vary in precision of climate maths, efficiency of administration and quality of investment projects. It is very important that the money gathered by selling offsets is invested in meaningful, timely and verifiable projects. The currently best option to offset flight emissions is atmosfair. Their focus on the airline industry makes them a good partner for environmentally acceptable air travel.

Some of the things that make atmosfair stand out are:
atmosfair is "more costly" than what carbon calculators of other sites quote to fully offset a flight. However, this is due to more accurate calculations and higher quality projects. As they state on their site, 'because contributions to atmosfair are voluntary, [...] passengers should be fully informed about the ecological effects of flying as they are currently understood by the scientific community.' It becomes our choice then.

Next time we fly, we can consider our personal climate budget. Given the climate community's stated goal of limiting the average rise in Earth’s temperature by 2050 to 2°C above the pre-industrial level, we have a global budget of about 750 billion tonnes of CO2 until the year 2050. Given a world population of 8.2 billion people, this means that each person on Earth has a yearly budget of roughly 2.3 tonnes of CO2. We can do our own maths on how many flights that allows us to support this important goal. Let's do our part!

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