Environment: December 2008 Archives

B and I crossed the Pacific Ocean. Or rather, we just got to India. The longest leg of our journey was 14 hours, from SFO to Hong Kong. We slept much of the way, then watched movies (her), read (me), and played video games (us),

We bitch about plane travel--the food, the cost, the security restrictions, the poor customer service--but it's pretty amazing how things have changed. We both have family stories of relatives traveling from India to the UK by ship. It seems like another world. B's uncle did that journey sometime in the 1950s; we talk about the journey as a curiosity from the past. He flew back to India, decades later, married to a British woman; it's the marriage that people remarked on at the time, not the mode of transportation. Air travel has become utterly mundane; how else would you get around?

It's no joke that global warming is an inconvenient truth. Air travel is currently responsible for somewhere upwards of 3% of human-generated emissions, but is rising swiftly; the IPCC fears it may grow to as high as 15% by 2050. Assuming we actually want to slow down global warming, the facts seem inconveniently biased against air travel as we know it.

But what are the alternatives? We keep hearing of aviation tech efficiencies, but there's been no magic bullet yet. If there were, could we replace the entire global airline fleet in a matter of years?

Which brings me back to ships. It takes about a week and a half to cross the Pacific Ocean by freighter -- each hour by plane turned into almost a full day of travel. I'm tempted to try it sometime. It could be a way of exploring the past, or possibly a glimpse at part of an alternate future. Either way, it'd be a very different way of interacting with vast swaths of our "flyover" planet.

Offset Consumer Offset Consumer - Top providers

I've launched a new website, Offset Consumer, to help consumers learn about researching and buying voluntary personal carbon offsets. Please check it out.

After watching An Inconvenient Truth, I pulled up a carbon calculator and tried plugging in our household numbers. B and I don't own a car, live in a relatively dense city, and rarely use heat or cooling. I was shocked to discover that not only were we not low-carbon emitters, but that we were actually in the 90th percentile of most carbon-spewing Americans that year. Oh, the shame! Those pesky plane trips, most to visit family, had thrown us over the top, and turned us into the moral equivalent of Hummer drivers.

We've been working on lowering our carbon footprints, and have gotten much more involved in work to lower everyone's footprints through systemic change. But we also decided to buy carbon offsets, as part of the mix. Offsets are complicated. The more I read, the more clear it became that while offsets really do work (on a micro level), offsets products also vary wildly in quality and price--but nobody (besides the climate science geeks) are talking about it. It's been incredibly frustrating to see how little information there is out there for normal folks contemplating buying offsets.

The Offset Consumer website is aimed at reducing that information gap. It addresses questions everyone needs to know about offsets (pros and cons, and how to evaluate them), recommended carbon calculators, as well as a meta-analysis of top offset providers based on five separate carbon offset provider evaluators.

I'm particularly happy with the list of recommended providers. Building the list has forced me do more homework, and I'm confident in being able to tell folks they should consider getting offsets from CarbonCounter, a Portland nonprofit with a great mix of high quality offset products, at a surprisingly low price.

The process of researching the site has also helped me come to terms about my feelings about offsets. I started off more skeptical of offsets, but I'm now very confident that the top providers really do divert emissions from the atmosphere that would have been emitted, had it not been for the funded project. Global warming is a moral and humanitarian crisis. For those who are responsible (and I say this as someone very much in that camp), buying high-quality voluntary offsets can--and possibly should--go hand in hand with reducing personal emissions and working on better systemic solutions.

Try a calculator for yourself. The numbers may surprise you.


Anirvan Chatterjee is a San Francisco Bay Area tech geek and bibliophile.


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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Environment category from December 2008.

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