Last month, JetBlue announced plans to become carbon neutral on all domestic flights in 2020 and offset up to 17 billion pounds (7,711,070 tonnes) of carbon emissions. And on the consumer level, airlines like United have long offered carbon offset options for environmentally-conscious travellers—but how exactly do carbon offsets even work?
Well, if you’re looking to learn a little more about carbon offsets, Wren, an online subscription service and web app, will help you calculate your overall carbon footprint, as well as projects you can donate to “cancel out” your pollution.
To use the site, first, you’ll have to provide your email address and select your country of origin. Afterward, you’ll see your country’s “carbon baseline” or the average emissions for a consumer there; in the U.S., it’s apparently 19.5 tons (17.7 tonnes) of CO2 emissions a year, data pulled from the University of Berkeley’s Cool Climate project. (For background, offsets are measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent.)
You’ll then complete a questionnaire to help determine your carbon footprint, which includes questions like whether you drive a car, how many flights a year you take, and what your diet consists of. Some questions are harder than others and might require a look at your credit card bill. (I couldn’t, for instance, immediately put a number down on how much I spend on “healthcare” on an average month. What about insurance?)
In the end, you’ll receive an estimated grand total. Mine was 15.5 tons (14 tonnes) of C02 emissions a year—less than the baseline, but still significant when compared to, well, the rest of the world.
From here, you’ll be provided a variety of options that will allow you to offset your personal carbon emissions, should you choose to subscribe. Examples include providing clean energy options to refugees in Uganda or helping prevent deforestation in the Amazon through the funding of technology resources.
You can opt into subscription plans like “Carbon Lite,” meaning you’ll offset half your emissions, or “Carbon Hero,” meaning you can offset your emissions by double the amount if you’re feeling especially green. (Based on my emissions, the cost of one project ranged in price from roughly $US6 ($9) to $US25 ($37), but you also have the option of paying whatever dollar amount you want.)
Why offsetting carbon isn’t everything
You might argue that carbon offsets might feel like a bandaid on the problem of carbon emissions. After all, offsetting is not the same as making a considered effort to reduce those emissions, to begin with. A recent Wired story took a deep dive into the effectiveness of carbon offset programs; ultimately, it can be a useful solution in the short-term, depending on the program. (Meanwhile, a recent ProPublica investigation found that some carbon offsetting projects often failed to offset the pollution they were intended to.)
Where does this leave you? Well, if you’re sceptical, use Wren’s calculator to determine your footprint and do an online search for other organisations you might contribute to. (You should also keep in mind that Wren takes 20% of each subscription as payment.)
“To shop smarter, check to see how much money goes to the organisation’s overhead rather than to the project you want to support,” the NYT notes. Curious how you can track your carbon emissions on flights, in particular? We can help.