Can you really help save the planet by carbon offsetting? Time Out takes a look at the real cost of taking a break
Melissa van Maasdyk
By now, even if you’ve been camping out in the desert with a Bedouin tribe, the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ has probably infiltrated your psyche. It’s a term that’s come about because of the detrimental effects that human activity – particularly our unabated expulsion of greenhouse gases – is having on the environment. We all do this, so we all have a footprint, and now the polar ice caps are melting, water levels are rising and weather patterns are becoming increasingly freakish.
To reverse this worrying trend, experts are warning we need to cut back on things like air travel to reduce our own impact. This puts us Bahrain residents in a bit of a pickle, as catching a plane is pretty much our only option for escaping the searing mid-summer temperatures.
All might not be completely lost, however. Thanks to a relatively new initiative called carbon trading, we now have the option of paying to offset our emissions. This is something that originally started through allowances in the Kyoto Protocol, the amendment to the international treaty on climate change that limits each country’s greenhouse gas emissions, whereby a nation that is struggling to curb its emissions can buy credits from ones that have been more successful.
Carbon trading has now evolved into a huge global business allowing pretty much anyone to join in on the act. Organisations such as Ecosecurities and Carbonfund have been set up, the maths has been done and trading practices have been put in place. To offset your flight, all you need to do is enter your trip details into one of the many preprogrammed calculators, and you’re told how many miles your trip will be, how many tonnes of carbon dioxide it will produce, and how much cash you’ll need to invest in an Amazonian rainforest project (or similar) to make it all better.
It sounds good on paper, but the initiatives have attracted criticism. Some environmentalists are up in arms, because they say we’ll all develop a ‘pay-to-pollute’ mentality, and that it’ll discourage us from cutting back in other areas of our lives. Other detractors are concerned that there’s currently no way to effectively monitor the projects, such as tree planting, and that the market lacks transparency, which leaves it wide open to fraud and corruption.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you. If you’re interested in carbon offsetting, the first thing to do is make sure that the company or organisation you use is reputable and that the project that they will invest your money in is sustainable. And don’t forget the day-to-day things – like switching off lights and appliances while you’re away. Info at www.carbonfootprint.com.