Opinion » Eco Logic

A personal carbon equation

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Let's talk carbon offsetting.

First, a definition: a carbon offset is an active reduction in CO2 (or other GHG) emissions made to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Offsets are measured in tons of CO2-equivalent. Second: it isn't a new conversation, having been on the table for at least 30 years. But aside from the early actions of a dedicated few, the idea stagnated—particularly during the lost Harper decade (recall that the HarperCons cancelled Canada's highly effective One Ton Challenge citizen carbon-reduction program). Unsurprisingly, once the Conservatives were removed, things changed for the better in Canada with a welcome rejuvenation of the carbon-offset discussion.

An example of current actions: virtually every organization with which I work in a board-member or other professional capacity now offsets its meetings—local, provincial, national, international—as well as any travel involved. When there's a cost of attendance, carbon-offsetting is built into the price. This is huge. It's also the responsible thing to do; we can't stop participating in society and the economy, but we can collectively strive to change its structural environmental impacts.

Organizations do this by registering with carbon-offset companies (e.g., Offsetters, South Pole) that calculate impact for specified actions and let them know how much carbon offset to purchase. The Adventure Travel Trade Association, for instance, a global organization whose World Summit I recently attended in Sweden, started a first-of-its-kind bulk offsetting program for member organizations.

"Neutral Together" is both bold and important because when you consider overall carbon footprint, adventure travellers (looking your way Whistlerites), responsible and environmentally minded as we are, rank an embarrassing three times the metric tonnage of the average citizen—and Canada already resides near the top of per capita energy consumption globally.

Traditionally, the cost for calculating carbon emissions has been expensive, complicated, and time-consuming, especially for tour operators with limited budgets. The bulk-purchase model drops the price of offsets from about $16 CAD per ton to approximately $5.20 CAD per ton, considerably more attractive and realistic for small businesses. Which brings us to the next horizon: you and me. What are we personally doing to offset travel-related carbon impacts? And if it's nothing more than carrying a reusable coffee mug around, who can help us with doing something more meaningful? Enter the travel app Adventure Junky's Offsetter program.

The Adventure Junky app currently features more than 1,000 adventures in 100-plus countries, hand-picked for low impact and high experience—part of its mandate of practical solutions to the most pressing problems arising from overtourism and CO2 emissions. 

But this new initiative goes a massive step further. According to Junky co-founder Fuchsia Claire Simms, "We created the Offsetter plan specifically for the frequent traveller who cares about the planet and wants to become climate positive."

I know that I want to become climate positive—especially given that four hours of flying = 1 ton of CO2 = 3 sq. metres less of sea ice—and, despite altering how I travel, have been looking for something broad-based like this for a while.

For a monthly subscription of $18 CAD Adventure Junky's Offsetter provides travellers with a simple, convenient means to offset 36 metric tons of CO2 annually.

In tangible terms, that's an individual's personal CO2 emissions plus a buffer for travel that equates to several domestic and international trips per year (96 hours of flying). This is all based on the empirically demonstrated average Western citizen emitting 12 metric tons of CO2 equivalents annually, and a quarter ton of CO2 equivalents per hour of flying.

As a collaboration with UK-based clean-tech start-up Offset.Earth, offsetting is achieved through a combination of fully-audited tree-planting programs and certified gold standard investments into carbon-reduction and renewable-energy projects (including community-based programs in developing countries).

It's pretty much win-win-win, and Offsetters can monitor the positive impact in real-time through a web-based online profile. Each month, another 48 trees are planted in the real world on their behalf (that's 500 trees each year), and reflected in their growing "online forest."

They can see the carbon-reduction projects they've supported and the positive impact they've made on atmospheric CO2 levels.

I immediately jumped on a family membership, but this wasn't meant to put the whole conundrum to rest. Adventure Junky Offsetter readily acknowledges that "carbon offsetting alone is not enough to solve the climate crisis, it is a tool to be used with a combination of lifestyle choices as we transition away from carbon—for good."

Learn more about offsetting at adventurejunky.earth/offset. You can also discover ways to become a more sustainable traveller at adventurejunky.earth/about.

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