Atoning for our (my) Climate Sins: is it possible with Carbon Offsets?

OK, OK, I know that air travel is not good for the planet (listen to ClimateX’s Bonus Episode 3: To Fly or Not To Fly)… and – true confessions – I have a long-distance trip coming up that I’m not going to cancel – so, what to do?  Several years ago I bought carbon offsets for my air travel, but I slacked off – each time, thinking, oh, right, I’ll do it when I get home…

This time, in addition to doing my own research, I’m asking you, ClimateX member or visitor, to share your stories about carbon offsets for air travel:

  • If you don’t use them, why not.
  • If you do use them,
    • How do you tell if they’re legit?
    • Which offset arrangements you’ve found most effective and why?
    • Which are your top 2-3 go-to info sources on offsets?

Some places I’ve found to start my own research

Hope to hear from you soon!


Dave Damm-Luhr's picture

For those of you wondering

For those of you wondering what I actually did - here goes:

I selected (my personal choice, not an endorsement by ClimateX or MIT). It met the criteria of Climate Action Reserve and Green e-Climate, and (1) offered an easy to use carbon calculator, as well as (2) sensible offsetting options.  

For example, for calculating CO2e in aviation, TerraPass offered four ways to do it: by (1) specific flights; (2) estimated # miles traveled; (3) estimated gallons of fuel; and (4) average trip length. They offer both individual and business calculators. You can pay in one lump sum or in monthly installments.  

I also learned a new term in the process: „radiative forcing.“  Essentially, it means that there‘s a magnifying effect when airplanes fly in the upper troposphere (where they are most of the time in flight, especially longer distance ones).

And, to Curt‘s point - right on the money - no good reason to stop with air travel in offsetting.  TerraPass also covers all modes of transportation as well as home energy use.  

Will personal carbon offsetting also address the larger institutional and economic systems issues underlying our global (aviation) GHG pickle?  Probably not, but while we‘re trying to figure out solutions to those intractable knotty causes, maybe we can support activities that get us closer to „carbon neutral“ within our families.

What personal action makes most sense to you?

Dave Damm-Luhr's picture

Late Breaking News - another

Late Breaking News - another great offsetting tool - from The Good Traveler

"...a non-profit collaboration between airports and the organizations they connect with, on a mission to make travel sustainable. ....also working towards more efficiently investing airport revenue into offsetting the carbon footprint of our ground operations under the Airport Council International's Airport Carbon Accreditation program.

More later on exciting developments from the Rocky Mountain Institute's Sustainable Aviation team, let by Adam Klauber.   They're aiming to "help 10% of the North American and European commercial aviation and jet fuel market switch to sustainable aviation fuel by 2025."

Wow! That would help crack a very hard climate nut!

Curt Newton's picture

Why stop with just air travel

Why stop with just air travel?

I try to offset our family's total footprint - house, food & consumables, driving, flying etc. Our house and food consumption are bigger emission sources than our air travel. 

After some research a couple years ago, I selected  This non-profit uses a range of best-practice 3rd party verification/certifications and transparency methods.

I remember looking at lots of different offset organizations. Researched the Gold Standard, VCS, etc. There's no denying the pure intellectual spin that it's a cheat, a license to pollute, but also the reality that in our current society we can only reduce so much through choice.  Only so much time in the day, there's certainly aspects of every offset scheme's methods that I haven't fully grasped, but refused to let that be a barrier to action.

Among offset orgs, there seem to be a range of projects they fund - some focused on a specific country or developing economy community, others broad portfolios. Also some are non-profit, others for-profit.

I just noticed that Sierra Club offsets their sponsored trips with NativeEnergy, a for-profit B corporation. They probably had a solid vetting process.

Should I be putting this money toward a (very expensive) overhaul of our emissions-intensive old home heating system instead? One could make the case.  But the heating system is orders of maginitude more $$ than our annual footprint offset, dealing with that separately.

Rick Shankman's picture

"After some research a couple

My apologies Curt, I looked at the wrong "Carbon Fund" and was going to delete my reply, but then thought that my mistake (in identifying a fund of the World Bank - with an identical name) sho

wed some important facts.  So, I have left it on here.

Then, I looked up the guy who started Paul Rowland

"After some research a couple years ago, I selected  This non-profit uses a range of best-practice 3rd party verification/certifications and transparency methods."

In the immortal words of Deep Throat... "follow the money."

Let's take his advice and follow the money...

"September 11, 2017 – Winrock International contributed significantly to the development of Ghana’s Emission Reduction Program which has become part of the portfolio of the Carbon Fund of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, making it eligible to receive performance-based payments for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).  Ghana is the second country to be fully included in the Carbon Fund on its first attempt, following Chile’s acceptance earlier this year, also supported by Winrock." -  GHANA RECEIVES LANDMARK APPROVAL FROM CARBON FUND

So, who is Winrock International?

This is the fun part...

Win - Rock?... hmmmm...

Oh! "Win-Rock"... Winthrop Rockefeller!  The late son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr (1874 - 1960), himself the son of none other than (reputed social Darwinist) John D. Rockefeller (1839 - 1937) of Standard Oil, the predecessor of ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Marathon.

See... The History of the Standard Oil Company 

Curt Newton's picture

Sins of the fathers, etc ...

Sins of the fathers, etc ... I don't care so much about prosecuting that history as what are their current actions?

I appreciate how the current generation Rockefeller Foundation took their 2014 divestment position (adding a nice boost to the movement) and committing reinvestment in climate change mitigation and adapation projects. At the moment, why not consider this a relatively good trajectory? Ill-gotten gains can (and are) being put to far more damaging ends.

ClimateX community, here's a fun thought experiment: If you were born a Rockefeller heir, no fault of your own, what specific actions would you take with all that money?  

Rick Shankman's picture

"Sins of the fathers, etc ...

"Sins of the fathers, etc ... I don't care so much about prosecuting that history as what are their current actions?...

... If you were born a Rockefeller heir, no fault of your own, what specific actions would you take with all that money?"

Well Curt, if it were me... I'd use it to build a phony carbon trading scheme to make even more money as "peak oil" was being hit globally, and dupe the world into funding and supporting my climate change defense movement being run by me!

That's what I would do.

How Big Oil Founded The Environmental Movement

After taking those profits and using them to advance Eugenics and Malthusian ideals, if there was any money left over at all, I'd maybe use the rest to fund an actually good program (for the "useless eater" masses) like conversion of plastic waste ruining the world's oceans into engineered modular roadway surfaces... From bottle caps to interstate highway: Meet PlasticRoad