Energy Diet

Trick or Tree

I have already explained in previous posts why I do so little on the transportation matter and why changing my transportation habits is currently not an option.

To add the icing on the cake, we have recently booked a flight to New York for the fall. (Well, it’s New York, guys, I’m sure you understand!) Actually this is (only) going to be our second flight this year. Not bad, considering we usually fly a lot more over the year. Blame it on the baby, not on our eco-changes, so I’m not sure if it’s ethical to tick off that list item…

As suggested by the challenge, we should compensate the carbon emissions generated by this travel, so we did a small calculation. According to Carbonfund calculators, our flight from Lisbon to Newark airport (6,792 miles) will generate 2.45 tons CO2 and cost us $24.45 to offset.

Out of curiosity I decided to check out the emissions my monthly car travels to and from work generate: 270 kg CO2, what would account for 5 Euro  (7.30$) monthly to compensate them (this last calculation is based on a Portuguese carbon offset site called Carbono Zero).

The site provides us with a list of projects to offset our carbon emissions, such as donating to tree-planting programs in Portuguese forests.

But this subject is quite controversial. On one hand it reminds us of papal indulgences during Inquisition. It kind of tells you it’s ok to travel as much as you want, as long as you can buy your forgiveness pass. In other words, you can keep on polluting, as long as you make a donation.

On the other hand there is the question about the truthfulness of the offset program: Is our money going to be spent the way it’s supposed to? And then there is the question of additionality: To what extent do our offsets contribute to the actions already taking place? And considering the years it takes for a tree to grow, how long should this tree live to neutralize the carbons emissions generated by a single travel?

I’m not an environment expert, but it does not make sense to ask for forgiveness after having intentionally sinned. So, after having thought long and hard, we decided not to buy carbon offsets. We don’t really see how can $25 compensate for a 6,792-mile flight. You either do it (travel/pollute) or you don’t. And if you still decide to go (as we did…), there are several other things that you can do to reduce your carbon emissions when you travel.

Here are some of them:


– If you stay in a hotel, hang the sign “Do Not Disturb” on your door, meaning you do not want your linen changed.
– Avoid buying coffee to go (that usually comes in a paper/plastic cup). Seize the opportunity to sip your cup of coffee while you sit and relax from your sightseeing trip.
– Keep on recycling just as you do at home.
– Avoid buying souvenirs. If you really have to, favor local craft (if possible, made from biodegradable materials).
– If you travel to a bike friendly place, forget the taxi and public transportation and cycle your guts out.
– Do not complicate. You are on vacation. Do you really need the hair dryer, the makeup or the fancy clothes?


  1. Chad Lipton
    June 16, 2011, 8:51 am

    Monia–These are great thoughts. I understand your hesitation to purchase carbon offsets. Europe and the US operate under different environmental rules. Europe has a binding carbon emissions scheme and the US only has a voluntary one. In Europe, only high level polluters–like industry–are required to do so. And for good reason. It is too cumbersome to track emissions on the household level. On the whole, I see how carbon offsets positively contribute to the clean energy field and to the environment in general, but not without inefficiencies. Your thoughts underscore weaknesses in the carbon market. As someone with experience in this field, I entirely agree with your mindset not purchase offsets on the individual level. Your awareness and efforts to reduce environmental impact while you travel are admirable and most important. It separates your family from most.