Taking responsibility for my airplane flight’s pollution

December 2, 2015 by Joshua
in Entrepreneurship, Models, Nature

I have my first flight coming up since my experiment with not buying food that requires throwing packaging away, as told in

Anyone who spends time with me knows I’ve avoided polluting more than most for decades. Still, that experiment amplified the trend.

(I should also mention that the experiment also led to discoveries about food that led to my most delicious, healthy, convenient, enjoyable, etc diet change yet. To those who think eating less prepared food is about deprivation, I’ve found it the opposite.)

It’s a matter of taking responsibility for my actions that affect others. I live in a world polluted by generations of people before me. I want to minimize the pollution I cause for others. My effects may be small compared to those of billions of others, but they are the ones I am responsible for. I don’t accept hiding behind excuses or anonymity.

Mostly I minimize my flying. I know many people who love traveling, but none who consider the pollution they cause. Maybe it’s knowing about nature from studying physics, maybe it’s how valuable I find responsibility for leadership, but I’m not so blissfully ignorant.

Of all the pollution flying creates, I decide to start with carbon dioxide, figuring people are working on it more. I’ve heard about buying carbon offsets. I wondered if I could do it.

I found a few sites like this one, that calculate how much carbon dioxide you pollute the atmosphere with based on flying and other activities. It said my trip would pump 16 tons of CO2 into the environment. That’s a lot. I wonder if people who fly all the time realize what they’re doing.

jet pollution

So far I understand how the site explains how it converts miles to amount of carbon dioxide, which the site explains. If I click “Offset now”, I get the following:

carbon offset

How they convert from tons of carbon dioxide to $238, the site doesn’t explain. I have no idea how it does that. Then it suggests donating the money to help build “The Ghana Clean Water Project.”

I like clean water and Ghana, but the project doesn’t sound related to removing CO2 from the air. I would have expected planting trees, maintaining a rain forest, research into carbon sequestration, projects to prevent population growth, or things like that. Of the innumerable charities I could give to based on a flight’s pollution, I’d prefer one related to pollution or global warming.

Searching more on carbon offsets found this site, which listed what seemed more relevant projects:

offset projects

Still, I’m most interested in a project that affects the system, not just effects. Sometimes working on enough effects affects the system, but not always.

Having read Limits To Growth, a systems perspective on global warming, I’ve found population growth swamps nearly any would-be solution, technological or otherwise. Having read Do The Math, a science-based blog on human interactions with the environment, I know that economic growth can’t go on indefinitely and has to stop somehow, but nearly all our economic models are based on unlimited growth.

In other words, we’re basing our future on physical impossibilities, sticking our heads in the sand. From my favorite author on systems theory, Donella Meadows‘, essay on how to change systems, her top three ways to change systems are to change the goal of the system, to change the mindset the system is based on, and to transcend mindsets. I’d like to work in this territory.

From the Do The Math blog, I heard of a group called the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), which seems to promote studying and creating economic models for steady states. I’m no economist, but there is no doubt in my mind that humans can live happily in a steady state. I also find the Do The Math blog compelling in showing that unlimited economic growth is impossible.

So I wonder if donating to CASSE would help. I don’t know much about them. They seem academic and not doing much. I don’t know many other places that are looking at the fundamental beliefs driving our unrelenting growth.

So I guess this post is part work-in-progress and part question to readers for ideas of what else I can do, given that I want to take responsibility for at least this pollution I’m causing and would rather work on the system than just a part of it. If I can’t think of any, I can fall back on reforesting Brazil or one of the other projects on the second page I showed a screen shot of. I still don’t know how the first site converted from tons of CO2 to dollars.

Any ideas on alternatives?

Read my weekly newsletter

Lsbs book

Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by Seva

2 responses on “Taking responsibility for my airplane flight’s pollution

  1. A very difficult question indeed. Especially as most people believe that they don’t need to change, it’s enough to do a project in other communities and the third world. But as these societies develop, the Population Needs even more energy. So not eating meat (or much less at least), less travelling, better insolation of homes, using cars less, using more public transportation, etc. help on a personal level. And we need to get governments and countries to stopping to burn coal to produce energy, to stop using nuclear power (even though not much happens, but inevitably it does happen and when it happens it causes major damage that is unresponsible to assume).
    Anyway, as it is not easy/possible to reduce our footprint enough, here another organisation which allows to offset CO2 emission … and they also show through which projects they achieve this:
    https://www.myclimate.org/carbon-offset-projects/

    • Thanks for sharing and the link. The more I think about this issue, the more I realize the difficulty of getting CO2 out of the air. At first I thought I could spend money on planting trees, but planting trees only makes up for the trees we’ve cut, and population growth means we’ll never catch up on the forests we’ve cut and moved people and farms into.

      Meanwhile, jets, cars, heating, and other fossil fuel uses are pumping CO2 from underground into the atmosphere that hasn’t been there for hundreds of millions of years. You mentioned and your link has some ways to conserve and increase efficiency, but they only slow the pace (your link had some reforestation). My quest is to undo my contribution — that is, to take CO2 (and other pollution) out of the air. I don’t think we know how to do it besides trees, which make a negligible difference. You also didn’t mention population growth, which almost no one will touch politically.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter