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Offsetting foreign flights - salving your conscience or solving the problem?

In the first of a new series of columns, Katie Lee, editor-in-chief of Shiny Shiny, discusses her attempts to live a greener life. This week, she looks at the thorny issue of carbon off-setting.

Petrol_crochet_hat_1_thumb_1 I read Adam (aka, the Green Guy)'s post about off-setting his New York flights with no small amount of interest. I was on that very same press trip, feeling similarly guilty about the environmental unfriendliness of it all. And a few weeks afterwards, I trebled my sins with a trip that involved a return flight to Japan with a return flight from Seoul to Tokyo sandwiched in between. So when I finally got my act together to go some way to counteracting the effects of my trans-planet trips, Adam's run down of the offsetting options available made for helpful reading. Following Adam's lead, I plumped for Climatecare, which is the offsetting option beloved of BA and The Guardian (other options include Carbonneutral. Treeflights and CO2Balance) and I duly handed over the £35 or so that will go towards research into energy efficiency, renewables and tree-planting projects.

So did that salve my conscience? Not entirely. I'm well aware that off-setting isn't the catch-all solution to a carbon rich lifestyle. You can't just waltz about the planet on planes and then throw money at the problem you're helping to create. But, having said that, I'm not one of those neo-puritans who believe it's all or nothing when it comes to doing our bit for the environment. It's important that hardcore hippy shoppers don't get too carried away with feeling superior. Those of us who try to do our bit, but who aren't quite able/ready/willing to have a complete lifestyle overhaul, may still have a global footprint that's clownsize, but at least it shows a degree of awareness that is still lacking in an awful lot of consumers.

With those carbon emissions still playing on my conscience, I sought advice from the Carbon Trust website. The trust advocates off-setting, but only after you've already made efforts to reduce the Carbon you already waste in your day to day life. It would far rather that you spend the money that off-setting sites request on updating your home with energy efficient products that make more of a direct impact on our daily carbon usage. Since I have been slowly upgrading my lifestyle to a more sustainable level, I would be spending that money on energy efficient products anyway, hence my decision to cough up for the off-setting as well.

In the next few columns, I'll discuss some of my efforts to live a cleaner, greener life, no doubt featuring my latest purchases. Yes, I know we live in a consumer culture, and that if I were a true eco-warrior I would frown on such product-led thinking. But I am, after all, a consumer technology journalist, and I just can't resist those gadgets. Those of you who deplore such consumerist tendencies should probably look away now, but if you're hoping to integrate sustainability into your daily life without having to move to a log cabin in a self-sufficient coppiced wood, hopefully you'll find something of interest!

Next week: Getting the green light: the wonders of the Light Emitting Diode.

November 8, 2006 in Carbon Neutral Living, Columns & Opinion | Permalink

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