Sometimes Flying is Inevitable: Here are some ways to reduce your guilt

Hitting the 50 lb baggage limit on the dot!  Photo Credit: Taylor Luneau

Hitting the 50 lb baggage limit on the dot!
Photo Credit: Taylor Luneau

As climbers we are inherently drawn to travel. We want to explore new regions, summit far-off peaks, and send inspirational lines all over the world. Whether we are setting off on an alpine trip to climb Denali, or spending the fall clipping bolts on perfect Spanish limestone, taking a plane to go on destination climbing adventures is pretty common in  our community. However the research is clear that carbon emissions from aircraft are detrimental to our atmosphere. It’s predicted that in thirty years, 25% of global carbon emissions will come from air travel. We tend to romanticize destination climbing trips, but the significant impact of air travel on the environment is a real buzzkill. If that dream trip takes you beyond your local crag or mountain range, and you are concerned about your carbon footprint, you’re not alone.

It is hard to think about climate change in relation to our own behavior, but there are ways to quantify our impact on the planet. According to climatologists Dirk Notz and Julienne Stroeve, 32 square feet of Arctic summer sea ice melts per one passenger on a 2,500 mile flight. Reducing or eliminating air travel is one of the most impactful ways we can combat climate change in our own lives. However, air travel may be unavoidable. If we can't give up flying completely, but are concerned that our premium round-trip flight to Joshua Tree from New York is emitting roughly 1.2 tons of carbon (calculate your next trip’s carbon footprint here), then how can we make up for this large spike in our carbon-footprint? 

We’ve looked into a few options: 1) a donation-based approach and, 2) carbon-offsets.

Donation-Based Approach

On the donation front, we are pleased to announce that we have partnered with Jet-Set Offset in order to give climbers an easy, reliable, and verified way to support organizations combating climate change. When you sign up with JSOS, one cent per every mile flown is donated to the environmental cause of your choice. In our case, donations from JSOS will be used to help us take action on climate change through: 

  • Advocating for smart climate policy and clean, renewable energy

  • Educating and engaging climbers on the issues

  • Developing research on climate impacts to recreation-based communities 

Each time you make a contribution, the Club will receive one cent per mile, which is the estimated cost required to offset the carbon footprint of air travel - taking into account the fuel efficiency of the aircraft and where a passenger is sitting (first class vs economy). So, back to that J Tree trip, for a 4,936 mile round trip flight, the donation to the Club’s climate work would be $49 dollars. Not a lot but it all adds up and makes a big difference in our ability to do our work.

Signing up once and making a donation is easy with JSOS and can fit neatly within the rest of your pre-trip planning. Once you’re done collecting beta on the route, sharpening your ice tools, packing the second rack, and somehow keeping your checked bag under 50 lbs - you can make your JSOS donation manually from your online profile, by emailing the flight itinerary to JSOS, or by an automatic donation with the flight purchase. 

If you’d rather go the route of traditional carbon offsets, here’s what we learned:

Traditional Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets are a way to compensate for carbon emissions by contributing to projects that sequester or store carbon emissions on a local or global scale. While there are many carbon offset programs-- from local wind farm creation to reforestation efforts and wetland restoration, the impact of offset programs are varied and can be hard to track. It’s tough to decide what type of offset to support and it’s hard to know if your contribution will be effective in the long-term. For example, how do you know if the $36 you donated to plant a tree in the Amazon will be cut down a few years later?

The Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) outlines a few things consumers should consider prior to participating in carbon offset programs: 

  1. Real: Does the program exist? Is the tree farm that your tree is supposed to be planted on real? Is the innovative project in progress?

  2. Verified and Enforceable: Has a third party verified this program for legitimacy and can enforce the terms of the agreement?

  3. Permanent: Will the program have a permanent impact or will it cease to exist before the carbon is captured? 

  4. Additional: Is this project happening in addition to what is already being done, or is it just playing into an existing program? 

Here are a few third-party greenhouse gas (GHG) Project Certification Programs that ensure that GHG reduction projects are real, verified, enforceable, and result in permanent reductions. These will help you to identify a suitable Carbon Offset program for your next adventure. 

Seeking out the unknown through travel is part of our culture of adventure-- a way to gain perspective, experience different cultures, and see the world. However, with a growing population of air travelers and a changing climate, it is becoming increasingly important that when making plans to travel,  we do so with thought and intention. The next time you plan to fly, we encourage you to donate to the Club through JSOS and explore carbon offset programs to find a way to contribute that works best for you.

~The AAC policy Team