To overcome what is clearly a serious dilemma and keep people traveling, a creative solution has emerged - carbon offsetting. According to WikiPedia.com, Carbon offsetting is "the act of mitigating ("offsetting") greenhouse gas emissions. A well-known example is the purchasing of offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions from personal air travel". But exactly how does it work? Today we talk to Kathrin Dellantonio, of myclimate, a Swiss-based non profit foundation with a range of carbon offsetting products.
myclimate talk the talk and walk the walk... we asked lots of companies to do this interview and they were the only ones to step up to the plate - well done myclimate.
We ask Kathrin about the mechanics behind carbon offsetting, and the extent to which it really will have an impact on our futures.
KSR.com: Kathrin - thank you for taking time out of a busy schedule like this to talk to KhaoSanRoad.com… It's very kind of you. Perhaps you could start by giving our visitors an overview of myclimate and your role in the organization.
Kathrin: myclimate is a nonprofit foundation based in Zurich and active since 2002. We are among the leaders in the international voluntary carbon offset market and known especially for the very high quality of the projects.
We offer offsets for individuals (flights, cars, households); companies, events, products etc. We also have several projects of environmental education where we sensitize people for climate change and try to give them tipps on how to make their behavior more climate friendly. I have been working here for the last two years as head of sales, marketing and communication.
KSR.com: And just so we can get a background to your company's activity, what is the current situation as far as the environment is concerned? Global warming, climate change - are these buzz words and sounds bites or should we really be concerned?
Kathrin: Gobal warming is something we should be concerned of because it is proven that mankind has a very big impact on the climate system. The IPCC, the highest scientific panel on climate change stressed this in its last report.
KSR.com: Just to get the full picture… Theoretically, if we wanted to see positive changes in the environment in five years rather than twenty, what would the human race have to do right now? It would mean some pretty radical changes in the way people live and earn a living, wouldn't it?
Kathrin: Yes, changes are requested from all of us. However, the climate system is a very slow system. Emission reductions realized now will bring down the atmospheric CO2 concentrations much later.
KSR.com: For the uninitiated out there, can you give us a broad overview of carbon offsetting and how it works.
Kathrin: Offsetting means that emissions caused at one place are offset somewhere else. For example, with offset money, it is possible to build a biomass power station instead of a coal power station. The biomass station produces much less CO2 than a coal power station, this avoided amount of CO2 is sold.
KSR.com: What sort of carbon offsetting products do you offer?
Kathrin: For individuals - flights, cars, households… For companies - a whole company or parts of it… events, products.
KSR.com: Taking for example a trip from London Heathrow to Suvarnabhumi Airport, how much carbon would that put into the atmosphere and how do you calculate it?
Kathrin: A return economy flight produces 4.508 tons of CO2 equivalents (i.e. also other climate relevant emissions are counted). This is calculated using the distance, fuel consumption and average number of passengers in a plane.
KSR.com: How much would it cost to offset that amount of carbon?
Kathrin: EUR 108
KSR.com: And if I engage your services for this purpose, what specifically might myclimate do to offset this carbon?
Kathrin: We invest the amount into our projects where the same amount of CO2 is reduced by replacing fossil fuel energy sources with renewable ones and implement energy efficient technologies. For examples please see our website.
KSR.com: I recently saw a program on the BBC where the presenter was flying around the world enjoying himself, and buying carbon offsets to lessen the impact of his travel on the environment. From what I remember, the company that sold the offsets paid for more efficient light bulbs and gave them to a hotel in the Caribbean. Realistically, how long would it take to offset the amount of carbon a trip from London to the Caribbean puts into the atmosphere through the use of more efficient light bulbs? It would be years, wouldn't it?
Kathrin: I can't say anything with regard to this project as I don't know it. However in our projects we guarantee that the emission reductions are realized and retired from the market no later than 2 years after the purchase.
KSR.com: This is where I get confused about offsetting. If it is going to take a period of years, or even up to a year, to offset the impact of a flight, it's going to take at least that amount of time for the benefits to kick in. Meanwhile carbon is going into the atmosphere. Isn't the immediate threat from increased amounts of carbon in the atmosphere greater than the balancing impact of carbon offsetting?
Kathrin: Yes, definitely the amount of CO2 produced now is much bigger than the emission reduction in offset projects. It won't be possible to offset all CO2 with offset projects. Therefore we all must try to reduce the CO2 emissions.
KSR.com: I am just playing devil's advocate here, and I have to askÂ… Isn't there a danger with your products people feel the more they buy, the more they save the planet?
Kathrin: To counteract this we also do a lot of environmental education in order to show people how they can change to a more climate friendly life. Because for the climate it is course the best if emissions are not produced at all.
KSR.com: So, alongside offsetting your air travel, what advice would you give to the traveler who is concerned about the planet? What can that guy walking down Khao San Road with a backpack on do right now to help the world tomorrow?
Kathrin: When it comes to traveling, he should try to travel with the the least negative impact on the foreign country. Apart from traveling, he should try to reach a more climate friendly consumption pattern, i.e. use public transport, use energy efficient appliances, etc.
KSR.com: Last question - are you a half empty or half full type of person? Are enough people doing enough? Or aren't we going to make it?
Kathrin: A half full type of person, an optimistic person. I think that we can counteract climate change, but we all need to contribute our part, rethink our consumption patterns and take emission reducing measures.
KSR.com: Kathrin - thanks for this. Let's hope that people take into account their impact on the environment and start making the changes we all need.