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Do You Need to Fly? Then Choose to Offset

Many of us are trying hard to reduce our household carbon footprint.  We’re changing the sources of our electricity, switching to solar power and electric heating, using public transit, reducing waste, recycling, composting, and more.  As we continue to make these changes in our lives, we are meaningfully reducing our emissions and living in increasing balance with God’s creation.  There is one lifestyle choice, however, that can undo all of our annual emissions reduction work in a matter of hours – and that is air travel.

Air travel is a massive carbon emitter.  To get really concrete, my per capita emissions to fly from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to visit my sister and her family is 1,480 kg of CO2.  To put that in context, according to the IPCC, if we are to keep the planet to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the maximum allowable emissions for each person on earth is 1,500 kg per year.  This means that with one trip to visit my family by air, I have used up nearly all my annual quota of the CO2 I can responsibly input into our shared atmosphere.

With one trip to visit my family by air, I have used up nearly all my annual quota

But I and many others have family and friends that live far enough away that they can only reasonably be visited by air.  So what can we do?  We can offset our carbon. 

The concept behind carbon offsetting is that you can give money to a company that, with the funds you donate, does work that will remove the exact amount of carbon that your activity adds to the atmosphere, thereby zeroing it out and making your activity carbon neutral.

Carbon offsets can be tricky.  Many companies that offer offsets can't really quantify their work in a way that makes it a true offset, even though they may still be doing beneficial work for the climate.  That being said, there are reputable companies where you can feel quite confident that your payment is actually offsetting the amount it says.  

It is true that carbon offsetting increases the cost of your flight.  But I believe offsetting actually captures the true cost of that flight on the shared future of human and non-human life.  Furthermore, it’s not that much money - the cost to zero out my Philly to LA round trip flight through Atmosfair was only about $37.  And it can be quite exciting to be able to zero out your flight’s carbon while at the same time investing in great projects around the world that are working to bend our collective carbon curve in the direction of planetary healing. Carbon offsetting is not the final solution, but it IS a good way to balance out unavoidable carbon emissions. Think of it as a donation that makes a difference versus the answer the solves the problem 

I would like to invite Christian households to commit to zeroing out all their flights through carbon offsets from this point on, as a matter of faith.  Given what we know about the state of the climate crisis and its impact on people and the rest of God’s priceless world, I believe actions like this are a crucial way that we can grow as caretakers of creation and lovers of our neighbors.  And for those of you who would like to offset your whole lives (not just your flights), you can look for good ways to do that at the link to the companies above.  By moving forward in this way, I believe the church can become a powerful witness to our God who loves this world and the people living in it, and who is committed to its healing and restoration.

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