What about carbon offsets? Many airlines promote this as a way to fly guilt free. If you can’t reduce your emissions yourself pay someone – usually in a poor country to do it on your behalf through schemes such as planting trees or projects such as replacing kerosene lighting in a hospital in India with solar powered lights. Seems like a great idea but in reality it’s a bit like trying to quit smoking by paying someone not to take up the habit – on the one hand you’ve prevented someone becoming an addict but you haven’t solved the original problem. George Monbiot views offsets rather like medieval indulgences where the rich could pay the church for forgiveness for their sins , enabling them to shag, pilfer and stuff their faces free from guilt. Cheat neutral has a rather amusing modern take on this.
The reality is it is the consumption patterns, transportation, travel etc of us in the rich world which have created this mess in the first place and we have to face up to the fact that these will have to change and fast if we are to have a hope of preserving a safe climate. If you really have to fly then offsetting your trip is better than nothing, but make sure you use a properly accredited scheme as there have been numerous problems with the verification of offsets in the past. First of all how can you really tell it represents an actually reduction in emissions which wouldn’t have otherwise occurred- ie would it have happened anyway. In terms of tree planting and forest offsets how can you calculate the amount of future carbon captured or ensure that the forests won’t be felled in the future or burn down. One scheme which tries to overcome these difficulties is the “gold standard” set up by a number of NGOs which are rigorously and independently tested to ensure they really do what they say they will.
However it is worth bearing in mind that to cut carbon dioxide to a safe level will mean that all those projects will need to happen anyway as well as stopping the activities whose emissions were being offset.