What exactly is a carbon footprint?
You’ve likely heard about carbon footprints by now – the measure of the amount of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by a particular human activity. Greenhouse gases are any gases that absorb and re-emit heat into the atmosphere, keeping the atmosphere warmer than it should be.
Because these gases are released as a result of any human activity, the amounts they are released in can be as small as the actions of an individual, or as large as the collective actions of a whole country. It is measured as tons of carbon dioxide emitted per year – which comes from both the release of CO2 itself or of any of its equivalent gases, including methane and nitrous oxide. Each of these greenhouse gases has a “global warming potential” (GWP). According to Ecometrica, GWP indicates “the amount of warming a gas causes over a given period of time”.
You can calculate your carbon footprint for anything you might do, from going to the grocery store to flying to another country. And as different as those activities might be on your pocket, so is the amount of greenhouse gases released by each of them.
According to Climate Neutral Group, flying contributes to 40% of carbon emissions in the travel industry, followed by other forms of transportation that jointly make up 32%, and accommodation contributing 24%. Globally, flying counts towards 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And, locally, a return flight from New York to Los Angeles, emits almost 1,247 lbs of carbon dioxide.
How can I help?
While it is almost impossible to fly commercially without carbon emissions, you can take individual steps to reduce your carbon footprint while traveling. When it comes to booking your flights, you can try to make the trip carbon neutral. This is when you calculate the emissions your trip will generate, working out what the monetary value of those emissions would be, and then contributing financially to a project that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the same amount. These types of projects include initiatives that plant trees, support solar or wind power, or reduce communities’ dependency on fossil fuels.
You can make a financial contribution to projects that offset carbon emissions through Terrapass, an initiative started by Dr. Karl Ulrich at the University of Pennsylvania. Choose the individual air travel option on the carbon footprint calculator to calculate and pay for carbon credits to offset your flight emissions.
Some United States airlines, such as United and Jet Blue, have started initiatives to offset the carbon emissions of their passengers. United Airlines has partnered with Conservation International to give customers the option to calculate and offset their carbon emissions when booking a flight. United airline has also introduced an Eco-Skies CarbonChoice sponsorship program for corporations, where the airline donates to offset all domestic business travel for these customers. Jet Blue began offsetting carbon emissions for all domestic flights in July of 2020 and is now using sustainable aviation fuel for flights from San Francisco International Airport.
As a result of switching to renewable energy and enforcing programs to reduce energy use, the Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport is the country’s first accredited carbon-neutral airport. Several other U.S. airports have greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, including San Francisco, Austin-Bergstrom, Atlanta, Denver, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airports.