Carbon Offsetting

October 16th, 2019

The term ‘flight-shame’ has been in the news recently as kids go on strike for the planet — and here I am flying all over the world. When people talk about the tiny minority of people that take most of the airline flights: I’m one of them.

The best solution would be to reduce my carbon footprint. Which I intend to try: but it’s difficult when my job requires me to travel to lots of places, and I don’t want to give up my job. Outside of travel, I don’t have much of a carbon footprint to reduce.

So: second best choice. I can offset. Or, more accurately, my company can.

Based on recommendations from folks I trust, I picked a carbon offsetting service, one that:

That way, even if one of those approaches doesn’t work, hopefully the other one will.

I started to calculate the footprint from all my flights and travel, but there are a lot of variables and it was a long process and there aren’t really carbon footprint statistics for being a passenger in a military fast jet, so instead I just picked a really big number. 100 tonnes of carbon, roughly equivalent to a seat on thirty transatlantic flights. And then I doubled that number, partly because I wanted to be safe, but partly because I’ve probably inspired more people to fly. I should take some responsibility for that too.

And because I didn’t buy those offsets, my company did, that can be claimed as a business expense, which means that I can then add just over 23% on top for the tax that my company won’t then have to pay on that expense. And then I rounded it up. 250 tonnes of carbon. An overcompensation. Plus there’ll be another ten tonnes offset every month for as long as I’m doing this. [Update, December 2023: now the weekly on-location videos have ended, so has the ten-tonnes-per-month overcompensation. In total, including the initial burst, the company offset 750 tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of around 180 average-people-years, or 45 average-American-years.]

I’m told that eventually the company name, Pad 26 Limited, will appear in a registry somewhere; when that happens, I’ll add the evidence here. [Update, February 2021: here's the registry link, although it may not display more recent offsets. The dates of credits and retirement do not match the dates of purchase.]

As we reach the twenties, this should just be part of the cost of doing business. It isn’t. But until it is, that’s what I’m going to do. And everyone out there who’s been pushing me towards this, directly or indirectly, everyone who’s been steadily dragging public discourse in that direction — the kids who left school for a day and held a placard, the people who emailed me going "why do you fly this much", my friends who kept asking — you peer-pressured me into this, into amplifying your message. And I hope that this, in turn, convinces other people to do the same.

Because, yes, you were right. if I can afford to fly places for my job, I can afford to offset the damn carbon. I avoided listening to the little voice in my head that was saying that for a long time, because it was easier.

I know there are going to be people out there being skeptical about all this, either because they don’t think it helps, or that they don’t believe there’s any reason to help, or saying it’s just a PR exercise. Well, yes, it is a PR exercise. That’s why my company can claim it against tax. It’s public relations. But even if you think it’s not a good idea: this method of offsetting still helps people. Like, the worst-case scenario here is that the world’s a slightly better place.

I’m sure there are effective altruists out there who would argue that there exists a solution closer to the ideal. There probably is. None of this is ideal, but I hope it’s at least something.

I should still fly less. Offsetting is not an excuse to go fly to Australia for a day. But at least I’ll be able to look people in the eyes when they ask me about how much I’m in the air.