TEST LAB

I Bought an Offset and I Feel...

We asked three travelers to tell us what it's like to buy carbon offsets, which promise to compensate for the share of carbon dioxide that planes, trains, and automobiles spew out during a trip.

I bought an offset and I feel...
VINDICATED
I had always assumed that it would be too expensive—and time-consuming—to buy a carbon offset for a trip. But when I bought my first offset through leading U.S. seller TerraPass (terrapass.com), the cost to cover a round-trip flight between Kansas City, Mo., and New York City was a piddling $6. And I was happily surprised to find that it took only about 10 minutes to complete.

Before I clicked to buy an offset, TerraPass provided a quick overview of where my money would go, with a reminder that it conducts annual third-party audits of the programs it funds. This information reassured me that my money would actually go toward a wind-power project as promised.

I never feel too guilty when I fly, but this time around, I did sleep better on the plane knowing I had offset some of its destructive fumes. Given how affordable offsets are, I'm sure I'll buy others. I also expect that my next purchase will be faster given that I have already done the hard work of setting up an account with TerraPass.
JD Rinne

I bought an offset and I feel...
RIPPED-OFF
I gave $60 to myclimate (myclimate.org). Based on the simple drop-down menus, I learned that my nonstop flight from New York City to Oakland, Calif., was the equivalent of 1.833 tons of carbon dioxide. I was flying JetBlue, which has a young fleet compared with the industry average, and it bothered me that the myclimate calculator didn't seem to factor that in. I'm pretty sure newer models have better fuel efficiency. Shouldn't that reduce the emissions by a little bit? The whole process left me with more questions than answers.

But what bothered me most was the lack of transparency. I wanted to know how the money would be spent. What project would my money contribute to? What percentage of it would go to administration? The site didn't provide satisfactory answers to those questions.

When the final invoice arrived, it said: "Your contribution to carbon offsetting goes toward myclimate carbon offset projects in developing countries and emerging markets. All projects reduce emissions by replacing climate-impacting fossil fuels with renewable energy or energy-efficient technologies. For example, you support the local production, distribution, and use of solar cookers and efficient cookers in southwest Madagascar."

That's just way too vague for me, and I won't be purchasing a carbon offet again anytime soon—through this organization or any others that offer similar services.
Amy Chen

I bought an offset and I feel...
AMBIVALENT
Because of a confusing layout, it took a few moments for me to find the American version of JPMorgan ClimateCare (jpmorganclimatecare.com)—by clicking on a tiny U.S. flag icon—so that I could pay in U.S. dollars. I plugged in my travel info: one passenger flying nonstop between New York (JFK) and Rome (Fiumicino). The carbon calculator tallied 8,531 miles traveled, 1.92 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted, and an offset cost of $24.74. That was less than I had expected to pay, especially considering that my airfare had cost $667.

On the next screen, the company promised to put my money toward greenhouse-gas reductions through an array of projects that meet international standards. It hadn't dawned on me until then that if my $24.74 went to one project exclusively and that project fell through, my offset would fall through with it. I was pleased by the notion that my money was being spread out among a variety of projects, which seemed a safer strategy.

I paid by credit card in U.S. dollars, and the confirmation—which immediately landed in my inbox—included two brief examples of the types of projects that might get my money. A second e-mail arrived with a certificate. I appreciated the company's enthusiasm, and the certificate made me smile a little sheepishly because the whole thing required so little effort—which didn't make me feel particularly certificate-worthy or deeply involved in improving the environment. I didn't understand, either, how the company had calculated the emissions of my trip. The print explanation didn't say much beyond "calculations are based on the best available information."
Kate Appleton

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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