Taking Responsibility for My Flights

I’ve come to the realization that the flights I take are quite detrimental to the earth. I’ve made hundreds of changes in my life to live more earth friendly but I’m not giving up flying completely as of now. However starting today I’m taking some serious responsibility for the flights that I do take.

I decided to go back and calculate the carbon footprint of every flight that I’ve ever taken. I was able to calculate that I’ve traveled roughly 199,500 miles by air. I have taken 21 roundtrip flights and 49 one way flights. My portion of those flights have emitted roughly 125.6 tons of carbon. I calculated this on four different websites, all of which have a high standard for carbon offsetting, and used the highest estimate I found*. 

To give you a bit of a reference, the average American generates about 20 tons of carbon per year from all activities. In 2008, 2010, and 2012 my flying alone generated that much carbon. Since I’ve started to pay more attention to my actions my total carbon from flying has gone down to about 11 tons in 2013 and 2014. Considering that flying is my biggest, and now one of my only, environmental sins that’s actually not too bad. But considering how much I care and how much I desire a cleaner and greener planet its pretty substantial. If you compare it the global average carbon footprint of about 4 tons per person per year it starts to look worse though. Then when compared to the average person in over 30 different countries who generate only 1 ton of carbon in a year you realize that 125.6 tons of carbon just from flying is quite a lot of carbon. The effects of carbon and climate change know no borders so it’s not fair to those people at all. 

Here’s what I’m doing to make up for the negative impacts of my flights:

1. I am offsetting the carbon of every flight I’ve taken to date using the Gold Standard which is highest standard on the market. That will cost me $1,764 to offset 125.6 tons of carbon. Even after choosing the highest calculation that I found within the Gold Standard I am also adding 25% on top of that to account for possible underestimates. This makes a total of $2,198 / 157 tons of carbon. That’s not too much money considering it’s 10 years of flying and it may be a substantial overestimate. Gold Standard carbon offsets are high quality energy efficiency and renewable-energy projects such as wind farms and solar, that encourage a shift away from fossil-fuel use. My money went to The Ghana Clean Water Project which installs water filters into homes so that people have clean drinking water and at the same time reduces carbon emissions by preventing the harvesting of trees and burning of coal.**

2. From today forward I will offset the carbon of every flight I take 3x. For example a roundtrip flight from San Diego to London emits about 8.6 tons of carbon so multiplying that by five, I will offset 26 tons of carbon. That will cost me about $364. This will always be calculated using the Gold Standard as well which is widely considered to be the highest standard in the world for carbon offsets including by organizations such as WWF, David Suzuki Foundation, and Greenpeace. I could use a much lower standard and make my numbers sound about 3 times better but this is all about making responsible and well thought out decisions for our planet. That is why I am supporting sustainable projects that actually contribute to a real reduction of CO2 emissions and serve the best interest of the local communities where the projects happens.

3. For every flight I take I will volunteer 5 hours with nonprofits working to make the world a more sustainable and just place. So that same roundtrip flight to London would also result in me volunteering for 10 hours.

4. When I fly I will dedicate some of the trip to inspiring and educating others to reduce their environmental impact. This will be done by hosting a day of action, a hands on workshop, an environmental activism campaign, etc. Most of the flights I take will be done for the main reason of spreading environmental messages anyway but when I take a trip solely for personal reasons this will come into play. 

5. I am practicing complete transparency with my flights and my offsets. By knowing that all of my flights are readily available to all eyes I will hold myself accountable for my actions. Click here for a continuously updated record of all the flights I’ve taken and the offset information.

6. This goes completely without saying for me but I will always fly in economy seating. I never have and never will fly in business, first class, or any spacious seating arrangement. The more people that are on planes, the lesser the impact of flying per person. One of the simplest ways of doing this is by keeping the seat spaces reasonable rather than spacious. I’m more than ok with not being perfectly comfortable on a flight. In my mind it’s a miracle to be able to speed through the sky in a tiny metal tube. I don’t expect, deserve, or need to be spoiled during this tiny fraction of my life.

7. ADDED January 2017: I will always attempt to use my trip as a means to raise funds for environmental and humanitarian nonprofits by forgoing luxuries offered to me. Often when I am being brought somewhere to speak I am offered far more than I need. Fancy seats, hotel rooms, and private transportation are a few examples of this. I will forgo these unnecessary options and have the organization donate what I save them to a nonprofit instead. For example when I flew to London in October 2014 to promote my first TV show I had them donate $1,980 to a nonprofit working to end food waste and hunger, simply by flying economy instead of economy plus, staying with a friend rather then in a hotel, and taking public transportation rather than private. See a list of all the times I’ve managed to do that here. Also because I’ve vowed to donate 100% of my media income to nonprofits, as of January 2017 I’ve raised close to $40,000 for nonprofits. A vast majority of which would not have been raised if I refused to fly.

Of course I will always choose public transportation or ridesharing over flying when it is feasible and when it actually means less of a carbon footprint. I have done calculations and have been quite surprised at how close the carbon emissions of flying vs. driving or public transportation can actually be in certain scenarios. Also I will carry on living in a very low impact manner upon landing at the destination. That means taking public transportation, sleeping in shared or simple accommodations, eating local earth friendly food, drinking water from the faucet rather than bottled, not creating garbage, and the list goes on.

Of course, the best thing that I can do is to reduce the number of flights I take because offsetting carbon does not mean that the negative affect of the flight is truly nullified. However if every single one of us offset our flights just 1x with quality programs it would drastically lessen our negative impact. By requiring myself to offset my flights 3x I will pay a price that is closer to the true cost of flying. An airline can fluctuate their prices to entice me to fly but the self imposed environmental tax will always be there to remind me that money does not reflect the environmental costs of flying.

A vast majority of all the flights I take will be because it is an opportunity to affect positive social and environmental change, and enough to really make it worthy of a flight. This means I won’t be traveling for the sake of personal enjoyment or for business as much as I have in the past.

I want to put it out there very straightforward that I am not going to be perfect ever. If there is one hypocrisy in my life it is flying but I’m glad that I can at least admit it. I think that in the long run I’m going to have to fly a fair amount, possibly even more than I do now. I intend to affect a lot of positive change for humanity and the environment and I believe that is best going to happen by me being physically available to people around the world. I will take other means of transportation besides flying much of the time but sometimes flying is going to be the practical means. I will analyze every potential flight and decide whether it is truly worth it in the grand scheme of things. This includes looking at the opportunity and deciding whether my impact there will be worth it and also looking at the big picture of my life and deciding whether the flight will contribute substantially towards creating the change in the world that I am striving for. It’s a difficult thing but I truly believe that I won’t grow the movement to even close to my fullest capacity without taking some flights. 

With all that being said with these strict standards I might actually leave the earth a slightly better place when I fly. The math says so and the logic says so but the final call of that will come from the earth and I’ll never truly know. In the grand scheme of things I do truly believe that flying at the right times will be key in my success of creating massive positive change. I am not in this movement for a few years. This is a lifetime of work. 

My aim is to lead by example and inspire others to travel more ethically as well.

Here’s what you can do to reduce your impact from flying and what I’m doing as well.

First, reduce flying in the first place by:

-Taking vacations closer to home

-Take trains or buses rather than flying

-Using webcams for meetings and keeping in touch with people

Second, if you do have to fly:

-Fly economy. Less butt space means higher fuel efficiency

-Combine trips so that you fly less often

-Fly the most direct route possible, without layovers, since take-offs and landings use the most fuel.

-Pack light. Less weight means less fuel burned

-Offset your flights using The Gold Standard. It is extremely affordable and if you can afford to fly you can afford this small additional cost. Flying roundtrip across the USA will cost you about $30 to offset.

More information on carbon offsetting:

*I calculated the carbon emission amounts using four websites that are recommended by The Suzuki Foundation, a highly respected and trusted source. Of the four websites, I chose, Native Energy the site that gave me the highest calculations of my carbon footprint which was between 21%-43% higher than MyClimate, Less, and ClimateFriendly.

The calculations include the Flight Emissions Factor and the Radiative Forcing Index (RFI) so it is the highest calculation out there taking this into account. If I chose to ignore these factors I could have easily cut my calculation in half but I’m sticking to the highest standards on the market for calculating carbon emissions. 

*My $2,198 went to The Ghana Clean Water Project which installs water filters into homes to avoid potential greenhouse gas emissions by preventing the burning of wood and charcoal, which is often used for boiling water to sanitize it. It also prevents deforestation because the people who receive the filter won’t have to harvest wood from the forest to burn for fuel. Those are the environmental benefits (among other things) but whats even greater is that people who might not otherwise have clean water are included in this project and will have safe drinking water for a decade with this one filter. Also they employ local Ghanians to install and maintain the filters which gives back even more to that community.

What is The Gold Standard?

The Gold Standard is widely considered to be the highest standard in the world for carbon offsets. It ensures that key environmental criteria have been met by offset projects that carry its label. Significantly, only offsets from energy efficiency and renewable-energy projects qualify for the Gold Standard, as these projects encourage a shift away from fossil-fuel use and carry inherently low environmental risks. Tree-planting projects are explicitly excluded by The Gold Standard.

First, Gold Standard projects must meet very high criteria to ensure that they contribute to the adoption of additional sustainable-energy projects, rather than simply funding existing projects. The Gold Standard also includes social and environmental indicators to ensure the offset project contributes to sustainable development goals in the country where the project is based. Finally, all Gold Standard projects have been independently verified by a third party to ensure integrity.

Currently, The Gold Standard is restricted to offset projects in countries that don’t have emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, primarily developing countries. Supporting offset projects that meet The Gold Standard therefore helps these countries leapfrog developed countries technologically so they don’t go down the same fossil-fuel path, which would be disastrous for the climate.

The Gold Standard is supported by more than 80 nongovernmental organizations worldwide including WWF International, Greenpeace International, the Pembina Institute, and the David Suzuki Foundation. Read more at The Gold Standard

What is a carbon offset?

Many types of activities can generate carbon offsets. Renewable energy such as wind farms, installations of solar, small hydro, geothermal, and biomass energy can all create carbon offsets by displacing fossil fuels. Other types of offsets available for sale on the market include those resulting from energy-efficiency projects, methane capture from landfills or livestock, destruction of potent greenhouse gases such as halocarbons, and carbon-sequestration projects (through reforestation, or agriculture) that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Note: There are a lot of fake carbon offset programs out there and not all projects are equal.
Read more at What is a carbon offset?

Resources:

Go carbon neutral

Air travel and climate change

Travel sustainably

Top 10 ways you can stop climate change

The Truth about Carbon Offsets