Monday, January 5, 2009

Offsets in the Air in San Francisco

Purchasing offsets for the carbon emissions associated with this will soon be easy at San Francisco International Airport, but how to know what’s really being accomplished? (Photo: Associated Press)

This spring, travelers entering San Francisco International Airport will see a new type of kiosk at check-in — one offering carbon offsets for those who wish to counter the greenhouse-gas emissions from their trip. It will be the first time that an airport will be peddling offsets, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Details — such as how exactly the offsets will reduce carbon emissions — are as yet vague. According to The Chronicle, the airport has partnered with 3Degrees, an offsets firm based in San Francisco that invests in clean-energy and carbon-reduction projects. The airport is supplying the kiosks and putting $163,000 into the program — and while the prices from are yet to be determined, a 3Degrees official told The Chronicle that offsetting a trip to Europe now costs around $36.

Many airlines, most recently Virgin America, have already begun selling offsets of their own. Virgin recently promised that it would soon give customers the opportunity to buy offsets while in flight, via the seat-back system.

With all these air offsets in the works and many questions raised about their effectiveness (not least by the Federal Trade Commission), I contacted Michael Wara, an expert in this area and an assistant professor at Stanford Law School. He said travelers should be asking plenty of questions about the offsets.

“Joe or Jane Q. Public wants to be as sure as possible that (1) said gas would have been emitted without their purchase (2) that said gas was in fact not emitted, and (3) that this certified non-event has not been sold to more than once,” Mr. Wara said in an e-mail message.

How to do that? Mr. Wara recommended making sure that the seller uses an approved voluntary offset methodology, and that a reputable third party verifier is used to certify the project and its accompanying emissions reduction. He also said the offsets ought to be registered after they have been sold, with guarantees that they will not be used again.

“If it were me,” Mr. Wara said, “I’d take a look at my frequent flier account once a year, add up the miles, do the math with an online calculator to go from miles flown to carbon emitted.” Mr. Ware said he would then seek out a reputable offset provider from whom he could obtain detailed information on how his purchase was actually generating a climate benefit.

“That way I could be sure of what I was getting,” he said.

Original here

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