Carbon Offsets in the Air

Friday on The California Report’s weekly magazine, Rori Gallagher reports on ways to assuage your carbon guilt with a quick stop at an airport kiosk.

By Rori Gallagher

Reed Galin

Photo: Reed Galin

I first got the idea to do a story on carbon offsets back in December, when San Francisco International Airport announced it was partnering with a private company called 3Degrees to install carbon offset kiosks.

Originally, the kiosks were supposed to be installed sometime “in the spring.” But there seems to be a delay with the contract negotiations. I kept checking in with 3Degrees about a launch date. At first they were saying Earth Day–then it was pushed to May, and now “by the end of June.”

But there are already other options out there. I found that Virgin America, the only major airline based in California, was the first to offer carbon offsets in the sky. Other airlines do offer customers the chance to purchase offsets but Virgin allows you to do it during the flight through the in-flight entertainment system.

Carbon offsets are supposed to stop carbon emissions that would have otherwise taken place. That’s really difficult to substantiate. Projects like wind farms for example, certainly seem good for the environment but likely most of them would be built anyway and produce power without this type of third-party incentive.

Virgin’s program managers say they stringently vetted carbon offset programs, and that theirs are among the most credible out there. But as I point out in my radio story, there is very little regulation of the voluntary carbon offset industry and it’s difficult to know if they’ll do what they say they will.

There are some independent efforts to separate the sheep from the goats, for example the Natural Resources Defense Council has produced a buyer’s guide for carbon offsets.

Trucks line up at an IdleAire terminal, which provides "carbon offsets" for airlines. Photo: Rori Gallagher

Trucks line up at an IdleAire terminal, which provides "carbon offsets" for airlines. Photo: Rori Gallagher