Some distressing news recently surfaced with the publication of a new report measuring the ecological footprint of the human species. It was decided that on October 9, 2006, we started using more than the Earth can regenerate in a year. To be honest, I thought we were beyond that stage already but it’s somehow more terrible to hear we just passed that mark.

The problem, using the US as an example, is this:

“According to Ecological Footprint calculations, the average U.S. citizen requires 24 acres (10 hectares) to produce enough food, shelter, energy, and other resources to sustain his or her lifestyle. Worldwide there are only 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares) of biologically productive land available for each person. Put another way, if everyone on Earth lived like U.S. citizens, the planet would need to be at least five times bigger…”

Basically, we have to figure out ways to tread lighter on the planet. Herein lies the traveler’s dilemma: we must travel to expand our horizons, but each flight pumps as much CO2 into the atmosphere as driving a car for three months. And as airlines compete for business, more and more people are taking to the skies.

There are two specific ways for you to deal with this problem.

1) fly less

2) purchase carbon offsets to neutralize the amount of carbon used in your flight.

This alternative is surprisingly affordable. While there are certainly a few places out there offering variations on this service, I visited two, both UK based. The first is – a company started by a man named Ru Hartwell, who:

lives on the bare slopes of the Cambrian Mountains of Mid-Wales and his eco-powered smallholding is now covered with organic woodland. This young forest is steadily getting larger as more and more airline passengers choose to take advantage of the service.

Basically, you pay a modest fee and they plant trees. It’s a nice swap. Another larger carbon offset provider is The Carbon Neutral Company, who provide a number of useful C02 calculators to determine the carbon emissions for different activities. I used their Flight C02 Calculator to determine the amount of carbon I would contribute in a trip from Vancouver, Canada to Costa Rica – 2.4 tonnes.

They present you with a range of packages to offset this pollution, all surprisingly cheap (within $25 – 50). Considering the impact we’re currently having on the planet, it seems a reasonable price to pay if it allows our species to continue living.

Update: I found two more companies that offer similar services:

Have you found any other means of offsetting your carbon emissions? Please share your findings in the comments.

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