By Cailey Rizzo
November 19, 2019
PASCAL PAVANI/Getty Images

EasyJet announced that it will become the first airline in the world to offset all its carbon emissions, starting Tuesday.

Over the next fiscal year, the airline plans to spend more than $33 million in schemes to plant trees or “avoid the release of additional carbon dioxide” into the air. But it would be a mistake to believe that these carbon offsets completely mitigate the environmental impact of air travel.

“We recognise that offsetting is only an interim measure, but we want to take action on our carbon emissions now,” CEO of easyJet, Johan Lundgren, told The Guardian. “Aviation will have to reinvent itself as quickly as it can.”

But all this talk about airlines carbon offsetting isn't getting past professionals in the know. 

“Offsetting is, to be blunt, a scam,” Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, said during a presentation at World Travel Market London, according to Skift. “It does not work, once you emit you are changing the climate.”

While carbon offsets may do some good, they don’t get to the heart of aviation’s environmental problem: dirty energy and fuel. A report from ProPublica earlier this year accused the aviation industry of using carbon offsets as a “cheap alternative to actually reducing fossil fuel use.”

Carbon offsets may plant trees and protect forests but they don’t get rid of the actual problem which is the carbon emissions in the air.

An investigation from The BBC looked into the carbon emissions and carbon offsets of the Irish airline Ryanair, which claims to be Europe’s “low emissions” airline. While they do contribute to carbon offset programs, The BBC determined that in order to completely offset the fossil fuels their flights were burning, the airline would have to plant and cover 12 percent of the United Kingdom in new trees. Their program only planted seven acres of new forest.

The term “net-zero emissions,” which some airlines use to make their travel seem clean, is a misnomer. The term is something entirely different from zero-carbon fuel which, in a documentary released on the BBC last week, environmentalists said was the “only way out.”

If you are buying carbon offsets to lessen your environmental impact, it isn’t a total waste of money. The projects undoubtedly do good in the world. However, interviewees in The BBC documentary said the aviation industry needs to be held accountable for its environmental impact. Carbon offsets can no longer be heralded as a miracle anodyne.

Aviation currently makes up about 2.4 percent of global carbon emissions. But by 2050, that number could increase to 15 percent. If the industry wants to continue its mission to connect the world responsibly, it will be necessary to develop alternate, clean power sources — which will cost a lot more money, time and effort than throwing funds at carbon offset projects.

Along with easyJet and Ryanair, Qantas Airlines, British Airways and Air France have committed to producing net zero emissions. 

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