Why planting two trees to offset my flights won’t make a difference to anyone...except me
2 weeks. 2 round trips. 2 tCO2e. 2 trees. Its been a while since I’ve been on them flying machines and I hadn’t been feeling particularly magnificent about it. It was the second time I'd flown since I started unravelling my conscious awareness of my impact on the planet a few years ago. Climate guilt had reared it’s pesky little head. But I think I've managed to cure it, or at least offset it. And not because I paid to plant two trees.
When I started writing this, I wanted to find out what my ‘normal’ carbon footprint was so that I could compare it with the two return flights added on. 104% compared to the U.K. average is my normal. I input the same responses to WWF’s calculator adding in the flights (without any offsetting) and my footprint increased to 142%. By taking the flights it would appear that I have contributed 1.75 tonnes of CO2e into the atmosphere.
It was a commercial flight of course. So it would have flown whether I’d have been on it or not. But still, the media, the aviation industry and my own conscience have managed to find a way to make me personally responsible for my tiny contribution.
I couldn't help thinking about those clouds of deadly invisible gases slowly choking the air we breathe. The same gases that are being released into the air by thousands of aircraft whilst I’m writing this blog. The planet that future generations might not get to #wanderlust because it’ll be too fucked up to fly around in. Extreme weather could make flying too dangerous. Smoke covered runways from increased fires, too invisible to land on. Hurricanes making it impossible to take off. An irony created by the human race who have evolved for thousands of years without wings, but were so fascinated by flight, that we had to find a way.
Yes my climate guilt was real. So to try to make myself feel a little bit better about it (!), I went ahead and paid to plant 2 trees in Scotland using carbonfootprint.com - less than £26. 2 trees. To offset 2t CO2e. Back to 104%. All is forgiven.
But that wasn’t the end of my spiralling thoughts. My first return trip was last week to Dubai for my cousin’s surprise 40th. No amount of climate guilt was going to stop me going. Not even the fact that it was a short trip which made it even more guilt inducing...
My cousin has lived there for nine years so I’m no stranger to the sandpit. To the impressive towers, the astonishing shaped buildings. To the lights. Oh so many lights. The cheap fuel.
On Thursday, had a bit of time to myself to grab a coffee. I started to look at Dubai’s impact on the planet compared to the UK’s. I also saw a photo of the ‘vagina’ building that’s part of the so called ‘greatest show on earth’, Expo 2020 which has a Sustainability ‘theme’. I’m not sure ‘theme’ is the right word to use there but that’s another blog.
China and the USA - almost half the world's CO2 emissions
Anyway, I digress. Back to CO2 emissions. As a percentage of the world’s CO2 emissions, the UAE is responsible for just 0.55%. And the UK only 1%. So, whilst it’s nice that I planted two trees to offset my flights, perhaps a better thing to do would be to boycott products made in China and the States. And not contribute to their economy in any way, shape or form. These super powers are responsible for 28% and 16% of the world’s C02 emissions (respectively). Until these two giants change their reliance on fossil fuels, absolutely no amount of ‘offsetting’ and tree planting by me will help the planet. It might help to make me feel better about my own impact on the planet but it won’t help on a grand scale.
I’m by no means saying we shouldn’t be doing anything. I'm not about to throw in the towel. That would be wasteful. I'm not going to give up doing my bit or abandon my Undisturbed startup. But I am now even more firmly in the ‘don’t put pressure on Joe and Jane Public’ Camp.
The Daily Mirror's 'Climate Issue' - greenwashing at it's finest
Take for example, the recent, politically well timed ‘Climate Issue’ by the Daily Mirror. The narrative is directed at you and me, with one article asking ‘how much of the 364.1M tonnes of CO2e you're responsible for’. The paper tells you, “Every time we hop into the car, eat beef that was farmed from deforested land or buy an item of clothing shipped from across the globe, we are adding to the billions of tonnes of C02 dumped into the atmosphere each year.” Feeling guilty yet?
According to the UK Government stats from 2016, the biggest contributor of CO2 in the UK is passenger cars – so yes, maybe there's room for improvement there. But on the whole, (using the same source of data) of the 467.9 MtCO2 emissions (different year to the Mirror stats), the ‘Residential’ sector was responsible for 22.8% of this. So industry and the public sector are responsible for 77.2%! There is the lesser told story in the press. Because we don’t pay for advertising. As I was flicking back n forth to the article I was served an advert for Barclays Bank. Barclays Bank, who “have funded fossil fuel companies to the tune of $30bn between 2012 and 2017.” (Guardian article from March 2019). Then a Tesco Christmas advert telling you to buy more shit you don’t need and spend, spend, spend. It’s greenwashing at it’s worst.
Yes we all need to know about climate change and should be doing something to help but ultimately, we all need to continue to remind ourselves that the real culprits are China and the USA Governments and corporations. The CEO’s and investors in the fossil fuel industries - the people who sit on Boards, investors and Governments who are making money whilst spewing CO2 and all its gaseous chums, into the atmosphere. And the top 1% who own 50% of the global wealth.
The Daily Mirror’s readership is dominated by people aged 55+ who are classed as C1, C2 and DE. This is a form of social classification by the NRS (National Readership Survey). Normal people who are ‘lower middle class’, 'skilled working class’ and ‘working class’. It’s an outdated system but gives us an idea of the incomes of the people who read this red top. Normal people are being made to feel like climate change is our fault. Our carbon footprint a mere drop in the plastic filled ocean compared to the 1% and those in positions where they can effect real, lasting change.
Mother Nature knows no flags or borders
Two trees, a reusable cup, refusing disposables, eating less meat or going vegan is all commendable and makes us feel better as individuals. But collectively, not even the UK’s commitment to carbon neutrality will matter unless these two super powers follow in our tiny carbon footsteps. Mother Nature doesn’t have flags or borders. Karma isn’t going to save the countries who are contributing positively to climate change and destroy those who are doing the most damage. Climate change isn’t dependant on where we live. It's dependent on those humans who have somehow managed to find themselves in positions of 'power'. We need them to realise that they are part of the human race and it is their choices that will ultimately what make the difference between survival and extinction.
“We must come to the conclusion that the primary group we belong to is that of the human race. That is our inevitable future. Anything else is regressive and far too dangerous.” The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene.