The problem with offsetting [ODT, 16/09/19]

Think carbon offsetting when you fly is doing your bit for the planet? Think again, says tourism professor James Higham. It is only useful as a baby step towards real change, he tells Bruce Munro. 

It is now a standard option whenever you buy an air ticket.

Whether it is less than $10 on return flights between Dunedin and Auckland, or $70 on return flights for that holiday in Europe, most airlines offer passengers the opportunity to pay a bit more to offset their carbon emissions.

Offsetting may just be a way to allow the wealthy to continue to fly.

With the world on a collision course with potentially catastrophic climate change precipitated by atmosphere-altering greenhouse gas emissions, the chance to mitigate the 300kg to 3018kg of carbon dioxide you personally have put into the atmosphere by your decision to fly seems a planet-saving bargain. A small price for a clear conscience? Too good to be true? Absolutely, Prof James Higham says.

Prof Higham is based in the University of Otago’s Department of Tourism. He is co-editor of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

He is philosophically opposed to the idea of carbon offsetting because, he says, “fundamentally it’s an impossible solution”.

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