By now, even if you’ve been camping out in the desert with a Bedouin tribe, the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ has probably infiltrated your psyche. It’s a term that’s come about because of the detrimental effects that human activity – particularly our unabated expulsion of greenhouse gases – is having on the environment. We all do this, so we all have a footprint. As a result, the polar ice caps are melting, water levels are rising and weather patterns are becoming increasingly freakish.
To reverse this worrying trend, experts are warning that we need to cut back on things like air travel to reduce our own impact. Tough for Abu Dhabi residents, as catching a plane is pretty much our only option for escaping the summer heat.
All might not be completely lost, however. Thanks to a relatively new initiative called carbon trading, we now have the option of paying to offset our emissions. This is something that originally started through allowances in the Kyoto Protocol, the amendment to the international treaty on climate change that limits each country’s greenhouse gas emissions, whereby a nation that is struggling to curb its emissions can buy credits from ones that have been more successful.
Carbon trading has now evolved into a huge global business allowing pretty much anyone to join in. Organisations such as Ecosecurities and Carbonfund have been set up, the numbers have been crunched, and trading practices have been put in place. To offset your flight, all you need to do is enter your trip details into one of the many preprogrammed calculators, and you’re told how many miles your trip will be, how many tonnes of carbon dioxide it will produce, and how much cash you’ll need to invest in an Amazonian rainforest project (or similar) to make it all better.
It sounds good on paper, but the initiatives attract criticism. Some environmentalists are up in arms, because they say we’ll all develop a ‘pay-to-pollute’ mentality, and that it’ll discourage us from cutting back in other areas of our lives. Other detractors are concerned that there’s currently no way to effectively monitor the projects, such as tree planting, and that the market lacks transparency, which leaves it wide open to fraud and corruption.
The good news is that airlines are also working on environmental schemes. ‘We have an online facility where passengers can trade in their frequent flyer miles and offset them for carbon emissions,’ a spokesperson from Etihad was able to tell us. ‘It’s something that is important to us, and we will get more into it.’
At the end of the day, it’s up to you. If you’re interested in carbon offsetting, the first thing to do is make sure that the company or organisation you use is reputable and that the project that they will invest your money in is sustainable. And don’t forget the day-to-day things – like switching off unused lights and appliances while you’re out of the house. Every little bit helps.