I’ve finally just got round to carbon off-setting our flights for this year. I did do it a year or so ago but after that I read in New Internationalist magazine about the down-sides of carbon off-setting, I was less eager to just go throwing money at some company to asuage my carbon guilt and felt I should do a bit more research.

While doing some filing just now, I found the latest issue of The Co-operative Membership magazine, which has an article about The Co-operative Bank and its ethical policy. The Co-operative Bank apparently uses the Climate Care scheme to off-set its carbon footprint of things like business flights. I figure that The Co-operative Bank is probably a reasonably reliable role-model in such things so I decided to just get on with it and calculate how much carbon I contributed to the world by flying this year.

I’m sticking to personal flights here and not counting my return flights to the US at Easter for business. I need to look into what IBM’s eco policy is for such things.

So, sticking to personal flights, I think I’ve done pretty badly this year in terms of the number of flights I’ve made. I went on holiday to Paxos, a Greek island, in May, which involved return flights to Corfu. Also, I flew from Southampton to Glasgow for a wedding in June, although I virtuously caught the train back (I couldn’t take the day off work to get the train both ways). And I have another two flights between Southampton and Edinburgh for another wedding. On the plus side, I went to Brussels for a weekend in February using the Eurostar both ways – which was not only greener but actually quicker and more pleasant in my opinion.

According to the Climate Care calculator, all that comes to the grand total of £8.96. Which doesn’t seem very much but I guess that’s because they’re all fairly short-haul flights. I can’t remember how much CO2 that was but I’ll get my PDF certificate within 5 days to remind me.

So do I feel less guilty about my flights? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I still feel it was an excessive number of flights to take – especially when it is actually possible to catch trains to Scotland (although the 7.5+ hours it takes each way from Southampton does cause problems if you’re going just for the weekend). I try to imagine what I’d have done if low-cost internal flights weren’t available. I guess I’d have either taken more holiday from work or just not gone to the weddings. I don’t think the availability of carbon off-setting would have featured very heavily in my decision. My reason for catching the train home when I went to the wedding in Glasgow was that I wanted to try to be at least a bit greener. I’m quite happy to sit on a train for an afternoon with a book, and it was actually cheaper to catch the train than to fly. I actually wouldn’t mind paying a little more to catch the train than fly so I felt a bit smug that I’d proved wrong all the people who claim that flying is cheaper than other forms of transport to travel long-distance in the UK. I’ve recently discovered, in travelling more frequently between Southampton and Lancashire, that you can actually get pretty good train deals if you book far enough in advance.

So, my position on carbon off-setting isn’t cut and dried. I think I see carbon off-setting as the last resort, after trying to find greener methods of travelling. I like to think that I’m making a bit of an effort in that (catching the train and Eurostar when it’s possible) but I know it’s not really as big an effort as it could be yet.