Everybody's going green. Spurred on perhaps by public attention gained by European carriers that have introduced carbon offset schemes to great media attention, Delta Air Lines became the first big US carrier to offer such a plan, in which passengers assuage their angst over airliner emissions of carbon dioxide and other toxics by making an extra payment that will go toward a project that "offsets" these emissions. British Airways and SAS have begun similar schemes, and Silverjet, the small premium service UK-US carrier, has been "carbon neutral" since it began service. Other travel companies such as Orbitz, the on-line booking service, are offering similar plans.
The Delta plan lets travellers pay a voluntary surcharge, and this fee ($5.50 on a domestic flight and $11 on an international roundtrip flight) goes directly to the Conservation Fund. The fund then uses the funds to plant trees in areas where the trees would help the environment. The organization has already planted 30,000 acres in such 'carbon sequestration' projects, planting nine million trees that will capture about 13.5 million tons of carbon dioxide over 100 years, Conservation Fund President Larry Selzer said. He says the donations equal the approximate cost of offsetting the carbon dioxide produced by an average domestic or international trip, and would typically pay for planting one or two trees. He said the fund expects to concentrate re-forestation efforts in Gulf Coast and lower Mississippi forests damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Hard-core enviros do not like these plans, calling them 'green-washing', and others on the green left make the point that no truly reliable method to determine carbon emission impacts and offsets has been established or agreed upon.
And on the right, people scoff at such offset purchases, comparing them to selling and buying indulgences in pre-reformation Europe, in which a 'sinner' simply bought a pardon for his sinful behaviour rather than changing their sinful ways. Which begs the question: would the sinners, in this case the airlines, rather pay and repent or would they prefer to repent AND alter their sinful ways?