The Great Canadian Carbon Offset 2006

WestJet offers CO2 emission offsets for free

According to our friends at Offsetters, WestJet has agreed to "invest part of your normal ticket costs to offset the climate impacts of your travel," at no extra cost to you, the flier. To take advantage of their offer, fliers are instructed to visit the Offsetters website and click on the WestJet link.

Or, simply click on the WestJet link below:

Hugg this story!

Condensation trails may threaten astronomy

From the BBC News, Thursday, 2 March 2006:

"Ground-based astronomy could be impossible in 40 years because of pollution from aircraft exhaust trails and climate change, an expert says."

Read the full article here…

I wonder how this kind of news is being received; how many are sympathetic to the plight of astronomers? How many feel, like the International Dark-Sky Association does, that it's important to "preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting"?

I believe firstly that, in all likelihood, the majority of people are not sensitive to the pleas of astronomers and dark-sky appreciators. Perhaps the larger issue is that the majority of people don't even know what is meant by "dark-sky," and can't begin to understand why it warrants preserving.

Who among us have had the good fortune of gazing out at a million blazing stars from the comfort of a lakeside campfire at a cottage in northern Ontario? How many have stared in amazement at the northern lights, or with their tongue firmly planted inside their cheek, made a wish on a shooting star? I know I have – have you?

What is this all about?

Marc Tacchi became an Internet celebrity upon reaching his goal of accumulating over 1,000,000 mileage points on Air Canada flights in the space of 60 days. We estimate that his project, named "The Great Canadian Mileage Run 2005", has resulted in the emission of approximately 140 Metric Tons of CO2 – a climate-forcing greenhouse gas. It is our goal to restore the balance by investing in a Vancouver based carbon-offset program, thereby preventing the future release of 140 Metric Tons of CO2 – but we need your help!

Join The Great Canadian Carbon Offset 2006 – help us reach our goal of CAD$2100 by Midnight PST on January 27th, 2006 by making a donation today! (Note: Donations are no longer being collected)

The Calculation

The Great Canadian Mileage Run of 2005 clocked over 1 million Aeroplan miles, which represents around 330,000 of actual flight miles.

In order to calculate our fundraising target, we started by asking Atmosfair for a rough estimate of the CO2 likely emitted in 330,000 non-contiguous miles of flight.

Based on the following assumptions:
- one passenger consumes 4 liters of kerosene per 100 kilometers, a reasonable, conservative estimate for long distance flights (e.g. of British Airways)
- 1 liter kerosene = 0.8 kg kerosene
- 1 kg kerosene = 3.15 kg CO2 (remember that oxygen is added during combustion, increasing the weight)
- on long distance flights (cruising altitude above 9 kilometres) the total warming impact of CO2, condensation trails, ozone formation, et cetera, is 2.7 times bigger than that of CO2 alone (calculation of CO2 equivalent impact, according to IPCC)
– 1 metric ton of CO2 will cost CAD$15 to offset

We estimate that the flights had the effect of emitting 140 metric tons of CO2:

330,000 miles × 1.609344 (km / mile) × 0.04 (L kerosene / km)
= 21,243 L kerosene

21,243 L kerosene × 0.8 (kg kerosene / L kerosene)
= 16,994 kg kerosene

16,994 kg kerosene × 3.15 (kg CO2 / kg kerosene)
= 53,531 kg CO2

53,531 kg CO2 × 2.7 (kg CO2 equivalent impact / kg CO2)
= 14,4534 kg CO2

...or roughly 140 metric tons of CO2

140 metric tons CO2 × 15 (CAD$ / metric ton CO2)
= CAD$2100

Keep in mind that this is a best-effort calculation, based on the information available to us, and thanks to the support of Atmosfair and Offsetters. In the event that we have overestimated the emissions, the environment wins.

Atmosfair offers an online tool to calculate flight emissions based on your own personal flight details. They have published a background paper on the calculator; it's available here.

The Offset Program

In order to make best use of your donations, we had to find a good carbon-offset program to invest in. With so many bad ones out there, we had to try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

We turned to The David Suzuki Foundation for guidance. Their website offers the following advice:
"Ideally, offsets should be purchased on a contractual basis from new projects as they are being developed. This provides assurance that one’s offset purchase is contributing to the adoption of additional clean technologies, rather than funding existing projects. If new project offsets are not available, then the next best thing is a project that was developed to explicitly counter increases in greenhouse gas emissions, such as a renewable energy project developed by a fossil fuel powered electric utility."

It was The David Suzuki Foundation who turned us on to Offsetters. A project of the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization at the University of Oxford and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, Offsetters offers individuals the opportunity to invest in effective and innovative carbon offset projects.

The Offsetters project selected for the Great Canadian Carbon Offset 2006 will be the replacement of a natural gas heating system with a ground source heat pump system in a local public school. Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) are a particularly effective greenhouse gas (GHG) control measure locally because electricity generation in British Columbia contributes so little to GHG emissions already. To learn more about how GSHPs work, click here.

Offsetters' partner in this project is Earth Source Energy Inc.

Offsetters will not be taking any overhead, and the cost per metric ton of CO2 offset will be CAD$15.

About Donations

The Great Canadian Carbon Offset has created a Group Action at Fundable to coordinate donations. Here is how it works:

1) Individuals join the Fundable Group Action with a contribution via PayPal, or a credit card.

...then either

2a) The funds get 'turned on' when we reach our target, by the deadline, and we contribute all of the funds to our carbon-offset program


2b) Fundable will refund your money in the case that we don't reach our target by our deadline of Midnight PST on January 27th, 2006.


Q. Why should I pay to offset someone else's CO2 output?
A. Very good question. In a sense, you shouldn't have to! What we have here though, is a unique opportunity to raise the profile of carbon-offset programs for air travelers, and to shine a light on patterns of excessive consumption. We want to see every airline offer a carbon-offset option when you buy your ticket, and we want to show travelers just how minimal the cost of offsetting their ecological impact is. If the GCCO 2006 works, and gets the media attention it deserves, our donors will know that they have been part of a very, very good thing.

Q. Where do the numbers come from?
A. Please click here to read about how we calculated our fundraising target.

Q. Adding one more passenger to a flight with empty seats can't make that much difference in terms of fuel consumption / carbon emission, can it?
A. While the marginal ecological cost of adding one more passenger to a flight is very minimal, the average ecological impact per passenger remains high. It's true that one can minimize the per-passenger quanitity of carbon emitted by filling each plane to capacity, but it remains our position that if you fly, you and your fellow passengers are responsible for an equal share of the CO2 output of the flight. For a more detailed response to this question, click here.

Q. What does it matter if that guy flew or not? Aren't the planes flying with or without him?
A. While in the short-term it is unlikely that the decisions of one person will affect the supply of flights say tomorrow or next week, the aggregate market pressure of individuals can drive demand up or down in the long-run. That said, we're not so interested in quantifying the effect that a small group of mileage runners has on the marketplace as in encouraging air travelers of all types to recognize their accountability for the carbon emissions caused by their flights.

Q. How can I donate?
A. We will be using Fundable to coordinate the donations. Learn more about how donations are being coordinated.

Q. What if we don't raise our target amount by the deadline?
A. If we do not reach our target of CAD$2100 donated by our deadline of Midnight PST on January 27, 2005, then all of our donors will be reimbursed.

Q. I plan to fly soon and want to offset my carbon output. How much will that cost?
A. Much less than the tax you had to pay on your fare! For example, according to the Atmosfair calculator, an economy class return flight between Vancouver, BC and NYC JFK on an Airbus A320 would emit the equivalent of around 1.7 metric tons of CO2 per passenger. At CAD$15 / metric ton, it would cost just under CAD$26 (roughly US$23) to offset 100% of your portion of the emissions!