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January 07, 2009

Carbon Offset Kiosks Coming to SFO

David de Rothschild
David de Rothschild talks about
carbon offsetting--or "carbon
off-putting," as he calls it.

by Brook Wilkinson

My home airport, San Francisco International, will soon be installing kiosks from which fliers can purchase carbon offset credits--contributing to renewable energy development, methane gas capture, and other projects that reduce greenhouse gases, in order to make up for the ones that their plane will be spewing into the atmosphere.

Confused about the entire idea of carbon offsets? Here's how it works: A company--in this case, 3Degrees--calculates the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a particular activity, be it driving, heating your home, or flying. (For a commercial airline flight, the plane's emissions are divided among all the passengers.) The company puts a dollar value to those emissions, which represents the amount of money needed to produce an equivalent amount of non-polluting energy, or to otherwise prevent an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere. So your donation--at the SFO kiosks, it'll probably be about $4 for a two-hour plane flight--might help fund a wind farm, or capture methane released by livestock.

Is it worth it? Many argue that carbon offsets are simply a way for energy-guzzling Americans to assuage their consumer guilt. I like the answer that David de Rothschild gave to Condé Nast Traveler's Kate Maxwell in our January issue, when she asked the British banking heir and environmental activist for his view on carbon offsetting. De Rothschild said, "You mean carbon off-putting? It salves our conscience, but it doesn't solve the problem. Though if it makes us pause and consider our habits, it's worth doing."

Further reading:
* A Conversation with David de Rothschild
* Emirates Airline: Green, Maybe. Responsible, Probably Not
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

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