Air travel is kind of an unavoidable part of visiting places far, far away. And everyone knows by now that the massive amounts of fuel consumed and excreted as carbon dioxide and other harmful gases into the atmosphere are not good for the planet. I imagine its comparable to when I'm at a lovely outdoor cafe and some jerk comes and sits next to me and starts chain smoking when all I want is to enjoy some fresh air and a delicious pastry.
Until planes are powered by solar energy or some other renewable, clean source, the best you can do is to try to off-set our neutralize all that carbon crap. There are a whole bunch of websites where you can calculate your carbon emissions and then even more promising to reduce your carbon footprint, but I've found a lot of them are aimed at businesses so below are the easiest and most consumer-friendly ones I found. The exact science of carbon off-setting is debatable but doing something is better than doing nothing at all.
CALCULATE YOUR CARBON EMISSIONS
The flight-specific calculator is really easy to use as all you need to know are the airports (well most of them; it didn't recognize Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi so I had to guesstimate using other nearby airports) you are flying to and from. Then once you enter that info, it tells you how many metric tons of emissions your flight produces and then gives you a link to several off-setting sites if you want to take immediate action. You can also calculate emissions for homes, cars, motorcycles and other public transportation options (if you want to feel really guilty.)
Based on this calculator, my total estimated emissions for all my flights is: 4.1 metric tons of CO2e or 9,039 lbs (4,100 kg).
gozero carbon calculator
Calculates carbon emissions based on miles flown. You can also calculate home & energy and auto carbon emissions.
OFFSET THOSE CARBON EMISSIONS
A German website that calculates your emissions then used donations to fund renewable energy projects and environmental education. Calculate your flight or cruise, then you get arbitrary dollar figures to compensate 50%, 100% or any other percentage of your trip.
Carbonfootprint.com Carbon Offset Projects
A British company where you can calculate and donate all in one step, carbonfootprint uses certified credits toward carbon neutrality and funds sustainable development projects mostly in developing parts of Asia, Africa & South America. After entering your total amount of CO2e here, you'll be presented with a variety of projects and prices, but there's not really any transparency into how they come up with those numbers.
A Dutch site specifically designed for travelers where you can calculate trains, cars, busses and flights. Also comes up with arbitrary but affordable dollar amounts. They currently support cookstoves in Uganda, windmills in India & biogas in Colombia but as far as I can tell you don't get to select which project to support.
Go Zero | The Conservation Fund
An American company that supports improved forest management and restoration. They support projects throughout several states including South Carolina, Texas, California, Louisiana and Michigan. You can do one time or monthly donations but how the money is spent and where it goes is kind of nebulous.
One Tree Planted
I really like this site. It's incredibly informative and well designed and super easy to comprehend. One dollar plants one tree in some of the most rapidly disappearing forest throughout the world including the Boreal Forest in Canada, the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil as well as forests in Africa and Indonesia. Seems appropriate this service at least to offset the carbon in my flights to and from Indonesia.
Plant trees in places throughout Europe, Africa and South America to celebrate any occasion including birthdays and anniversaries, or just offset your travel. I like this site because you can pick where you want to plant trees and you see exactly what kind and how many trees different donation amounts (in Euros) buys you.
TREES TO CARBON RATIO 10:1
I'm kind of a tree-hugger so I personally want to off-set by planting some because it seems like the simplest and most natural solution. I scoured the internet for a site that would just tell me how many trees to plant per ton of carbon emission but I couldn't find any so this is my attempt at figuring out an easy formula.
Example: I already know I want to pay to plant trees via One Tree Planted to offset the Indonesia leg of my trip. But it's kind of a process to figure out how many trees you need to plant to offset your carbon emissions. In order to use this American Forest Calculator I first had to figure out the miles between airports using this Mileage Calculator. So based on these sites, I estimated my flights to and from Indonesia to equal 4,620 miles or 1,523 lbs (0.69 metric tons) CO2e which equals just two trees? That's it?
Well according to the same American Forest site Tree Facts, A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and can sequester one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old. So I figured out they're calculating such a low number based on about 15 years/tree so if I wanted to offset in a year, it would be 1523/48 = 31.72 but since you can't plant three quarters of a tree lets round that to 32 trees. Two years would be 1523/96 = about 16 trees.
I think 5 years is a pretty attainable goal between the 1-40 range of expected tree life so let's try to simplify this:
If you want to offset over 5 years, you should plant 10 trees for every ton of carbon emissions*.
So since my entire trip is about 4 tons CO2e, I should plant at least 40 trees to offset all my flights. Boom. Of course you can always pay and/or plant more, I just wanted to come up with a relatively easy and affordable formula.
*Here's how I came up with that based on the American Forest Statistics: 1 metric ton = 2205 lbs so that's 2205 lbs divided by 48 lb/year/tree = 46 trees in one year. So to disperse it over 5 years is 46/5 = 9.2 trees, but we'll round up to 10 trees. 10 trees x 48 lbs/year x 5 years = 2,400 lbs of carbon, slightly more than the 2,205 lbs (1 metric ton) of emissions we started with.
Also, 1 lb CO2e = approx 3 miles [4620/1523 = 3.03 based on the example above] So 1 metric ton should equal 6,615 miles.
I welcome anyone to double check the math on this because my brain is thoroughly exhausted now. And if anyone wants to convert the whole thing to metric, awesome. (Sidenote: Its ridiculous that "standard" - what a misnomer - is still used most prevalently here in the States instead of metric, like the rest of the world.)