We all play a part in CO2-emissions, the main culprit of many of the climate-related disasters we more and more observe on this rapidly warming planet. We all play a part, and especially in our Western world, we can say with certainty that we are responsible for the emission of a larger cloud of carbon per person than is good for us and our world.
As a research group studying global change, the Global Change Ecology Centre can not just sit back and enjoy our gigantic carbon footprint. Besides studying the effects of climate change, we have the responsability to at least aim at reducing our own impact on the climate.
By far one of the biggest culprits of the increases in CO2 in the atmosphere can be found above our heads: airplanes. There are various ways in which airplanes play a role in climate change, but the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) currently estimates aviation to be responsible for 3.5% of the global anthropogenic climate change. For one individual, however, flying often counts up to one of the biggest chunks of the carbon footprint.
Scientists travel a lot. Fieldwork, conferences, meetings with colleagues; science is a global business and flying is part of the bargain. This fact, combined with the previous one, implies that we ecologists from the Global Change Ecology Centre have a much larger carbon footprint than we should have.
Realising that is the first step, yet the second step should be action. We started by setting up a scheme of carbon compensation: all flights travelled by one of the scientists in our group will be compensated through an official carbon compensation program, called Wildlife Works. We invest money in this program that will be used – among other environmental and developmental projects – to conserve forests in Africa that are on the verge of being cut. Conserving these forests conserves one of their main global ecosystem services: they capture the CO2 we emit and as such counteract the greenhouse effect of this CO2.
Compensating is one thing, yet prevention is even better. A carbon compensation program is not worth much if it does not come with an extra effort to reduce the amount of flights. The idea is to think more consciously about every flight that you take, and check if it can not be replaced with Skype-meetings, destinations closer to home or other means of travel. There is plenty of ways we might be able to cut back on these expensive flights.
Only if we do this consciously, we can make a difference. And making a difference is exactly what we need now, only if it is just a small one.