The Slightly Terrifying Cost Of Flying To Mallorca…


[NOTE: This post has since been proven error-laden and has been gratefully retracted. The calculations are based on mis-assumptions and the carbon-offsetting offered by SavingSpecies is actually as good as it sounds. Please click here for more information.]

Earlier this year I attended a very enjoyable, 2-week-long field-course in sunny Mallorca – I know, it’s a hard life as a scientist. But this was actually quite hard for me to commit to, as it involved flying, which is something that I try to avoid for the same reasons that I try to be vegetarian. Don’t misunderstand me, I love that air-travel can take us to awesome tropical places as much as I love a good steak – or bacon – but the unfortunate truth of it is that we can’t do either of those things too much if we want to hang on to this Earth.

Happily I was able to satisfy my enviro-needs when I was turned on to Saving Species – a group who’s working with great impact, largely in South America, and offer carbon-offsetting services. Essentially, you buy land for them to reclaim as rainforest and, through the magic of carbon-sequestration into the trees that grow there, the emissions from your budget flight or year’s-worth of steak is absorbed & neutralised. Through this work they’ve done really great things, including establishing huge areas of rainforest & saving 2 species of primate (and many other species under that umbrella) from extinction!

So I was delighted when I heard about this, and eagerly paid my whole £1.37 to offset the 0.53tons of carbon that my presence on the flights would incur.
£1.37!!!!!!!! that’s incredible! It is actually brilliant, and the calculator on there will help you work out what all your emissions are & how much it will be to offset them, working on the price of $4 per ton. Apparently the standard total emissions per year for an adult american is 7tons, so you’re probably on less than $28 to offset your entire year’s worth of activity & emissions. Awesome!

Then, the other week, I was lying awake in the black of night thinking to myself, “it’s brilliant what Saving Species are doing, and they pride themselves on being cheeper than anyone other offsetting schemes. How do they do it?” Well the land that you help them buy sequesters carbon at a rate that continues for ~30 years… so it actually takes 30 years to offset your carbon. “hmm…” I thought. 30 years is quite a while, in which time I’ll be doing a load more polluting and my carbon will keep having effect in that time, and long after. What if I actually wanted my flight to be immediately carbon-neutral? What if I wanted those emissions sequestered in real-time? How much land would I need to sequester those 0.53tons of Carbon?
Well, like a scientist, I did some calculations and, like a good student, I’ll show my working:

30 years sequestration = 30 x 365 days (+8.5 for leap-years) = 336,150 days.

24h/2h40mins flight time = 9 flights a day

336,150 x 9 = 3,025,350 equivalent flights to Mallorca in 30 years.

3,025,350 x £1.37 = how much it would cost to sequester that 0.53tons in real-time…

= £4,144,729.5

. . .

Four. Million. Pounds?! That’s how much land we’d have to cover with mid-aged rainforest to soak up the CO2 released by one little person on one little flight to Mallorca as it was released? Enough so that we wouldn’t have to worry about those emissions exacerbating the greenhouse effect, we wouldn’t have to worry about it acidifying & warming the rising oceans over the next few decades?
Shit, I don’t think I can afford that.

So that may be a rough calculation, but even if you take out minimal labour costs I hope you can still agree it’s an astronomical amount of land. And the only thing I can actually think of doing about this, at least while I wait for my jaw to un-drop, which seems to be happening rather slowly, is… “I think maybe I’ll not fly for a while. Slash ever, until I can afford my own rainforest.”

And what should you do? Reconsider your holiday destinations, but I know you won’t want to do that drastically so what I emplore you to do more than anything is give to Saving Species. It may take 30 years to offset your carbon, but you’ll still do it. Or if you want to feel extra-good, just pay twice as much and see the results in 15 years – such is the wonder of maths. Please please, do what you can to save the world. Don’t just stop doing things. Start doing more great things.

And if you’ve really enjoyed the calculations in this post, please see papers by  Constanza et al and Macarthy et al for some seriously mind-blowing figures.

[NOTE: This post has since been proven error-laden and has been gratefully retracted. The calculations are based on mis-assumptions and the carbon-offsetting offered by SavingSpecies is actually as good as it sounds. Please click here for more information.]


One thought on “The Slightly Terrifying Cost Of Flying To Mallorca…

  1. I’m not sure you math is quite there. So, let’s take it from the top. Your average Brit puts about 5 tons of carbon into the atmosphere a year — that’s about 18 tons of carbon dioxide. That includes your trip to the sunshine all Brits need in mid-winter. At SavingSpecies, we buy land that soaks up 5- 10 tons of carbon per year per hectare as the forests our local partners plant grow up. The cost to buy and reforest a hectare is about 700 quid (1000 US). And the forest continues to grow for about 30 years, before slowing down a bit. So, an annual donation of about 25 quid a year, will do the trick. That’s all? Yes, that’s all. (And we just offset the carbon emissions from a new movie, Raving Extinction, that will be shown world wide on the Discovery channel soon. So, relax and think about a extra trip to the sunshine. Stuart Pimm, Duke University, President

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