Offsetting carbon emissions, one ton at a time

“I’ve spent my career telling people to fly less. If you told me in the fall how few planes would be in the sky right now, I would have been shocked,” says Megan Ryerson, associate professor of transportation engineering and planning in the Weitzman School of Design. Since the global pandemic has kept people home, air travel has dropped precipitously. The airline industry is one of the biggest buyers of carbon offsets, and is responsible for 12% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from all transport sources. Logically, it follows that this unprecedented period of reduced jet fuel emissions means less money diverted to a third-party carbon offset provider.

This isn’t the takeaway to consider from the pandemic, argues Ryerson. It’s whether frequent flyers and the airline industry will return to the same travel patterns, rather than harnessing the global pause and reevaluating a new normal for jet fuel emissions and travel in general. “Whether offsets are purchased or built into travel or energy plans should not be a sign or metric of conservation. We’ll see success when we need fewer offsets, and when they are cheaper to buy.”