North American Society for the Study of Romanticism
Statement on Carbon Offsets for Travel to Conferences (adopted 2012)
In recent decades, the reality of global environmental crisis has become an increasingly salient dimension of scholarship in Romantic literature and culture. Such a conjunction is not surprising; since much of the canonical writing of the period attempts to capture the aesthetic appeal of natural scenes, as well as their place within geological, climatological, political, and social history, interpretations of that literature and its broader contexts will almost inevitably touch on similar concerns, and by extension, indirectly contribute to debates regarding the environmental crisis of our own era.
Given the pressing realities of that crisis and its relevance for the field, the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) wishes to bring such concerns into the domain of its organizational practices as well. In that regard, personal travel to conventions may contribute more to global climate change than any other aspect of those gatherings and is also likely to be a major portion of a participant’s annual greenhouse gas footprint. A typical round-trip flight of 2000 miles produces roughly 1700 pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents the best consensus of scientific research on these matters, because of other aspects of an airplane’s emissions – including the effects of its vapor trail - that imprint should be multiplied by approximately 2.7 to represent such a trip’s full contribution to global warming. (The total impact – the equivalent of over 4500 lbs. of carbon dioxide – is roughly equivalent to that of driving a car that gets 40 miles per gallon 9,000 miles.) For a brief version of the IPCC discussion, see the ninth paragraph in the summary here.
Accordingly, NASSR asks participants to consider measures to offset the climate impacts of their personal travel to its meetings. One possible measure is to offset the environmental cost of travel by contributing to efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Various organizations sell carbon offsets to finance these projects in reducing environmental harm. Although prices to offset a ton of emissions vary, carbon offset providers often sell offsets for between $12 and $15 per ton, making it possible for the typical NASSR participant mentioned above to compensate for travel to the conference for a cost of around $30.00.
Carbon offsets are intended to compensate for those aspects of our environmental imprint that we cannot avoid or eliminate (rather than simply compensating for unnecessary pollution). For many of us, it is difficult to imagine a credible substitute for the intellectual interchange that takes place at an academic conference. Accordingly, we who choose to attend a conference may wish to purchase offsets to compensate for travel we consider necessary.
Some participants may teach at institutions that already purchase offsets for their travel; such offsets, however, may not take all conference travel into account or may depend on less reliable offset providers. We encourage travellers to NASSR conferences to examine the offset policies at their institutions carefully.
Many airlines now offer consumers the option of purchasing carbon offsets in the process of buying tickets. Such offsets are of course quite convenient, but travellers should examine the actual environmental value of those offsets carefully before relying on them. Offsets that are very cheap, for example, seldom truly compensate for the full impact of a journey, and many airline offset options fund tree-planting efforts whose environmental benefits will not be felt for many years (if ever, since in recent years, thanks to drying conditions in many ecosystems, tree plantations play an increasingly diminishing role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). To play it safe, conference-goers might be better advised to purchase offsets from one of the entities listed below.
Organizations that sell offsets typically support new sources of renewable energy, initiatives to increase energy efficiency, and efforts to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (such as methane) and enhance the effectiveness of natural “carbon sinks” – ecosystems that help reduce levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Enterprises that sell offsets should ensure that the efforts they make possible are actually effective – for example, by ascertaining that those projects would not otherwise take place, do not simply shift emissions elsewhere, and are not already being counted. Indeed, responsible accounting for offsets faces many challenges; one must monitor the organizations selling offsets carefully. For reliable discussions of carbon offset enterprises, see the Tufts Climate Initiative report (2007), the Carbon Concierge COPEM report (2008), and current information from the Carbon Catalog project.
These studies generally give the following carbon offset enterprises high ratings:
Atmosfair, a German company that sponsors renewable energy and emissions reduction in projects around the world;
Climate Friendly, an Australian for-profit company that sells offsets to corporations and individuals to fund a variety of projects, quite often in Asia; and
Native Energy, a for-profit enterprise, owned by Native Americans, which sponsors renewable energy projects as well as methane gas reduction on farms and landfills.
For links to the studies mentioned above and a list of the highest rated offset providers, see http://www.offsetconsumer.org/providers/.