Guest column: Consider your carbon footprint when traveling by air

John Spezia
Guest Column

What are carbon-offsets? They are mostly used to neutralize the carbon (CO2) produced by airline flights, but can be also used for offsetting carbon produced by other forms of transportation, commercial businesses, restaurants, retail, development, ski areas and industrial plants. Eighty percent of one’s carbon footprint (whether you are a tourist, visitor or a local) is the result of traveling to your destination. 

If every human in the world flew as much as in the U.S., total carbon emission would be five times larger. Eighty percent of Americans have used an airplane while only 20% of the global population have been on an airplane. Twelve percent of Americans who fly six or more times a year are two-thirds of the passengers that fly, with associated carbon footprint (66%).

We know that for the last 100-plus years, we have left a legacy of CO2 in our atmosphere that is impacting the rest of the world, and of late, has come home to the Yampa Valley in the form of droughts, aridification, high temperatures, low river flows and forest fires. The true cost of our actions have not been included in the cost of doing our business. Economists call this externalizing costs to some other time, people or place. They also refer to this as discounting the future. The impacts of climate change we are experiencing in the valley, while still mild, are those discounted costs from past actions.

In 2021 there were 154,000 passenger deplanements in Hayden. In 2022, there were 180,000 passenger deplanements. In 2023, there is a projection of 30,000 more passenger deplanements.

One of the actions in our Climate Action Plan, or CAP, is voluntary carbon-offsets at the Hayden airport.

A carbon-offset price for one person for a roundtrip from Hayden to Houston is $11.38. A roundtrip off-set from Hayden to San Diego is $9.23. When one considers the price of these tickets, the carbon-offset is minimal. This carbon-offset money will go into the Routt County Climate Action Plan Fund, held at the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and used for local climate action projects to reduce our carbon footprint. This includes a third-party to verify the credibility of the projects.

While this CAP action is right on, it has a couple of short comings:

  1. The carbon-offset is voluntary.
  2. The carbon produced by the plane is still in the atmosphere. It does not reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, which is the major goal of the CAP.
  3. There is no experienced local organization to focus completely on carbon-offsets for flying, businesses, other transportation or development in our community.

Some solutions:

  1. Make carbon-offset charges part of the cost of doing business, don’t externalize the cost to future generations.
  2. Include the option for negative carbon-offsets, which neutralizes more than your flight puts into the atmosphere, achieving the major CAP goal. Though it may seem like a roundabout way of reducing carbon by flying, it would reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
  3. There are two entities in Steamboat that have the ability to promote carbon-offsets: Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and the Steamboat Chamber. The Chamber would be my first choice since it is staffed; has 50 years of experience promoting Steamboat; 75% of its marketing budget is committed to destination management, which fits perfectly; and it has access to our businesses’ and visitors’ information.

Other solutions:

Can we ask people to stop flying? Probably not. If we all attempted to limit flying to special occasions like emergencies, a special wedding, birth, sadly a death, that would help. If folks took direct flights and traveled in coach, didn’t use frequent flyer perks or didn’t fly at all, that would help.

There are other forms of travel that are more energy efficient, have a lower carbon footprint and make traveling more enjoyable. At this time there is a movement in Colorado to bring back railroad routes connected to a dedicated bus service to outlying towns and a regional transportation authority to provide transportation options to Northwest Colorado other than airplanes and personal vehicles.

We need your voice, your feet, your carbon-offset contributions in making different choices of what type of transportation you use, how much and when you travel.

John Spezia has been on the transportation working group for the Climate Action Plan, worked on the Circulation and Mobility Plan, taught meterology/climate change at CMC and is a board member of the Trappers Lake Sierra Club, with 40 years of climate observations in the Yampa Valley. 

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