Reforestation projects for a more sustainable world

Did you know that when you book a flight many airlines offer the possibility to pay a bit extra to compensate the environment?

This extra money is spend on sustainability projects. The idea is that a passenger compensates his part of the large amount of CO2 that his flight produces. This endeavour sounds a bit challenging, but the idea is at least something. I am not sure how many passengers actually use this way to compensate a part of the CO2 of their flight. The actual numbers are difficult to find.

I regularly fly with KLM, which is a large airline from The Netherlands with a network spreading the entire world. I have noticed the CO2Zero option when I book a flight. I always use it. It is only a small amount of money, usually a couple of euros. I do realise that this payment does not actually compensate the bad effect of my flight on the environment. If I could, I would rather take another mode of transportation. The problem is that this is not always possible.

CO2Zero compensation program in Panama

KLM recently changed its project for its CO2Zero compensation service. From October 2017 onwards, KLM supports a project in Panama, called ‘CO2OL Tropical Mix’. This project aims to develop sustainable tropical mixed forests in Panama. A project description can be found here. It is a Gold Standard Forestry Project, which is initiated by the WWF.

Every passenger that buys a flight ticket with KLM, has an option to check a box to compensate ones individual CO2 emission produced by the flight they book. The price for this compensation, which is a few euros, will be added to the total bill to be paid to complete the booking process.

CO2 emission compensation

How does KLM enable passengers to compensate their flight-related carbon emission? The aim is to neutralize the carbon footprint of the total flight. This level is calculated based on the type or airplane, the average weight of the full airplane and the distance of the travel.

The compensation of the carbon emission is done by planting trees, as trees are known for concerting pollution and carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen. It is a good effort of KLM to put effort into stimulating large sustainable projects. It is a good business model of a large airline to care about the enormous effect of their business on the environment. It is admirable that they show to their passengers and to the world that they do care.

However, airlines are a huge polluter on a global level. Is this a fair compensation or a way of giving a minimal effort? Airlines are big corporate businesses that employ many people and make a lot of money. A larger compensation, and an involuntary compensation for the (individual) CO2 emission, would automatically be calculated in the ticket price of flights, making flight tickets more expensive. Perhaps governments are more concerned with the competition level of their countries than with a fair flight price to compensates the effect on our climate.

Deforestation

However, many small steps make a big step. If many passengers would take their responsibility a large amount of money could be used to (re)plant trees. As I mentioned, KLM recently started a new project in Panama.

Central and South America have a huge amount of forests, of which many are ancient forests where no man has ever been. The Amazon rainforest, for example, covers an unimaginable large part of South America. Many countries contain a bit of the Amazon, namely Brazil, Suriname, Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador en Peru. The rainforest is difficult to set foot in and has therefor been left aside for a long time.

But as humanity is developing, every corner of the world is being explored for ways to further exploit the earth. Large parts of Brazil, which actually has the largest part of the Amazon rainforest on its territory, are deforested to make space for soy plantations or wood production.

In Ecuador, the Amazon is entered to exploit the large amount of oil that appears to be in the Amazon grounds. To do this, large infrastructural projects are initiated by the government of Ecuador to reach these remote areas in the Amazon. Critics clearly say: once there is a road, there is no way back. 

Reforestation in Panama: (re)planting trees

Not only deforestation is a threat in Central and South America, but also forest fragmentation and the high deforestation rate in which huge areas of forests are cleared. As deforestation is increasing, (re)planting might form a small compensation of the destructive effect that humans cause on nature. These human actions have a destructive effect on the biodiversity and wildlife in these areas.

This project in Panama has already planted 3.5 million trees. They state that these efforts did not only improve the forestation efforts in Panama to compensate carbon dioxide, but also formed bridges and habitats for animal life.

Besides, to chop down a tree is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the tree that has been chopped down is replaced by a new tree. This is sustainability. We should compensate the negative effects on the environment and try to limit the negative effects that we as humans undeniably cause. There’s also tree planting & monitoring websites like Treeplanters.net. They currently support a nice project in India.

The project in Panama also appears to stimulate this sustainability issue, by stimulating a sustainable timber production and sustainable cacao plantations.

Does compensation of CO2 emission on flight tickets work?

This way of compensating the individual emission of CO2 is a remarkable one. The money gained in these compensation systems does have a positive effect on the environment. It does not only supports local communities, but also supports large (if not huge) (re)planting projects in the world. Furthermore nature visibly enjoys a positive effect, especially wildlife, in the case of the project in Panama that is being supported by the gains of the CO2Zero program of KLM.

However, I am curious about the rate of compensation. To what extent is the individual carbon dioxide footprint compensated by this CO2Zero effort of KLM? Is perhaps 10%, 20%, 50% or 100% of the individual emission compensated?

And furthermore, an individual voluntary compensation is great, but if one or a few persons on a flight of 200, 300 or even 400 passengers compensate their CO2 emission, it is no more than a drop of water on a hot plate.

A better compensation would be to not travel plane, but rather by train. Or even better: try not to travel at all. Just to be honest: many business meetings can be arranged by video call. A personal meeting is not always necessary. Try to arrange people from nearby, instead of another continent. Or go on holidays on a beautiful location close to home, so that you don’t need to use an airplane to reach you holiday destination. The world is beautiful everywhere, also near to your home.

Not flying would have a way better impact on the environment and the CO2 emission on a global level. Unfortunately, flying is a huge economic sector. Because of competition between airlines, prices a getting lower and lower. Everyone can afford to fly and therefor will.

This week I read in the news that a high speed train will reach London from Amsterdam in only 3 hours and for less than €40,-. That is a real alternative to flying. This is the future! A mode of transportation that is cleaner and faster than flying.

What is your opinion on individually compensating CO2 emissions?

What is your solution to this matter?

Please share you ideas!

Sustainability and energy: What is actually the issue?

Undeniably, the energy issues are part of the sustainability discussion on a global level. Our societies increasingly have a need of energy. This energy needs to be produced by something, somewhere. These are our energy resources. Our energy sources are a vital part of our economies and societies and are therefor also part of our politics.

An interesting situation is currently emerging in The Netherlands. As energy resources are important, for decades The Netherlands is producing gas out of a large gas bubble in the northern part of the country. A huge gas network is spread across the country to supply every household with gas for heating and cooking. But also industries use gas for their production activities.

The Netherlands also produces oil in the North Sea. Notwithstanding, the oil company Shell is partly Dutch, partly British and one of the largest oil companies in the world. The seaport of Rotterdam is a large port for oil, but the port of Amsterdam is one of the largest ports in the world for (crude) oil.

Earthquakes caused by gas winning

Since a couple of years, earthquakes are appearing in the northern part of the country. As for decades gas has been won from the underground gas reserves, the enormous gas bubble is shrinking. This causes earthquakes now and then. As the gas production is continuing, the earthquakes are getting more intense. As a result, buildings and houses are increasingly damages by the earthquakes. More and more, old heritage houses are actually collapsing, caused by the regular earthquakes. Many houses need continue support to prevent them from collapsing. The people who live in these houses do not only see their capital value (as in their property) decreasing, but are also under a lot of stress and insecurity because of the increasing damaging of their homes.

Should the gas winning in this area be stopped? A simple answer is: yes. A more difficult answer point out our collective dependence on energy resources. We don’t want to be dependent on other countries for our energy, especially not on Russia, keeping in mind the current political situation.

Change towards green energy

Also: should we not change our energy resources towards more sustainable energy, like energy from windmills or solar panels? The simple answer is: yes. Of course we should make changes towards more sustainable energy resources. The problem is, however, the NIMBY effect. NIMBY means ‘Not In My Back Yard’. Dutch people, as it seems, like to complain about everything. Although they prefer green energy resources, the absolutely do not want a windmill near to their house. First because of the noise it produces and secondly because of horizon pollution.

The issue concerning the horizon pollution of these huge windmills structures is an evident one in The Netherlands, as it is one of the most dense country in the world. People live all over the country. A windmill will always be within hearing distance from at least 1 home.

However, as we move across the border into Germany, windmills and solar energy seem to be a way more usual solution. Nevertheless, the individual investment in solar energy (on a household level) in The Netherlands is being paid back within a reasonable amount of time. It should be an attractive investment in The Netherlands, but it doesn’t happen as widespread as it should. How come?

In The Netherlands a high population density level means high housing prices. Therefore there is less money available for investments. Also, as many people live in apartment buildings, the juridical power of individuals is small in a collective group of house owners in a building. These arguments limit the willingness of Dutch homeowners to invest in clean energy.

The Netherlands is of course trying to think of possible solutions or possibilities. Solutions are found in the part of the country where there is still some space: in the North Sea. Currently, as one is about to land with an airplane on Schiphol Amsterdam Airport and is nearing the Dutch shore from the west, he or she is passing a huge windmill parks in the North Sea in front of the Dutch shore. These windmill parks are suppose to provide clean energy for the country, as windmills in the country itself are difficult to develop.

Industries and green energy

Will windmills solve the problem of energy resources? Probably not. The biggest energy users are not individual households, but rather industries. They use huge amounts of energy and are only willing to pay the lowest price, which mostly is not green energy. They don’t seem to care much about sustainability or climate change, but tend to have financial arguments.

Even more so, the energy supplying companies play a game of demand and supply within the government law. They sell energy to households and industries. If a household desires green energy, they buy green energy from for example Norway, which produces a huge amount of green energy. The energy supplying companies own power plants where they produce energy. These power plants are huge polluters. They are old and some of them even run on coal. By law they should be 25% green, or sustainable. To get to this number, they burn 25% wood into their ovens. This wood is bought in the US and is ‘green’ wood. It has a sustainability mark as it is probably produced in a sustainable way.

This wood is burned in the ovens, producing even more pollution than coal. The power plants still get a check at sustainable production.

Exchange green energy resources on international level

What could be a solution for this energy issue on a global scale? I would like to propose one possible solution.

A possible solution could be found in an international system of exchanging green energy. When we currently look at the case of The Netherlands, a simple solution could be to buy green energy from Norway. Norway produces a vast amount of green energy, which is largely being produced by water power. Norway, also, is a huge country with a low population density level. There is a lot of space for things like producing green energy. Why will The Netherlands not cover most of their internal energy demand with green energy from Norway?

Then The Netherlands won’t have these problems with trying to produce energy. Then they can close the gas production in the North and prevent further damage by earthquakes. Then they can close the polluting power plants and weird non-sustainable schemes to provide unreal ‘clean’ energy.

As Norway has an oversupply of green energy, this would be an easy solution.

What do you think?

Do you guys have other examples of these sustainable energy issues around the world? I would love to hear from you.