Monthly Archives: April 2008

Unsettling Offsets

Most of our hostellers come from far, far away and they drive, fly, bike, hitch and hike to make it to the dorms on time. We, the staff, also pedal and putz our way around town buying detergent and other fine things, sometimes schlepping 65 miles (one way!) to run errands. We, my friends, are the bunk-bed face of global warming.

Knowing this to be the darker side of travel, o’ the fumes we make, we’d like to promote that new green thang, Carbon Offsets. You tell the friendly online calculator how many miles you drove to get here and your vehicle’s miles-per-gallon. The friendly online calculator thinks for a second, then tells you how many tons of CO2 your lovely little car has spat into the atmosphere, and how much $$ you can pay to “offset” your carbon footprint. Sounds nice. Sounds easy. Sounds a little too easy breezy. Skeptics started scratching their chins, and digging into the backyards of the companies, many of whom are for-profit, that charge you for your carbon (cynics, see Alternet)

The skeptic-cynic-greenwashing-finder in me followed the trail of suspicion into the dungeon of academia. I found the stuff Tufts dug up when they looked at 13 players in the Carbon Offset tourney. Being erudite, loquacious, verbose academics with minds to expand, naturally those Tufts folks had more to say on the subject of tepid conservation projects, lowballed carbon costs and the triumph of image over substance. Seems that good-hearted grassroots efforts that go popular, and therefore profitable, get a little watered down as more people jump into the stream. Gee. You don’t say.  My “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” fantasies of a sustainable Emerald (Green) City just simply, like a witch, melted.

But that acid rainbow did land somewhere, and though the gold-filled pot and homoerotic Leprechaun bolted long before, there is something at the end of the rainbow. That is, a few Carbon Offsetting programs give a care. My favorite is Sustainable Travel Carbon Offset Program, partnered with a Swiss nonprofit called, with the mission to support not just alternative energy projects, but the people whose land and lives have borne the brunt of oil drilling, gas exploration, coal mining and other fun methods of ‘resource extraction.’

If you decide to Carbon Offset, can you please let us know how it went? Our organization, Hostelling International, is getting serious about sustainability and we’d appreciate all the feedback you can muster. And while you’re at it, give Greyhound a call (972-789-7000) and ask them to expand their routes! They used to drive the entire West Coast and would pit-stop at the hostel, but cut back in 2005. My grandpa and great-grandpa were career Greyhound drivers, and have a thing or two to say about the decline of long-distance bus service in the U.S.


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