You have to plant so many trees to compensate for one flight

There were hardly any flights during the corona crisis, but the airlines are increasing both in passenger numbers and in a financial sense, as the umbrella organization for the airlines IATA noted this summer. Business travelers are also making full use of the plane again, despite the increase in Zoom, Hangouts and Teams during the corona pandemic, KLM signaled in August.

With the holidays just around the corner, many Dutch people are expected to take the plane for a short vacation.

But what kind of CO2 emissions does it produce? After all, sustainable electric flight for passenger flights is still a thing of the future for now.

Airlines still transport their passengers by burning billions of gallons of petroleum. Those looking to splurge a bit on a holiday trip would do well to take the train, as Business Insider featured in November.

Planting a small forest as CO2 compensation

Airlines offer customers paid options to offset part of their CO2 emissions. For example, they can invest 10 euros in replanting projects.

Author Babette Porcelijn, who trained as an industrial designer at TU Delft, is critical of such initiatives. You have to plant quite a lot of trees to compensate for your CO2 emissions, says Porcelijn. In her book The hidden effect she discusses the phenomenon of CO2 emissions that we overlook.

She said in an interview with AD that this phenomenon plays a role in the aviation industry. To offset all the CO2 emissions of a return ticket to Barcelona, ​​you must plant no less than 114 trees per person: a mini forest.

Business Insider wanted to know how many trees you would need to plant to offset the CO2 emissions from five different flights. We asked Porcelijn to make a calculation for return flights from Schiphol to Paris, Rome, Ankara, New York City and Tokyo.

To pay for the entire CO2 emissions of a flight, one must quickly plant dozens to hundreds of trees, it turns out.

Anyone taking a return flight from Schiphol to Charles de Gaulle Airport must plant 43 trees to compensate for that flight. A return flight to Rome Fiumicino Airport requires the planting of 95 trees and for a return flight to Ankara Airport you even need to plant 139 trees.

The results will be very special for long-haul flights. A return ticket from Schiphol to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City? Those who want to fully offset their emissions plant 314 trees. For a return flight to Tokyo Haneda Airport, a tree plant of even five hundred is needed.

This calculation is based on the number of kilometers flown for an outbound and return journey, calculated with the software of the legal service provider EUclaim.

To fly from Amsterdam to Paris and back, you travel 798 kilometers. A return ticket from Amsterdam to Tokyo is 18,648 kilometers.

Porcelijn then calculated how many trees you need to plant to offset the CO2 emissions from your flight. She assumes that an average tree removes 7.28 kilos of CO2 from the air per year.

Porcelijn’s rule is that to immediately stop climate change, the tree planting must have canceled the CO2 emissions of a round trip in one year. She also assumes that the climate effect at a height of ten kilometers is 2.7 times greater than on the ground. Finally, she includes the CO2 emissions from oil extraction and the production of petroleum in her calculations.

2,500 euros to compensate for the return trip to Tokyo

In order to arrive at the costs of the tree planting, she assumes a price of 5 euros per tree. Plant a tree. That’s how much it costs to plant one tree with a private organization like Trees for All. “There are, of course, large compensation projects that, for example, include KLM,” says Porcelijn. “It may be cheaper there, but Træer til Alle is a joint party for private individuals.”

This is how Porcelijn comes to the following conclusions. As you can see, you can easily spend a small fortune of around 2,500 euros to offset the CO2 emissions from your return flight to Tokyo in one year.

Quite a few trees to plant for a flight, then. And Porcelijn also bases its calculation on the emissions from modern aircraft. If she had to count on the emissions from the Boeing 747, which was very common in the past, she would end up with many more trees to plant, says the writer.

A return ticket to Tokyo would then require no less than 761 new trees per person, for which you would pay 3,805 euros at Trees for All.

The Dutch emit 8,500 kg of CO2 annually

Aviation therefore becomes cleaner, but still emits quite a lot of CO2. To illustrate: An average Dutch person emits 8,500 kg of CO2 annually, according to the environmental organization Milieu Centraal.

According to Porcelijn’s calculations, for a return ticket to Tokyo in a new type of aircraft – i.e. not in a Boeing 747 – 3,642 kilos of CO2 are already emitted. In one fell swoop, that’s 43 percent of what you emit on average in a whole year.

The pie chart below shows that the five return flights studied together generate almost as much CO2 emissions as the average Dutch person emits in a year.

According to Porcelijn, the 8,500 kilos of CO2 that the average Dutchman emits annually is far too high to reach the Paris climate goals. She points to research from, among others, the University of York, which shows that the ecological footprint of the average Dutchman requires 3.6 planets. “We live as if we have 3.6 times the Earth, and we don’t,” says Porcelijn.

According to Porcelijn, the emissions of the average Dutchman must therefore be divided by 3.6 to remain within these safe limits on the planet. As a result, we arrive at a maximum of around 2,400 kg of CO2 per person per year.

A return trip to New York City at 2,286 kilos of CO2, and you’re almost done.

READ ALSO: 3 reasons not to get completely depressed by the climate crisis despite the big heat waves last summer

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