San Francisco mayor and California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom is attempting to jack up his eco-cred in a slightly controversial way by announcing the world's first airport carbon offset kiosk at San Francisco International Aiport. The Climate Passport Program kiosk will allow travelers to calculate the carbon impact of their flights and purchase offsets accordingly.
The kiosks offsets, provided by carbon firm 3Degrees, come from a forest management program in Mendocino County. The Garcia River Forest is continually being supplied with new Redwood and Douglas Fir trees that absorb and store carbon dioxide. A slice of the kiosk's offset sales also go to the San Francisco Carbon Fund, which works on local carbon reduction projects like a publicly-owned biofuel filling station.
The airport kiosk may help raise awareness of air travel's carbon cost, but how much of an impact can it actually make? Most travelers are already so burdened with increased airline fees that they are unlikely to volunteer to pay more. And those that do may very well be fooled into thinking that they can simply pay off all their carbon debts at a kiosk. Carbon offsets are often compared to the Catholic Church's practice of handing out indulgences—an extreme comparison, but not entirely unjustified. Because no matter how many trees are planted in Garcia River Forest to make up for it, flying still takes its toll on the environment.