Saturday, March 28, 2015

Carbon Offsets and Green Travel Birding

(I hesitated to include this article on the blog, but I think it is relevant, so here goes.)

I had earned travel miles on my credit card and a great friend had offered to let my family and I  stay at his vacation home (left) situated adjacent to a Trent Jones Golf Course in a gated resort (Estrella del Mar) just south of Mazatlan. How could I say "no," when the whole family was able, and enthusiastic, to go? How could I refuse when Military Macaw, Tufted Jay and other "life birds" were only a short drive away?  But, how could I justify it environmentally? Maybe I should have just cashed in my credit card miles and politely declined?

I had heard of "carbon offsets" that companies promoted to cancel out the negative effects of travel by plane (the worst), automobile, train, or bus. I had heard that they made sense, or that they were a scam (for example companies had taken money and pledged to plant trees which was never done), or that they were well-intentioned but ineffectual. I understood the basic concept that one purchased a carbon offset which would theoretically take as much greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere as was produced by the form and distance of travel employed on a trip (or in daily life), but I needed more proof.

I did an internet search for the purchase of carbon offsets. I found websites which discussed carbon offsets and rated companies that sold offsets - based on complicated criteria that are explained on such websites: like http://gogreentravelgreen.com/green-travel-101/best-carbon-offset-companies/. These websites ranked Native Energy (a U.S. based company - my preference) as one of the top rated companies selling carbon offsets.

I checked out Native Energy's website, http://www.nativeenergy.com/carbon-offsets-for-businesses.htmland, and was impressed by the projects they funded, the success of those projects and the percentage of offset money that went directly to the funding of the projects. For example, when I took this trip, purchases of offsets helped finance the building of the Wewoka Biogas Project (Oklahoma). This project supported Commercial Brick Corporation's use of methane gas from an adjacent landfill, to replace the natural gas used by the company to fire the clay bricks and structural tiles they manufacture and sell. The burning of the methane had the added benefit of converting the methane to carbon dioxide - a less harmful greenhouse gas than methane.  The offsets I would buy, paid for the installation of vertical gas wells into the landfill, blowers to push the gas to brick kilns, and the retrofitting of the kilns to burn methane. This project was slated to be completed very soon.

On the website, I entered my plane flight from the U.S. to Mexico and back, as well the approx. miles driven in Mexico. They calculated the atmospheric carbon produced by each of us on the plane flight (.829 tons! ).  We would fly from L.A. to Mazatlan on June 12 and return on June 18. It all looked good. I decided to do the trip! (We drove 660 miles in Mexico and the atmospheric carbon carbon produced by driving 660 miles in Mexico was .323 tons. The cost of the total carbon offset was $60.)

It was a relaxation trip for the family, but how could I not bird as much as comfortably possible while there? I started with the drive from Mazatlan,  where we saw the spectacular Black-throated Magpie Jay. At the resort, I found Mangrove Swallow, Cinnamon Hummingbird and Rufous-bellied Chachalaca. A walk to the nearby river mouth had Yellow-crowned Night Herons eating crabs in the sand, American Oystercatchers, and nesting Least Terns. I took a harrowing drive over and up into the nearby mountains, which offered up real treats like Flammulated Flycatcher, Sinaloa Wren, Tufted Jay, Red-headed Tanager, Brown-backed Solitaire, Golden-crowned Emerald, Blue Bunting, Golden Vireo and my "target bird" - Military Macaw! A family trip down to the wonderful birding site of San Blas offered a whole group of new birds, including Boat-billed Heron (pictured) along the river, Plain-capped Starthroat, Masked Tityra, and others. This may not have been true green birding, but the purchased carbon offset did lessen the impact!

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