Last week on Earth Day, Tomorrow’s Air went live. Tomorrow’s Air is a traveler collective for carbon removal, incubated by the Adventure Travel Trade Association in partnership with Climeworks, an innovative technology company providing direct air capture carbon removal.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has halted travel at the moment, I believe that the timing is actually perfect for a vision of collective action to benefit climate. People around the world have understood and are living through the collective action required to combat COVID, and can envision what is possible when everyone works together. And while the earth is benefitting from a momentary reduction in emissions, the danger is very real that economic recovery plans will emphasize fossil fuel-based industries in ways that could be very damaging. While international air travel may be suppressed for many months, it is likely that vehicular traffic (imagine all the local road trips!) could ramp up.
Carbon removal methods and technologies have been largely out of the mainstream climate action conversation, but this is changing as more politicians and investors grapple with the inescapable reality of its necessity. The ATTA, in its effort to prioritize climate action, has been exploring carbon removal since 2018, when it hosted its first webinar on the topic, “The Case for Removing CO2”. The following spring, in April 2019, ATTA President Casey Hanisko visited the Climeworks plant in Iceland, and in September 2019 representatives from Climeworks spoke at the Climate Action Leadership Studio in Sweden.
Carbon removal is the “process of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it permanently in plants, soils, oceans, rocks, saline aquifers, depleted oil wells, or long-lived products like cement.” Carbon removal can occur in a variety of ways, and scientists agree now that we will need to pursue all these alternatives in order to reach our goals. A no-nonsense description of carbon removal methods can be found on the website of the American University Carbon Removal Law & Policy. In general, we can think of carbon removal in two categories: natural storage in plants and soils; and technological storage, which involves storage in rocks and minerals. There are pros and cons associated with each. Neither the natural nor the technological solutions will achieve the results we need on their own, however; it is widely understood by the climate science community that both will need to be pursued at scale.
All this by way of saying that we have come to accept that reducing the emissions we put into the atmosphere alone will not be enough to stop global warming and help our planet reach net zero by 2050. In order to achieve that goal, we understand that we must also clean up the carbon dioxide emissions that have already been released into the atmosphere.
At ATTA we also recognize that we have a unique opportunity to use the inspiration and emotional connections that spring from travel experiences to help make carbon removal understood by millions of people. Let’s be honest, “carbon removal” and “carbon mitigation” and “carbon sequestration” are not terms that inspire longing and a desire to learn more for most people. However, a desire to preserve the joy of travel and the benefits of travel for future generations–conveyed through travel imagery and by trusted travel advisors–just might.
“A key element of the Tomorrow’s Air strategy is going to be connecting with travelers through art – we’re inviting a corps of Artists for Air, for example, to contribute. We want to make climate action more accessible and relatable, and art can be the perfect emotional bridge,” shared ATTA President Casey Hanisko. “A goal is to shift ‘carbon removal’ from the climate science community into a more mainstream audience that cares – the adventure traveler community.”
Imagine for starters if the estimated six million adventure travelers connected to ATTA’s member companies alone began to agitate for carbon removal and contribute to it.
This is the big dream for Tomorrow’s Air.
Tomorrow’s Air is starting to build its traveler community organically through social media (follow us on Instagram) and local ambassadors, with a plan to enable carbon removal payment options and travel benefits by July 2020. (Learn more about the vision and how you can get involved.) Destinations interested in climate action-focused marketing campaigns may find Tomorrow’s Air interesting, and tour operators may be interested in sharing information about it with their customers.
Travel trade leaders who have been focused on carbon offsetting may be wondering how ATTA’s incubation of Tomorrow’s Air for carbon removal effort aligns with its carbon offsetting effort. Carbon offsetting is still valuable and important; it is a good practice to calculate your company’s emissions and it is worthwhile to direct funding to worthy projects to offset those emissions. Carbon offsets through ATTA’s Neutral Together program with South Pole are likely to be in the $5 per ton range. In contrast to ATTA’s carbon offsetting program (which was developed for the travel trade), Tomorrow’s Air is appealing to travelers with simple plans for carbon removal through direct air capture–a highly traceable, reliable method of removal. Eventually, we imagine that companies and travelers will develop carbon budgets in which they allocate some portion of their money to offsetting and some to removal.
In summary, ATTA is doing its part to help stop global warming in the following ways:
- Convening leaders: through our Climate Action Leaders in Travel pledge (those who sign receive a downloadable badge) and LinkedIn group.
- Providing education and research to support a transformation in travel: such as our recent State of Climate Action in the Adventure Industry report published in partnership with Intrepid and sustainability and climate change AdventureEDU training material.
- Enabling carbon offsetting: through our program in development with South Pole, Neutral Together, enabling affordable and credible carbon offsetting to our members.
- Building awareness for and enabling carbon removal: through Tomorrow’s Air directly engaging with travellers to educate, inspire, and fund carbon removal.
As always, we welcome your questions or ideas for our climate action strategic initiative [email protected]