I fly all the time and am usually engrossed in a book or asleep by the time the flight attendants go through their safety rigmarole. I will admit, however, that sometimes I sneak a peek during the oxygen mask portion. I've seen a gazillion times but still, maybe that one time when I need it, I won't remember that the mask may not inflate although air will be flowing to it. (Thank you, asthma, for that irrational fear.)

In other gases-that-make-up-the-air-we-breathe news, San Francisco Airport has installed Climate Passport kiosks, at which passengers can pay a fee to assuage their guilt / offset the carbon dioxide emissions of their trip.

NPR's Morning Edition featured this story:
If you're an environmentally conscious traveler, you may be feeling a little bit guilty about flying these days. Airplanes spew harmful greenhouse gases into the air. San Francisco International Airport is taking a step to help ease these concerns: It's the first airport to install self-serve kiosks where passengers can purchase carbon offsets for their flights.

The airport has partnered with a private company to provide the offsets. But carbon offsets for travel are unregulated, so will patrons get what they pay for? Michael Wara, an environmental law professor at Stanford, says the idea is pretty abstract.

"I mean, what are you buying?" he says. "You are buying a piece of paper that represents the fact that an emission of an odorless, colorless gas did not occur somewhere else."

How do the kiosks work?

The kiosks look similar to self check-in machines or small ATMs. Travelers input the number of miles their trip will cover, how long it will take and the number of passengers they plan to buy offsets for.

For example, for a 6,000-mile-long, 12 hour flight, the carbon offset cost would be about $34.34 for one traveler. The price varies from a few dollars for a short West Coast flight to as much as $70 for an international trip.

Ok, sounds easy enough. But, as the NPR story asks, how do I know that my money is really going toward what they say it is? The offsets "have the stamp of approval from the nonprofit Climate Action Reserve, which verifies that the offsets are legitimate." That sounds nice, but I don't know what the CAR is. But why not the California Air Resources Board, or the Environmental Protection Agency, asks Wara.

"I think that's the future, and that's going to make offsets a little more expensive," he says. Wara predicts that people would be willing to pay a little more for the certainty of what their money is supporting, and I agree.1

The airport set up an option on their Web page, as have some of the airlines and several for-profit and
nonprofit companies, so passengers can purchase credits that way. "For its part, the airport hopes that whether or not travelers end up using the kiosks or not, they will raise awareness about the environmental impact of flying," an airport rep said.

1 Being the environmentally conscious consumer that I am (or at least aspire to be), my sweet new Palm Pre is offset with wind power (thanks to renewablechoice.com), for which I willingly paid a fee. I even have a sticker on my phone to prove it.