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Anna Hughes, the director of Flight Free UK, told The Telegraph: “Studies have repeatedly shown that most offset schemes aren’t effective, for example, tree planting – there’s no guarantee that the trees will survive long enough to absorb the necessary amount of CO2 (approximately 30 years per tonne of CO2).

“In addition, the carbon offsetting craze means that, in some cases, land is forcibly taken, often from indigenous communities, to use as offset plantations, which is a serious social justice issue as well as an environmental one.”

It isn’t just the climate lobby speaking out. In 2020, a Telegraph investigation revealed that trees were being cut down in a reforestation project in Brazil used for offsetting by both British Gas and the International Air Transport Association. Last year, a study by the University of Cambridge and the University of Amsterdam found that, out of 26 carbon offsetting schemes across six tropical countries, “most projects have not significantly reduced deforestation.” For projects that did, “reductions were substantially lower than claimed.”

The question marks are nothing new. The 2007 Parliamentary Select Committee on Environmental Audit found: “Carbon offsets make no verifiable contribution to climatic stability. Indeed, their effect is likely to be negative and damaging to efforts to address global warming.” 

The select committee added that these were not fixable “design flaws” of individual projects, but inherent problems in the process of offset trading. They found that carbon offsetting was conceptually incoherent, damaging to attempts to transition away from fossil fuel dependence, and harmful to the cause of public education about climate change.

The latter is where Swift comes into the picture. She is one of the most influential and recognised women on the planet. On the one hand, you could argue that travelling on commercial flights would be logistically impossible for Swift and her entourage, particularly on a world tour. But some say that adopting a role as a climate ambassador, in the same way she has become a vocal supporter for the Democrats ahead of the 2024 US election, could have a bigger impact than simply offsetting her flights.

“There’s no doubt that Taylor Swift wouldn’t be able to do her job without using a private jet,” says Anna Hughes. “But how powerful would it be if, instead of throwing money at the problem, she were to say: ‘I will reduce the amount I use my private jet because of the climate crisis.’ That would not only genuinely reduce emissions, but show climate leadership of the type that we desperately need right now.”

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