For Travel, a Sustainable Comeback?

Tomorrow’s Air, a new climate action group incubated by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, is taking a different tack, both technologically and socially. It champions carbon removal and storage, as done by the Swiss company Climateworks — an expensive process that filters carbon dioxide from the air, sometimes injecting it underground in basalt rock, where it mineralizes over time.

While the process seems sound, “the question is, is it scalable?” said Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has studied carbon capture for more than 30 years, noting the high cost of running the technology relative to the amount of carbon removed. “It’s a lot cheaper to not emit than to try to capture it later.”

Though the emerging technology is indeed costly — one Peruvian tour operator estimated that mitigating a flight between London and Lima with carbon capture technology would cost $5,040 — Tomorrow’s Air aims to excite people about the future of carbon removal, invest in it and create a community of travelers and travel companies around it that will eventually be large enough to sway companies and governments to engage.

“We’re providing ways for travelers and travel companies to support the scale-up of carbon removal technology,” said Christina Beckmann, the co-founder of Tomorrow’s Air. “We thought, what if we got travel, which is 10 percent of global GDP, or some portion of it, united around carbon removal with permanent storage? We could really do something.”

Tomorrow’s Air is pursuing that goal by planning online Airbnb Experiences tours of a carbon capture plant. And it has partnered with artists who focus on the climate, showcasing their work on its website. It also sells subscriptions starting at $30, of which 80 percent is invested in a carbon removal company; 20 percent funds further educational efforts.

The group is holding its first convention (virtual, of course) today, bringing together what it calls “climate clever travelers and brands” to talk not just about carbon capture, but where to go and how to be a more sustainable traveler, a step in harnessing consumer demand to climate change action.

“It’s practical, it’s affordable and it’s a way to be a part of what will hopefully be a growing traveler’s collective where by eventual size maybe we can take some things to scale,” said Ann Becker, 68, a business and travel consultant living in Chicago and a member of Tomorrow’s Air.