While debates rage about what should be done about climate change, some social entrepreneurs are doing something about it. Among other things, they’re making it easy for 2019 to your first carbon neutral year.
Paul Hawken, the author of the 2017 environmental masterwork Drawdown, founded an organization of the same name, to track and monitor the top climate change interventions by effectiveness, cost and ancillary savings.
While Drawdown won’t provide you with a personal, step-by-step guide to personal carbon neutrality, it will give you a clear vision that smart people do have a reasonable plan for preventing the worst effects of climate change. Given that success seems possible, you may feel an even greater responsibility to do your part to go carbon neutral yourself.
One of the great lessons from Drawdown’s work is that many interventions have non-environmental benefits. Educating girls has a huge climate change impact—Drawdown ranks it as the sixth most impactful thing we can do to mitigate climate change—but it is an even more important intervention for the girls.
There are countless carbon footprint calculators available on the internet; here’s one. There seems to be some agreement that the average carbon footprint of a person living in the United States, the highest per capita emitter of carbon, is about 16 or 17 metric tons of carbon each year. (China, with its 1.3 billion people, now emits more carbon than the U.S. in aggregate)
Because I travel extensively on airplanes, my air travel contributes more carbon than my cars and home combined. Still, the calculator suggests my food consumption generates still more. The calculator did not ask about my diet so it does not appear to have considered the fact that I eat a vegan diet, which produces less than half as much carbon as a meat lover’s diet.
Use a calculator to help you see opportunities for reducing your carbon output.
Electric cars, some made by social entrepreneurs, don’t just have zero tailpipe emissions, they are three to four times as efficient as cars powered by gasoline. Even if your electric car is powered in part by coal-fired electricity, it is driving much less carbon than a similar car with an internal combustion engine. With the adoption of renewable energy outpacing the adoption of electric cars in the U.S., one could argue that most of the electricity for automobiles is coming from the increase in renewable energy. Of course, if you put solar panels on the roof of your house to power your car, then 100% of the energy for your car is clean.
My Leaf requires only about 100 kWh per month, about $10 worth of energy from Rocky Mountain Power, for me to drive the 400 or so miles I cover each month. While much has been made of Tesla’s Model 3 being nominally priced around $35,000, the untold story is that used electric cars from Fiat, Nissan and Smart are readily available in the U.S. for well under $10,000. (Full disclosure: I own 60 shares of Tesla.)
Even if you do better than I at reducing your carbon footprint, eliminating air travel, walking more and eating only food grown on organic, regenerative farms, chances are you won’t be able to bring your carbon footprint to zero. “So, how do I get to carbon neutral?” you ask.
The answer is simple and surprisingly affordable. There are lots of ways to buy carbon offsets but my favorite is with the crowdfunding site Cool Effect, founded by Richard and Dee Lawrence. All the projects on the site have a triple-audited carbon reduction impact that you can purchase for prices as low as $5.27 per ton. The average on the site is $9.41 per metric ton.
Virtually all the projects have other social impacts as well. For instance, the $5.27 per ton project provides biogas digestors and clean cookstoves to low-income people in China. This provides economic and health benefits directly to people who need them while reducing carbon output for all.
As the years roll forward, I expect it will quickly become even easier to reduce our personal carbon output but it will never be easier than it is today to be carbon neutral. For just $155.27, that is, $9.41 per ton times 16.5 tons per year, you can do your part.
If you cut your emissions to 50% of average and buy the cheapest offsets at $5.27 per ton, you could conceivably offset your carbon output for just $43.48 per year. You can also subscribe to a monthly purchase, making it feel more affordable.
There are some people on the edge of economic survival for whom $155.27 is an impossible amount. If you are able, consider buying extra offsets for someone who can’t afford to do so.
While the debates continue to rage, you can act. You can do your part. Thanks in part to social entrepreneurs, today and going forward, we have no excuse for not being carbon neutral.