The Weekly Planet: The Best Way to Donate to Fight Climate Change (Probably) - 3 minutes read

Some background: Giving Green is part of the effective-altruism movement, which tries to answer questions such as “How can someone do the most good?” with scientific rigor. Or at least with econometric rigor.

Some readers of this newsletter might be familiar with GiveWell, which tries to find charities that save the most lives on a dollar-per-dollar basis. It uses randomized control trials and empirical evidence to identify charities that it says “improve lives the most per dollar.”

Giving Green applies this same principle to climate change. It asks: If you donate a dollar to fighting climate change, where will your money go furthest? Right now, it makes recommendations in two areas: carbon offsets and policy change. Each illustrates the benefits of its approach—and the potential problems.

Carbon offsetting should be a perfect fit for Giving Green. There’s nothing theoretically impossible about using money to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Yet doing so has proved devilishly hard in practice. The field is haunted by an idea called “additionality,” which says that every additional dollar spent on offsets should prevent additional CO₂ pollution. According to the European Union, about 85 percent of carbon-offset projects don’t have additionality. That is, they might prevent some carbon pollution, but the amount of pollution prevented doesn’t reliably match the amount of money spent.

Giving Green recommends three carbon-offsetting programs that it says have strong additionality (among other traits):

1. The best way to offset additional carbon pollution is to permanently remove existing carbon pollution from the atmosphere. This is what the Swiss company Climeworks does: It sucks carbon dioxide from the air and turns it into a solid material underground.

This is the “most certain” way to offset carbon emissions, according to Giving Green; it’s also the most expensive. Climeworks charges more than $1,000 to remove a ton of CO₂ from the atmosphere. For context: If you wanted to offset the carbon dioxide emitted by the average U.S. car each year, you’d be set back $4,600.

This is out of reach for most people. So Climeworks offers a subscription service: You can pay the company to capture a small amount of carbon every month in your name. For $8 a month, Climeworks will, over the course of a year, remove 85 kilograms of CO₂—about as much as the average car releases in 210 miles of driving.

2. There are cheaper ways to offset carbon pollution. Giving Green also recommends Tradewater, which finds and destroys stores of chemical refrigerants that are more than 10,000 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide is.

Because Tradewater targets chemicals that are so much more potent than CO₂, and because it doesn’t need to remove those gases from the atmosphere—it only needs to keep them from reaching the atmosphere—it is much cheaper than Climeworks. At $15 a ton, Tradewater “offers one of the most attractive combinations of price and certainty,” Giving Green says.

Source: The Atlantic

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