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environmental debt
are you concerned about the climate changing?
do these images of “uncle sam as a an environmentalist poster” conjure a sense of duty to do your part in the fight against climate change?*
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well boy have I got part of the solution for you
put on your American optimist problem solving hat let’s get to work
problem: it would take 5 earths if everyone lived like an American
Our planet and it’s inhabitants (all life we know of except Mars colonists) are headed for environmental violence: head & cold, not enough & too much, rapid growths & spirally collapses
We are damaging our environment on many fronts, primarily through increased heat as certain gases, namely carbon-dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).
@global warming potential
is how much warming something causes relative to 1 ton of CO2. Therefore carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) is the standard metric for global warming impact.
Global warming potential (GWP) is the heat absorbed by any greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as a multiple of the heat that would be absorbed by the same mass of carbon dioxide (CO2). GWP is 1 for CO2. For other gases it depends on the gas and the time frame.
Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e or CO2eq or CO2-e) is calculated from GWP. For any gas, it is the mass of CO2 that would warm the earth as much as the mass of that gas. Thus it provides a common scale for measuring the climate effects of different gases. It is calculated as GWP times mass of the other gas.
Methane has GWP (over 100 years) of 27.9: 7SM-24  meaning that, for example, a leak of a tonne of methane is equivalent to emitting 27.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Similarly a tonne of nitrous oxide, from manure for example, is equivalent to 273 tonnes of carbon dioxide.: 7SM-24 
methane lasts about a decade, much less time than CO2, but absorbs much more energy. The GWP also accounts for indirect effects, like the fact that methane is a precursor to ozone, another greenhouse gas (GHG). traps more heat than CO2 while also decaying quicker, with ~90 the warming effect over 20 years and ~30x the warming effect over 100 years
Methane (CH4) is estimated to have a GWP of 27-30 over 100 years (). CH4 emitted today lasts about a decade on average, which is much less time than CO2. But CH4 also absorbs much more energy than CO2. The net effect of the shorter lifetime and higher energy absorption is reflected in the GWP. The CH4 GWP also accounts for some indirect effects, such as the fact that CH4 is a precursor to ozone, and ozone is itself a GHG.
realities: you are an American
THE solution doesn’t exist. Big, complex problems have no silver bullets, only lead ones. It’s “also,” not “instead”. Meaningful progress requires action on all fronts: citizen, business, and governmental action personally, locally, and universally to decrease consumption, increase efficiency, and acknowledge timelines.
We have blood on our hands. Nearly all developing world individuals have an enormous, ever-growing carbon debt. Everybody living like the average American would require 5 earths to maintain balance. Many show this number on the decline, but many also don’t account for outsourced manufacturing and energy production (i.e. pollution). Outsource the ugly, import the good, ignore the ugly. I call this carbon laundering.
It starts with you. If you want something done, do it yourself. Lead by example. Yes, governments and business also have responsibility. But guess what? Governments and businesses are just groups of…ding ding ding: INDIVIDUALS. And since I am made of cells and gloop, not constitutions and legal documents, I can only speak as an individual human.
Yes, you can spend your time convincing a Fortune 500 CEO or country president to take certain actions. Unless you are also the Fortune 500 CEO or country president, good luck. It is better to instead focus on friends, coworkers, siblings, parents, classmates. Instead of telling people what to do, do it yourself and show them how. Lead by example. Do as I say, not as I do is ineffective at causing change.
Below is a spectrum of mindsets, think about where you/we are and where you/we want and need to be.
inevitability: there’s nothing we can do
do nothing
climate disaster
powerlessness: there’s nothing I can personally do, change needs to come from government and business
complain and shame politicians/business on social media
less disaster proportional to impact of social media peer pressure towards government and business
responsibility: I am responsible for my actions and should pay my debts
reduce personal consumptionoffset
even less disaster as you contribute to the market/policy change
There are no rows in this table
solutions: yep, capitalism
There are a million and one ways to move the needle, with a range of ROI of probabilities, impacts, and timelines (with each of these having their own distributions). On one end there is expensive, niche university and startup research towards low-probability high-impact unlimited, dirt-cheap energy sources and super-materials (EXAMPLES). On the other end, there are cheap appliances that
explains the average estimates for spending to prevent climate disaster is only 2% of GDP, with the most conservative estimates still below 5%. If done purely at the individual level in the US, with a real median individual income of , 2% would be $720 and $1,320 respectively. At
American adults that would be $180B or $300B. Even at a mere $100/year, that would be another $25B in the fight.
The average American emits per year, compared to DR Congo rounding to 0, Mexico at 3.9, Hong Kong at 6.1, and Germany at 9.7 tons. At the market price for 1 ton CO2 carbon offset at $20, that is an average of $314/year for Americans.
low-probability, low-impact, long-timeline
BEST: High-probability, high-impact, short-timeline
concerns: seems fake/wrong/like it would come with an NFT
Q: Isn’t this just like the Catholic church’s infamous , where you could pay for sins?
A: Exactly. Whereas they asked for donations towards hospitals, orphanages, and feeding the hungry to make up for sins, carbon offsets ask for donations towards carbon capture, reforestation, and emission reduction to make up for environmental damage. Also much like indulgences, carbon offsets are rife with corruption, deception, and outright theft. Therefore, one use critical thinking and reliable sources to make informed decisions. This concept understandably makes people uncomfortable: quantifying right and wrong through moral accounting. Taking credits and debits. However, ask yourself: should an ex-gang member not work towards reducing gang violence? Is the goal to never do wrong, or do more right than wrong
Q: Isn’t this just an excuse for me to commit more environmental damage?
A: The ex-gang member mentioned above donates money to a charity that prevents violence: does they now want to commit more violence? If you care enough to allocate not just attention but assets you are more involved and devoted to the cause, not less. There is no doubt people have abused this line of thinking. Pablo Escobar supported many locals while murdering others. The only question is: given he was going to murder regardless, would the world have been a better place if he hadn’t given away that money?
Q: What about electric cars and solar panels instead?
On a dolar per dollar basis, these are not the most cost effective ways to fight climate change. As mentioned earlier, its all about lead bullets not silver ones so this is also a good idea, but if the goal is purely to have the highest environmental impact, electric cars and solar panels are very low on the list. Some have even concluded a (this article has many flaws, primarily not considering significant battery recycling/reuse)
Q: So are these charities of companies? How is pricing determined?
Offsets exist in a market, supply and demand etc. Many (usually the best) companies profit. They provide are bulk discounts. The market rate is $20/ton, you’ll have a hard time finding high assurance, direct impact offers lower.
sources: who commit their lives to this
: rigorously calculates ROI, causality,
Like for the environment. They calculate the highest ROI donation is US political groups. US is the
international policy leader
largest funder of R&D (with highest quality companies).
money has outsized power in American politics

For those who are uncomfortable with the seeming squishiness of influencing politics, they have more defined, quantifiable carbon-offset projects. This also is good for companies who require tighter accounting (these are for-profit companies so donations are not tax-deductible)
: provides gas stoves to replace wood/coal in Africa
They have sold 950,000 stoves thusfar, heavily discounted or free from donations. Their online price lists the price per ton at $20, but GivingGreen found the actual cost closer to $3.61 based off of a rigorous randomised control trial (RCT) (Berkouwer and Dean, 2020, referred to as BD) that showed a 39% decrease in charcoal usage and fuel cost savings of $199/year, equivalent to one months income for study participants. with another, smaller study showing sustained impacts 18-months later.
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: sucks CO2 out of the air using fans and stores it underground
An important tool in direct removal of CO2 through Direct Air Carbon Capture and Sequestration (DACS). Climeworks, a Switzerland-based company, has built a modular technology for capturing CO2 and permanently turning it into solid material deep underground. Although expensive at $1000 per ton of CO2, they provide unparalleled certainty of permanent removal, and are developing an important frontier technology.
more resources
: eyewear made w/ plastics derived from
plastics and leathers

* footnotes
*yes I know this is classic American “war on [anything]” phrasing just go along with it

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