I can’t speak for CE, but we at Giving Green have looked a bit into Wren.
Some thing I like about Wren:
They seem to have put some thought and extra effort into picking offsets they think are better than normal.
They have a nice interface and good publicity, so hopefully that will crowd some money into funding good projects.
Some things I don’t like about Wren:
I fundamentally disagree with the idea that measuring a ‘carbon footprint’ and then offsetting this footprint is a meaningful and productive way to fight climate change. People should be doing what they can to reduce their own emissions, and using their donations in the most effective ways possible. Why should the amount of carbon an individual emits be a meaningful marker for how much one should contribute to the fight? This logic only works if offsets are seen as a way to give someone permission to undo the damage of a high-carbon lifestyle. That’s a dangerous perspective, as we need to reduce emissions from all angles, not just increase on one hand and offset on the others. Plus, no offsets are certain enough to really undo a person’s damage. Giving Green recommends that individuals and organizations view offsets simply as a philanthropic contribution to a pro-climate project with an evidence-based approach to reducing emissions, rather than a way to eliminate their contribution to climate change.
Their selection of recommended offsets seems a bit ad-hoc. Sometimes I get the logic of why a certain project is special in the great sea of offset projects, but other times I don’t really see it. There isn’t much information on their selection process or criteria- it all feels relatively non-transparent to me. Maybe someone would lob the same criticisms at Giving Green, but we’ve tried to be as transparent as possible, and when we re-launch our website in a couple of weeks there will be a bunch more documentation on our process and selection criteria.
Hi Maria, thanks for the note. I understand the point you’re making, but I think the case of forestry and cookstoves are really quite different. The difference is that with clean cookstove (or really any project that improves energy efficiency), you permanently remove demand for energy, which is not reversible.
Let’s take a classic impermanence example around forestry offsets. A project works for a year to conserve a hectare of forest that would have been counterfactually cut down . They are issued X carbon credits for this conservation, and sell these credits as offsets in the market. The next year, the projects shuts down (due to lack of funding, political reasons, whatever). The the trees are simply cut down the next year. So although people bought “offsets” for X tons of carbon, really their purchase only went towards delaying those emissions for one year. And that’s if you’re lucky- maybe two acres get cut down the next year to make up for lost time, feeding pent-up demand for forest products.
Now let’s take the example of stoves. A project distributes clean cookstoves to a bunch of households. After a year they verify that these cookstoves are still in use, and they are issued X carbon credits for fuel that would have been counterfactually consumed. No matter what happens in the future, the demand for fuel the previous year has been erased, and is not coming back. Now, I understand what you are saying- that fuel that has not been burned in the stove in theory flows back up the supply chain and results in fewer trees being cut down. But the demand pressure to cut the tree down has been permanently removed.
I know this isn’t perfect. For instance, if the forest that produces the charcoal burns down, then all the efforts we make to reduce fuel usage go up in smoke. Also, reduced charcoal demand could cause prices to go down causing a rebound effect. But I do think it’s fundamentally better than just temporarily preventing a patch of forest from being cut down without addressing any of the demand issues.
Also, it’s not that we think forestry projects are fundamentally bad. We just think there are so many things that could go wrong that they are fiendishly hard to verify effectiveness. We’re definitely keeping our eyes open for forestry offsets that can address all the issues, and hope to re-open this search next year. (Note that permanence is only one issues. Forestry offsets also suffer from hard-to-validate counterfactuals, and “leakage” in which trees are just cut down in other areas.)
Finally, in the end I don’t want to spend too much time defending any particular offset, even the ones we recommend. I think that fundamentally, the idea that you can buy an offset and causally undo emissions with certainty is simply flawed. The world is too complex, and this level of certainty doesn’t exist. We view “good” offset projects as ones that are doing good work and verifiably reducing emissions, but reject the idea that offsets can or should be used to wash away one’s carbon sins.
Hi Everyone, Dan from Giving Green here. Just a note that we’ll be doing a big re-launch of our website and product (with recommendations for the 2020 giving season!) in about a month’s time. We’re looking forward to sharing more details of our strategy in a post here around that time. In the meantime, happy to answer questions here or chat with interested parties.
I know I’m a bit late to this topic, but at Giving Green (www.idinsight.org/givinggreen) we are trying to answer specifically this problem. We’re building on excellent previous work (like that at Let’s Fund and Founder’s Pledge) to do a comprehensive analysis on giving, investment, and volunteer options to fight climate change. The work is still very early, but there is a lot coming in the pipeline so stay tuned. For now, we have a few recommendations in the offset market.