358 comments

How to Carry a Big Wallet and Leave a Small Footprint

tesla_wheel

Tesla Electric car

One of the biggest causes of my optimism for humanity’s future is something I call the Rise of the Benevolent Billionaire Nerds.

See, in the olden days, it seems that the people who rose to great power were the most aggressive ones. Warlords and Imperialists. Then the steel and railroad titans, the Mafia, and more recently publishing and oil and military tycoons. While the level of violence and corruption varied, these kingpins of the old guard were all good at converting low-wage manual labor into power and high-profit products. But often their rise was boosted through a mixture of ruthless business practices,  suppressing opposing views, political connections and bribery.  In colloquial terms, the billionaires were often the men with the biggest balls.

Nowadays, I notice a different trend. The Internet has eliminated the ability to suppress information – the stuff wants to be free. It has also opened the incredible trillion dollar treasure chest of the technology industry: a game you can only win by employing a large number of the most brilliant minds.

This game has different rules: you make a lot more money by honestly providing great technology (Google, Tesla) than by crafting misleading introductory offers and buying elections in an attempt to sell more of your mediocre stuff (my local cable company). To create such complex companies, you need not only brilliant workers, but exceptionally bright founders and CEOs too. This means the new billionaires are the women and men with the biggest brains.

This leads us to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the most powerful and efficient World-Saving Machine that has ever been dreamed up by humans up to this point in history. The 1400-strong group is a sort of a Do-gooder Engineer’s Dream Team – a combination of some of the world’s most effective minds, honed by business experience and powered by roughly $40,000,000,000.00 of money that was made mostly in private enterprise and then donated for the betterment of the world.

A fortune like this could be used to buy governments and build nuclear bombs, but instead Gates and company seem to be following roughly this logical path:

  • Start by helping the poorest people with the most urgent health crises
  • Provide better access to education, which drastically reduces poverty
  • Once on this stronger, happier footing, people choose to have far fewer babies
  • You now have much less misery and more equality in the world

Bill is also highly interested in climate change since rising sea levels, storms, droughts and floods all hit the poorest countries the hardest. Here in the US, we can afford to move or reinforce our coastal cities and redesign our farms. But in poverty-stricken regions, floods and epidemics tend to kill thousands or millions of people.

In short, it’s a great plan designed and backed by some of the world’s greatest brains. But where I dare to diverge from the Gates Foundation, just a little, is in this equation that Bill explained in a recent video:

carbon2

He rightly states that our total Carbon emissions are a multiple of four (really three) things:

(Population) x (Energy Burned Per Person) x (How Dirty our Energy is).

Population is still on the rise, for now. The world’s poorest people will gradually move up to having refrigerators and indoor housing, so the number of “Services” will rise. But my challenge is in the “E” part. He says that we can maybe reduce that part by half over the next 30 years. I claim that we can EASILY reduce that by 75% immediately, because right now almost all of the energy used by the rich world is wasted.

For example, consider the average American, driving a car 15 miles each way to work. They burn a gallon of gas per day, which would be 33 kilowatt-hours if you could convert this to electricity with no loss. Those who choose to commute in trucks are at double that figure.

Meanwhile, an electric bike does this trip for about 0.6 kilowatt hours at roughly the same average speed in typical traffic conditions, meaning  about 98% of that car’s energy was wasted, compared to the superior alternative of the bike. Using our cars less often reduces the need to build and replace cars, which cuts the energy and steel use at the factory, and so on down the chain.

I’ve visited houses where people set their air conditioning at 72 degrees F in the summer, on days when the outdoor temperature is only 80F. This decision alone can burn 6 kilowatt hours of energy per day. Since the human body is capable of being perfectly comfortable at 80F, 100% of this energy is being wasted! Our irrational self-defeating addiction to convenience and soft flabby TV-absorbing laziness increases our energy use while making our lives less enjoyable.

You could go on to list hundreds of tiny, easy optimizations like this which affect every part of the rich world’s energy consumption, and indeed, I have done exactly this over the last five years. And through a happy mathematical coincidence, reducing your energy use by 75% tends to bring your spending down by a similar amount, which puts you on the path to being financially independent in less than a decade.

But ideas like this don’t show up on Bill’s equation, because his is focused more on technology rather than Badassity. Technology helps us make a more energy-efficient car or air conditioner. Badassity is much more powerful because it helps us build a more efficient Human. 

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love technology. Its byproducts include computers, which led to the Internet, which I feel is the biggest long-term gift the human race has invented to this point.

Technology can help us burn less energy – with one click you can buy 4 beautiful LED bulbs for your recessed can lights, which burn 85% less energy than the old kind while delivering much nicer light. One $32 purchase saves you over $50 per decade, which is a win/win. This giant LED monitor on my desk burns 75% less energy than the boat-anchor glass screens that were the norm when I started writing software in the early ’90s, while giving me four times the resolution.

But sometimes technology is just used to facilitate more consumption. In 1982, my dad bought a Mustang with a 5.0 liter V-8 engine. That schoolbus-sized powerplant cranked out 157 horsepower, which was a lot for those days. Nowadays you can get that amount of power from a 1-liter engine, but instead of losing weight to benefit from the new technology the Mustang has ballooned to 3700 pounds and 435 horsepower.

Without a change in attitude, ever-cheaper renewable energy might just lead us to build houses that hover on noisy drone fans so we can take our entire dwellings with us on vacation. (If you look at the preposterous RV trend here in the US, you can see we’re already on that path).

imgresAs the wise Dr. Seuss Himself said in 1971 with odd prescience:

Unless Someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

Halting the decline of our ecosystem would be  ridiculously easy to do right now. We simply need to start giving a shit.

We just need get through to people who say things like, “It’s nobody’s business what I do with my money. I earned it, so I can spend it however I want.” The statement is almost true – you should be free to spend your own money. But you should be aware, and not in denial, of when that spending hurts other people.

But I’m not Perfect – What about Consumption that Really Makes My Life Better?

Many people get angry at Mr. Money Mustache’s eco-rants, and shout out that I’m not perfect myself. How can I judge you, when I regularly fly to another continent, eat a non-vegan diet, voluntarily had a child, and generally live a life of American luxury myself?

The answer is that I’m not judging you. I’m asking you to judge yourself. Just as I judge myself every day. I’m very aware that my actions cause harm to other people:

My return plane ticket to Ecuador blasted out about one metric ton of CO2 – about the same as driving 3,000 miles. I eat roughly 150 pounds of meat and a thousand eggs per year – less than the 270lb US meat average but still enough to emit another thousand pounds of CO2.

Image source: Treehugger

CO2 production for various meats – Image source: Treehugger

My life involves all sorts of gluttonous consumption. But the point is that I’m aware of it, so I can work to chop away any part of it that doesn’t bring me great joy.

Having a grilled pork chop alongside my olive-oil-drenched salad and spiced sweet potato fries for dinner is a true joy and my body runs extremely well on the low carbohydrate diet. I would be more ethical and virtuous as a vegetarian or vegan, but I’ve tried both and this is the happier one for me – for now at least. Similarly, I’d save a shitload of pollution by just canceling the annual Ecuador retreat. But those weeks have been some of the best experiences of my life. To me, it was worth the pollution I created.

On the other hand, I get no joy from driving a car 3 miles to do something I could easily accomplish by bike. The energy boost and physical fitness far outweigh the convenience of traveling passively in a climate-controlled bubble. And I’m not particularly fond of sitting in airplanes, so while I have so far accepted the invitations to Ecuador, I have still had the pleasure of declining free trips to China, Thailand, Australia, England, and Italy. In exchange, I got to enjoy more time with my family here in Colorado, and the world benefited as well. Win/win.

I also get no joy from energy-inefficient light fixtures or furnaces, or from machine-drying my clothes instead of hanging them out in the fresh sunshine of my parkside back yard. These simple pleasures let my family use about 80% less gasoline and 80% less electricity than the typical US household. The comparison is even better if we compare ourselves to similarly high income US households. No virtue or sacrifice required – I get a life that is more fun, much wealthier, and happens to cause less harm to other people.

But What About the Rest of It?

If you’re like me, you’ve made some improvements over the average rich world resident, but your life is still plenty gluttonous, and unsustainable if everyone on the planet lived that way. What can you do? You can erase your footprint with a few clicks.

Companies like TerraPass and CarbonFund have popped up to efficiently channel money into projects that soak up or prevent CO2 emissions. Preserving or planting forests, or building wind farms, catching and burning methane from cow manure for power generation instead of dumping it into the air, and plenty more interesting stuff.

Since most people don’t care about this stuff yet, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit to be had. Planting a single tree can sequester a ton of CO2 for a century, yet a single person can plant hundreds of trees in a day. One of my sisters lives on a 50 acre farm that was deforested a century ago, then eventually the farming side of it was decommissioned. It’s not great farmland, but the forests in the area do just fine. So with the help of an environmental fund she is planting over 4000 trees to reforest the land, with a net cost to her of less than a thousand bucks. An entire lifetime of carbon absorbed (and a beautiful new woodland for future generations of kids to grow up running through) for the price of a set of truck tires.

Hey, I can do this right NOW.

carbonfund_cartHeading to CarbonFund.org, I am filling up a shopping cart with the energy use from my household. Wow, that’s cheap, $37 to offset all my household carbon? When I add in 2000 miles in my Scion xA, there is another $5.

But then there’s our annual flight for 3 people to Canada to visit family: about $17 total. Wow, does $17 really offset three plane tickets? Not bad at all.

We might as well throw in an offset for all the meat and dairy eating my whole family does. Call it 2 tons of carbon and add 20 bucks – it’s only ten dollars a ton.

How about my trip to Ecuador? Absorbing the carbon for that entire trip is only $12. But really, that was the third annual trip, and I played a large part in inviting the other 24 people who attended each year, alongside my co-conspirator Jim Collins. I doubt that the other attendees took the time to offset their own carbon. Let’s chalk my responsibility up as 75 roundtrip flights, or $900.

I’m going add all of that up to get final bill: $37 + $5+  $17 + $20 + $900.  $979 to erase not only my own family’s footprint, but the equivalent of an entire human lifetime of trips to the equator.

That is about the amount of money this article will earn from people using that Amazon Affiliate link to buy energy efficient light bulbs to save themselves money.  This is a win/win situation.

(Update from a reader: get these even cheaper ones if you don’t need the recessed light style)

I can (and will) buy solar panels to power my entire household with electricity to spare, for about $3,000. Free electricity for life, for three grand. I fail to see the “lose” in this win/win.

I can swap my gas-powered car for a nearly-new Nissan Leaf, which you can get on Craigslist these days for under ten grand. The car will charge from my solar panels or from my city’s wind-powered electric program, to which I’ve been subscribed for the past 10 years.

A decade or more of high-powered luxury electric driving, never having to buy gas (or change the oil, or replace a muffler) again, for ten grand. The car is silent on the highway and brings you Zen-like joy in traffic jams. This is not a sacrifice, it’s just another win/win.

The money we pour into supporting these new projects and technologies, and divert away from drilling holes in the ground and manufacturing disposable gas-powered vehicles, will create billions of new, better jobs. When we invest in productive infrastructure rather than temporary toys for ourselves, society’s wealth grows much more rapidly.

It’s all really easy, and a lot of fun, if we just give the slightest bit of a shit. So I think Bill Gates can update his equation.

Here’s my final checkout and the cute certificates they emailed me as receipts, Photoshopped together for blog-friendliness:

carbonfund-receipts

 

So, no more complaints or worries about climate change – only action.

  • kite March 24, 2016, 6:46 am

    This may be one of my favorites of all time.
    From my perspective, MMM has found the sweet spot between acting in one’s own best interest and in humanity’s best interest. There is a balance point where I’m trying to surf, for lack of a better word. When I get it right, there’s nothing quite like the thrill. I fall, but keep getting up and getting better.
    Some of my frugal habits were born of necessity. Too poor as newlyweds to have a clothes dryer, we have always line dried. Now, even though I could easily afford the fanciest dryer on the planet, I’m unwilling to dedicate the time to shop for it or the real estate to install it or the money to acquire and run it. Clothes come out of the washer and go onto a hanger where they stay until they are worn. It’s mind boggling to me that I might ever have thought there was another way! Yes, I move hangers around from clothesline to closet, but ironing and folding are distant memories. In a particularly cold rainy season, the laundromat (1 mile away) can get all my laundry dry (every scrap of fabric I own) for under $2, but I’ve done this maybe twice a year. At those prices, a dryer couldn’t pay for itself in my lifetime.
    Other frugal habits came from my inherent laziness. At some point in my life I recognized that stuff is all landfill if we don’t consume it, and I’m too lazy to want to move landfill around. Whether from the store to my house, around my house, or from my house to the curb when it’s finally useless, is dreadful to contemplate. So I buy as little as I can get away with having. The whole “use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without” isn’t deprivation, it’s liberation.
    Lastly, the strongest motivation is that I’m competitive. Perhaps many of you gave up the sibling rivalry thing in childhood. Hats off to you. Not my brothers and sisters. The competitive spirit has us seeing who can have the lowest utility bills, tastiest homemade breads & soups, best cholesterol numbers and most robust home garden and 401k balances. All these things nudge me towards better choices for me personally and for the earth.

    Reply
  • Jason March 24, 2016, 8:06 am

    It’s always been my understanding that carbon offsets don’t accomplish anything.

    Trust me, I wish it were that simple. I would love to take a transcontinental flight, then simply eliminate my carbon footprint for an additional $20.

    I guarantee you that plenty of companies or “charities” would love to take your money, assuage your guilt, and not actually help mitigate climate change. I’m not saying they’re intentionally stealing your money, but it’s very hard to actually reduce carbon emissions in a way that wouldn’t have been reduced anyway had it not been for your offset donation.

    If anyone has evidence that offsets are effective, I’d love to be convinced otherwise.

    Reply
  • Felipe March 24, 2016, 9:23 am

    As great as biking around and paying for carbon offsets is, I’m convinced the only way we can prevent catastrophic climate change is by building environmentalism into a political movement, confronting carbon based energy companies and making massive public investments into alternative energy.

    I like the idea of carbon offsets, but if we are serious about climate change they need to be seen not as a voluntary penance that the wealthy subject themselves to but a basic cost of transaction that everyone pays whether they like it or not. It’s a simple principle: no one should be allowed to destroy the planet unless they’re willing to pay to undo the damage they’re doing.

    Reply
  • Darin March 24, 2016, 6:46 pm

    I wish CarbonFund.org provided a little more information on their offsets. Depending on the certification method/project, some Carbon offset funds can double count credits, invest in projects that won’t reduce Carbon as much as is claimed, etc…

    http://sustainability.tufts.edu/wp-content/uploads/TCI_Carbon_Offsets_Paper_April-2-07.pdf

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s better than nothing, but as usual, caveat emptor.

    Someone can also create/bury biochar if they heat with a wood stove. 8lbs of biochar per day for 3 months would I think sequester ~3 tons of CO2.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar

    Reply
  • Barry Bliss March 25, 2016, 5:07 pm

    MMM,
    1) Do you use a hot water heater in your house, and if so what kind, how large and what settings do you use?

    2) Do y’all use a dryer for when it rains or when it is below freezing outside?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 27, 2016, 7:50 pm

      Hi Barry,

      I’m a big fan of tankless water heaters these days. I have a Rheem 199k unit, which is kind of overpowered but that’s because it does both the domestic hot water and the house’s under-floor heat: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/02/06/the-radiant-heat-experiment-did-it-work/

      We don’t currently own a clothes dryer (I have in all previous houses but we haven’t yet felt the need in this latest place). Since there are only 3 of us in the house, we end up doing only about one load of laundry a week. In the high altitude semi-desert Colorado it is usually sunny and days below freezing are rare, so it is easy to schedule the laundry for a nice day. But in a pinch, I can just hang it on a folding rack inside.

      If I lived in a more humid place I’d be much more likely to use a dryer.

      Reply
      • Barry Bliss March 28, 2016, 5:52 pm

        Thanks.

        Reply
  • Doctor K March 25, 2016, 8:13 pm

    “I would be more ethical and virtuous as a vegetarian or vegan, but I’ve tried both and this is the happier one for me – for now at least.” As a lifelong vegetarian and recently converted vegan, I just want to encourage you to keep trying! As you know, the benefits to yourself and the environment/world by making that simple choice are astronomical, and someone with your level of discipline and awareness can definitely do it! Meanwhile, I’ll work on getting rid of my luxury car and switching over to an ebike :)

    Reply
  • mike March 26, 2016, 11:19 am

    It’s like we’re living in the matrix and big agriculture/food companies write the program and we’re the software.

    Perhaps Pete’s body does run better on a low carbohydrate diet. (When one says “low carb” by definition it means high meat diet). I understand how processed sugars/white bread/sodas are unhealthy, but to villify carbohydrates dumbfounds me. Prilosec/nexium and those type of drugs are the most used in US because of GERD.

    All life is made of carbon. Without carbon we’re dead. Carbohydrates come wrapped with this wonderful indigestible fiber. Meat has no fiber. Our lack of fiber is one of the main causes of diseases of affluence.

    To read what meat does for the environment, how energy intensive, the way the animals are treated…. Anyway, I love Pete and MMM, but going along with the status quo in regards to one’s diet is the biggest decision we make on a daily basis.

    Reply
    • Caleb March 29, 2016, 5:56 am

      I don’t believe that meat production is as simple as that one bar chart in MMM’s post may make it seem.

      Consider that the CO2 equivalents being produced by sheep are primarily in the form of methane from their unique form of digestion (ruminant fermentation) of forages, primarily grasses. This means that 1) the CO2 equivalent they put out is initially very high, but has a relatively short lifespan in the atmosphere, and 2) the carbon in that methane they are producing was originally sequestered from the atmosphere by the plants that they eat.

      Now let’s compare that idyllic system in which the carbon is basically just cycling through the animal, and the animal is providing ecosystem services for the grassland with two other systems.
      1) Corn-fed beef: After an early idyllic life grazing out on the rangelands the cattle are jammed into feedlots with no vegetation and fed diets that are very high in corn. Suddenly the carbon in their diet is coming from an energy intensive crop where you are also accounting for the fuel used in growing the corn, producing its fertilizer, and powering its harvest, transport and processing. The cows actually produce less methane on the corn, but is that truly ideal when a grass-fed cow is producing that methane (with its relatively short atmospheric half-life) from grazed or stored grass?
      2) Soya: literally burn off a few hectares of Brazilian rainforest, till, plant, harvest etc… Yes you’re producing protein, but you’re also figuratively burning off A LOT of carbon that had been sequestered in the soil organic matter. The same fields dedicated to pastured ruminants would have the potential to be sequestering more carbon in soil organic matter, depending upon management.

      It’s not all cut and dry. Don’t believe anyone that says you have to eat just this, or just that. If you’re going to buy meat, aim for local grass-fed. If you’re a vegan, realize that your soy products are often from newly cleared land and that it would possibly be less economically viable if part of the same crop your food comes from wasn’t also going to animals as supplemental feed.

      I highly recommend the book “Meat: a benign extravagance” for anyone who likes to think about the environmental impact of their food choices. It is an admonishment of both the current overconsumption of meat, and the entirely plant-based diet, suggesting that the most beneficial environmental stewardship likely comes from agricultural systems that include grazing animals, and a return to the days of humans eating meat on a much smaller basis.

      Reply
  • QQ March 26, 2016, 3:10 pm

    For further lifestyle badassity, please read Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home. In 2014, her family of 4 made only about a liter of trash, total, for the whole year.
    Using some of her techniques over the last couple of months, my family of 3 (plus a cat) is already down to a gallon of trash a week, and continuing to improve. And we don’t live in eco-friendly California like the Johnsons do.

    Reply
  • Joe March 26, 2016, 3:22 pm

    Want to save 503,000 metric tons of CO2 per year? The Post Office does, by eliminating Saturday mail delivery. 65% of the American public supports this. Unfortunately the Democrats don’t want to lose decent paying union jobs (votes). I guess they don’t really see global warming as that big of a threat.

    Reply
  • Elizabeth March 26, 2016, 4:50 pm

    Have you looked into the Zero Waste movement? It parallels mustachianism quite nicely…

    Reply
  • Micha March 27, 2016, 10:13 am

    MMM, love your blog. Thanks to you and Jacob of ERE, I’m in the process of selling my much too large house, paying off the last of my debt and have adopted many smaller changes like a Republic phone and cool temp furnace settings along the way.
    I’ve been trying to talk myself into riding a bike to work. Thanks to an earlier commenter, I’ve learned of a employer/tax benefit for cyclers that may push me over. I’m a fraidy cat due to traffic. Its funny what finally works. So thanks for your blog and your wonderful commenters, even when I disagree, I learn so much!

    Reply
  • Chris Stratton March 28, 2016, 11:36 am

    This is wonderful to see. Thanks MMM.

    Reply
  • Caleb March 29, 2016, 5:16 am

    MMM, I’m so glad that you’re delving more into carbon footprint reduction.

    I am surprised however, that you’re jumping on the consumer carbon credit idea. With an engineer’s mind like yours, I would expect you to be more critical of the notion that buying short-term carbon sequestration somehow makes it okay that somebody has extracted ancient carbon from deep within its terrestrial prison. I’m not suggesting that I don’t use petroleum products, or that it’s a bad idea to plant trees and support wind farms. I am suggesting that the two are not equivalent, and that it may be a net negative to suggest to folks that they are. Producing a ton of CO2 from petroleum, and then cycling it through newly planted trees doesn’t change the net export of geologic carbon to atmospheric/terrestrial carbon. Worse still, it now makes the purchaser of those “tree credits” complacent because they now think that they “made up for” their carbon contribution.

    Reply
  • Drew March 29, 2016, 3:50 pm

    Thanks MMM. Super interesting. I admire and respect B. Gates, and am thankful for his incredibly smart philanthropy, but don’t agree with him on much of his climate approach. Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison (he got out before it’s stock went into the crapper) has offered other critiques about Mr. Gates’ incessant call for more R&D. (Check out the Energy Gang podcast, by Greentech Media, for a deep dive on this issue.) We have great renewable technologies now that are affordable and ready for deployment on a mass scale, just have to do it! Agree with other posters that the market is pushing in this direction anyway, but we’ve got to use badassity to give it a healthy shove!

    Reply
  • LisaS March 30, 2016, 11:00 am

    This article brought to mind a great book- Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. He shares many of your concerns and has a similar outlook on life BUT he makes a compelling case for eating more (local) beef and less grains if one really cares about the environment. I think it makes sense that the healthiest way to eat- paleo- also would be healthiest for the earth. It’s a fascinating read!

    Reply
  • green_knight008 March 30, 2016, 4:41 pm

    So, I’ve taken this from the website of this charity you’re talking about donating to.

    “how do you retire carbon?

    Simply put, we retire carbon by not using it. When we purchase carbon offsets or support a carbon reduction project we gain the right to the emission reductions. Many groups buy these rights and then use them to pollute or sell them. We buy the carbon reductions and retire them, meaning that they are taken out of circulation forever.”

    You do realize that this actually requires a cap in the cap and trade law, which does not exist in the US in order to be true, correct? You can’t “retire” something that is essentially unlimited (carbon offsets). Maybe I’m wrong on this, but as far as I am aware there is no actual “Cap,” just a bunch of people making money off of the “Trade” aspect-including this charity apparently.

    I’ve also looked at some of their projects-like the avoided deforestation one. You know this was thoroughly panned back in the 80s after it was determined that old growth jungle actually puts more CO2 into the air than it removes. The oceans are the world’s lungs, not the rainforest. One of the larger lies in eco-donations in the last 50 years, and I see that it lives on today since they are claiming that keeping the rainforest will “mitigate climate change”

    I get what you’re trying to do, and it isn’t a terrible thing, but would it not be better to encourage your readers to engage in mini-conservation projects rather than donate to a (questionable in my mind after seeing these two items in the first 10 minutes) charity? I get that’s the easy way out to drop a few bucks, but quite frankly I’d rather plant my own trees on land that I own than trust that my donation isn’t going to pay for a plane ticket for some executive at this charity to fly first class to visit a windfarm in India.

    As I read through this, I couldn’t help but think of the system of indulgences promoted by the Catholic church a few centuries ago. You have to admit-it’s the exact same model, you have essentially chosen to shell out a few bucks to erase your carbon “sins” including what you see as your future ones.

    All that said, Charity Navigator did give this charity 4 stars-you definitely could have done worse!

    Reply
    • Caleb March 31, 2016, 5:13 am

      I believe that the rainforest being the world’s lungs is still debated. Folks go back and forth about old growth and CO2 budgets. Some evidence that it’s net negative, some evidence that it’s net positive. Let’s assume that it’s net neutral. So, you re-forest an area and it locks up some carbon. 1) that same amount of carbon has already entered the global cycle when the forest was cut down. 2) the carbon you’re “off-setting” or theoretically locking up came from subterranean ancient sources.
      So have you really off-set anything? Seems like you’re just going back to where the cycle was before we cut the forest down, and you’ve pulled carbon into the system from deep underground.
      Is your reforestation going to capture more carbon than the same amount of land would have anyway left to its own devices. (a natural succession of plants moving in will usually turn former forested areas back in to forest) Will human tree selections create the best forest dynamic for carbon sequestration? Maybe the money is better spent maintaining deep rooted prairie grasses on the same ground, putting carbon into the soil where it’s more stable.

      Reply
  • Fiona April 7, 2016, 4:41 pm

    Dear Mr MMM,

    I’ve painstakingly scanned through all the other comments so I don’t think I’m duplicating here.

    I’m really keen to know your thoughts on the argument that Air Travel is far more environmentally damaging than the equivalent release of CO2 from car transport. You can’t compare Air Miles to Road Miles in straight CO2 terms.

    There’s a simplistic summary of the argument in an old 2010 Guardian article linked below, however I’ve also tried to read a lot of more technical articles on plane emissions.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/sep/09/carbon-emissions-planes-shipping

    The argument seems to be that you just can’t offset emissions with carbon credits because plane travel is exponentially more damaging to the environment.

    It concerns me a lot because if this is accurate, it means a single flight can be potentially far more damaging than a year’s worth of car clown commuting. What are your thoughts as a science guy?

    Reply
  • Dave April 9, 2016, 3:17 pm

    Your praise of the Gates Foundation seems somewhat misguided. They talk about nutrition for the poor while providing investing billions in Coca Cola, McDonalds, and PepsiCo. They’ve talked about helping the poor and human rights while they invested millions in private prisons and military contractors. They talk about combatting climate change while investing millions in ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell. It’s also promoted industrial agriculture, chemical fertilizers and expensive patented seeds. Indian scientist Vandana Shiva has called the Gates Foundation the “greatest threat to farmers in the developing world”.
    I usually agree with most of your financial/frugality wisdom, but I think you got it wrong with the Gates Foundation.

    Reply
    • Darren June 5, 2016, 8:17 am

      Dave,

      Just because someone or some foundation owns a stock doesn’t mean they are investing in it, supporting it, or even endorsing it. Owning a common share of XOM on a stock exchange doesn’t benefit ExxonMobil in the slightest. It doesn’t alter the process of climate change. It does provide $3 a year that one can use for whatever pursuit, philanthropic or otherwise.

      Darren

      Reply
  • JC June 4, 2016, 7:06 pm

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 4, 2016, 7:44 pm

      That’s a really useful article, thanks JC.

      Althought the author wasn’t a huge Gates Foundation fan, I was actually pretty happy to read the story as it sounds like exactly the right way to fix a problem: try some bold stuff that throws people off balance a little, study the results, don’t be afraid of failure but admit it and move on if you do find things aren’t working. As long as they remain humble and curious, this is the way to fix old systems.

      I hope we can do the same for health care.

      Reply
  • Jeff Johnson June 23, 2016, 7:54 am

    For what it’s worth, Giving What We Can (an organization that encourages folks to give more and to give better) identifies Cool Earth as the most highly effective organization in combating climate change. Cool Earth uses donor money to help indigenous villages in the rainforests keep from selling their land.

    Here’s Giving What We Can’s review: https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/charity/cool-earth/

    Here’s Cool Earth’s site: https://www.coolearth.org

    Reply
  • Michael Harris August 24, 2016, 7:51 am

    Hey MMM – I have been reading your blog for the last few months (since learning of your existence via the New Yorker article), considering myself “hardcore enough” to (slowly!) work my way through all your posts. Great stuff, and great info. My wife and I recently retired “early” (at 61 and 57!) from teaching school in inner-city Boston to living lightly on the land in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where I have a family connection.
    I am totally in synch with your mindset of enjoying the hell out of consuming less. I biked to work, shopping, etc in Boston, still bike here as much as I can, though 14K to Picton, the local shopping town, is a bit far for biking. And having a big garden is awesome. However, your ability to crunch the numbers for the rest of us is even more awesomely laudable. Kudos!

    Reply
  • Jared September 6, 2016, 2:08 pm

    One huge point that has been missing from this discussion is the fact that Carbon Credits purchased from CarbonFund are TAX DEDUCTIBLE. The $240 that goes towards the Individual Yearly Offset (24 tons) reduces your taxable income. For the average American, this is a 15-25% off sale on carbon credits. At this point there is really no excuse not to buy!

    Reply
  • rob August 22, 2017, 2:37 pm

    You can find a places with great deals on solar energy systems and parts. I like this one: https://www.solaris-shop.com

    Reply
  • Vegan Girl August 8, 2018, 10:06 pm

    I know this is an old post but sorry MMM, I can’t hear you through your continued animal and animal product consumption hypocrisy. The real detriment to our earth is our unwillingness to take a good look at this elephant in the room and make some real changes. Help your health, our animals, our earth, and feed the hungry with the big changes! Do I really need to point out why going vegan makes the biggest impact?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 9, 2018, 7:30 pm

      Yes Vegan Girl, you would indeed need to point that out, and with real numbers as I have attempted to do in this article rather than ideology. Meat eating has a carbon impact, but both the impact and the cruelty (measured by human ethical standards) depends upon what you choose to eat. Human children would be the worst, sliding down the scale to insects being the least bad.

      Meanwhile, stuff like car and plane travel or coal electricity can easily exceed the footprint than an average meat-eater is pumping out.

      So it’s important to consider both. And instead of insulting/shaming people, present them with the numbers and let them make a choice.

      Reply
      • AM August 10, 2018, 7:12 am

        Vegan Girl does have a point here, although you’re right that it’s crucial to base any judgements on data. In fact what we eat has far more environmental impact than how we get around.

        “On average, U.S. household food consumption emits 8.1 metric tons of CO2e each year. The production of food accounts for 83% of emissions, while its transportation accounts for 11%.”
        http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet

        A couple more good ones here:
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25834298/
        https://www.nature.com/articles/nature13959

        However I certainly don’t think you’re a hypocrite for consuming animal products, MMM. Thank you for the countless ways you’ve shown millions of people to improve the efficiency of their lives, including their carbon footprint. Diet represents yet another (massive) opportunity for further optimization for anyone who chooses to pursue it.

        Personally I’ve been eating mostly a whole food, plant-based diet for about a year now (with the occasional cheat here and there, such as sushi once every few months), and I absolutely love it. It’s forced me to abandon some of the lazy ruts of my previous food prep, and I’ve discovered entire new flavor spectrums. There is a ton of evidence for the personal health benefits (The China Study or Forks over Knives is probably the best place to start), as well as the environmental benefits of plant-based diets. The less meat and more veggies we eat, the better!

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache August 10, 2018, 12:41 pm

          Thanks for the data AM. But the quote is only talking about food transportation, not total household transportation. Transportation of our own asses is about the same as the entirety of food, per household. Check this out:

          8.1 metric tons (18,000 pounds) is equal to the C02 from just burning 1000 gallons of gasoline (not even counting the incredible amount used to PRODUCE that antiquated fuel!)

          1000 gallons of gasoline takes a typical US vehicle about 25,000 miles, which is only about what an average 2-car household drives.

          So in this case, our car transport footprint equals our food footprint. And that’s before you even add air travel (which for me is unfortunately pretty big even though my car portion is almost zero).

          Luckily you can negate some of your carbon impact for about $20 per ton through funding projects like reforestation or carbonfund.org.

          Reply

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