General

What does "carbon neutral" mean?

A:

Carbon neutral means removing the same amount of greenhouse gasses you put into the atmosphere.

It means taking responsibility for causing your share of the climate crisis and paying for your share of the solutions. When you’re carbon neutral, you’ll probably still emit some greenhouse gasses, but you’ll be helping to remove an equal amount of them from the atmosphere somewhere else. On balance you’ll be net zero.

And here's an analogy:
Imagine a man who has a bad habit of throwing trash out of his window into his back yard. He throws out exactly 10 pieces of trash a day.
Eventually his yard fills to the brim.
His friend says, "Man what are you doing?"
He tries to stop, but it's a strong habit.
So his friend says, "Okay, you can keep throwing out 10 pieces of trash a day, but for goodness sake pick up 10 other pieces a day and put them in the trash can."
This he can do.
He still throws out 10 pieces a day, but he also picks up 10 pieces a day.
10 out and 10 in = 0.
He's "trash neutral" so to speak.
It's the same with greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon neutrality means removing the same amount of greenhouse gasses you put into the atmosphere.

How do we become carbon neutral?

A:

You become carbon neutral in three steps:

1. Measure your carbon footprint. Schedule a thirty minute phone call with CNI today.

2. Offset all of it today. You can select which project your investment funds.

3. Reduce it as you go. CNI will help you reduce your emissions. In six months we speak by phone again and remeasure your carbon emissions. As you reduce your emissions, you need to offset less to remain carbon neutral.

What is the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC)?

A:

The social cost of carbon is a unit of measure. It measures the economic damage caused by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

"A recent U.S. government study concluded, based on the results of three widely used economic impact models, that an additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted in 2015 would cause $37 worth of economic damages. These damages are expected to take various forms, including decreased agricultural yields, harm to human health and lower worker productivity, all related to climate change.

But according to a new study, published... in the journal Nature Climate Change, the actual cost could be much higher. 'We estimate that the social cost of carbon is not $37 per ton, as previously estimated, but $220 per ton,' said study coauthor Frances Moore, a PhD candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources in Stanford's School of Earth Sciences."

Source: Stanford University News, Jan 12, 2015

SCC is a critically important concept. We're in this problem because many of us are internalizing the benefits of carbon while externalizing the costs of carbon.

It's one thing to become carbon neutral (the sooner the better obviously), but it's even more powerful to stop externalizing costs to the most vulnerable.

That's what the SCC helps us to do. It forces us to acknowledge that if we wait to become carbon neutral we are, in effect, choosing to continue damaging the most vulnerable.

If the average American household emits 40 mtCO2e annually, that means the average American household shifts $8,800 in social costs onto others -- often the most vulnerable.

What is CNI's vision, mission, values?

A:

Our vision is a world where everyone's unique genius is recognized, nurtured, and set loose to create better futures without end. The movie Tomorrowland is a great example.

Our mission is for Indiana to become carbon neutral as soon as possible. We're starting by focusing on households, businesses, and academic institutions. Along the way, we're reinvigorating public service through fun and effective climate action.

Our values are fun, friendship, and effective climate action.

Learn more about Carbon Neutral Indiana.

Why is the offset step before the reduce step?

A:

There are at least two reasons:

1. Putting a price on carbon changes how we act

See this passage from Second Nature, the non-profit that organizes 650+ colleges commitments to carbon neutrality.

Neutrality First Approach 

Some institutions reverse the usual carbon management hierarchy and achieve carbon neutrality through offsetting before beginning other mitigation efforts. These institutions feel that the threat of climate change is so pressing that it is their moral responsibility to become immediately carbon neutral. Typically, such institutions have a manageable carbon footprint and also commit to reduce the number of offsets they purchase each year through on-campus mitigation efforts. 

On that point, it is important to keep in mind that the very act of offsetting puts a price on GHG emissions. This price signal can drive internal emission reductions, because every ton of carbon that is not emitted represents one less offset that needs to be purchased. The short-term purchase of offsets can be an effective way to drive real reductions in global GHG emissions; internalizing the immediate costs of GHG emissions while accelerating the longer-term innovation in direct GHG emissions reduction techniques.

Source: Carbon Offset Guidance Draft Version for Public Comment – July 2016

Here’s a more fun way to explain the same concept...

Imagine a person who swears like a sailor:

His wife says, “Ed, could you please stop dropping the F bomb? We have kids!”

“F* you Sharon! I’m a grown man! I can F’in use whatever F’in language I please! For F sake!”

“Uh, not if you want me to continue being your wife you won’t. You need to ship up or shape out big boy. If you don’t stop I’m leaving.”

Okay, now imagine he agrees with her. He wants to change his ways.

“You know what honey, I promise to change. Dagnabit, I’m going to try my darndest to leave my old swearing behind. I promise to change. Golly, please don’t leave me!”

The days and weeks and months pass… No matter how hard poor old Ed tries to reform his ways he slipps back into old patterns. His wife tried to remind him but she got exhausted.

This story could have been different:

“Ed, we’ve talked about this before. Why would this time be any different? I want you to put $10 cash into this jar every time you swear.”

“F that!”

“$10 dollars now.”

“Okay…”

At first, it’s painful for Ed. Every time he pulls out a nice, crisp $10 bill it hurts. He thinks of the beer he could have had with his friends. The money makes it real for him though.

And wouldn’t you know it! Pretty quickly he’s changed his ways. 

Now, Sharon and Ed are happy. They’ve rediscovered the intense passion they had for each other in younger days. Ed even trimmed up his hair and learned how to play cello.

2. It helps people get traction psychologically

Dave Ramsey wrote the bestselling book Total Money Makeover. The book helps people get out of debt and build financial wealth.

Imagine a common example of his audience -- a clerk at something like a gas station who makes $8.50/hour. Somehow they’ve accumulated $25,000 of credit card debt. They see no way out of the hole, and they sink into depression. This is the kind of situation that causes people to turn to drugs and kill themselves either slowly or quickly. It’s heart wrenching.

Along comes Dave Ramsey. His main technique for helping people get out of debt is called the “debt snowball.” He tells people to list their debts from smallest to largest -- regardless of interest rate.

So, maybe you owe grandma $75. You owe a friend $250. You own $750 on one credit card and $1250 on another. Then maybe you own $5,200 on your car loan. And $20,000 for your college loans.

You list these debts in order and put them on your refrigerator. You make minimum payments on all of them, and whatever extra money you have you put towards the smallest.

Quickly the small ones get paid off.

Then you take the money you were paying towards the small ones and apply it to the larger ones.

As you cross off the debts with your Sharpie marker you feel a sense of accomplishment and momentum. That’s why he calls it a “debt snowball.” You roll the snowball down the hill, and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

A lot of people call into his radio program and say, “Dave, that’s dumb. Why wouldn’t I pay off my high interest loans first? Yeah I owe grandma $75 but she doesn’t charge interest. Neither does my friend. The $750 I own on one credit card charges 8% interest! Doesn’t it make sense mathematically to pay off high interest loans first?”

Dave gets this question a lot, because it’s a reasonable question.

Yes, paying off the high interest loans first makes sense mathematically, but for most people it doesn’t make sense psychologically.

That is, most of us won’t feel the same sense of momentum we would if we had ordered the debts small to large.

Instead, people try to pay off the big high interest debts first -- month after month after year after year. It feels like shooting spitballs at a dragon. They feel like they are stuck and sinking deeper. Sadly, a lot of these people just give up.

Instead, list those debts small to large. Knock out the little ones. Feel progress and momentum. Roll the snowball. Increase confidence. And take back your life from the creditors.

A similar thing applies to the climate crisis. Like debt that’s gotten out of control, it feels overwhelming. We don’t know where to start. When we do start we aren’t consistent. We try some things then give up when we don’t feel momentum. In fact, we become depressed when we see the opposite of momentum -- we ride our bike everywhere but see more and more people buying SUVs.

You get the picture.

Instead, for a reasonable investment you can be carbon neutral. It’s solid ground! Something you can stand on. Something to never lose. A point from which you can only progress.

And then you see the momentum. It’s not like the current confusing situation -- where some friends swear off meat, others don’t use plastic bags, others ride their bike, others give up flying. 

Instead, you see a house go carbon neutral. Then another. Then another. Then another. Once they are technically neutral (i.e. they pay in cold hard cash to offset the damage they are doing to the Earth) then they can reduce emissions in whatever way their heart pleases.

In fact, reducing is a critical component of all of this and can’t be forgotten. Measure. Offset. Reduce.

When someone sees the full scope of the damage, and they can also see how they can make it right today, that’s when they decide to become carbon neutral now and forever. Not simply to stop using plastic bags, or whatever, here and there… but to be completely carbon neutral now and forever.

 

How do we our offset our emissions?

A:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will this expand beyond Indiana?

A:

Carbon Neutral Indiana won’t expand beyond Indiana. It's mission is helping Indiana become carbon neutral as soon as possible.

Others can and are contributing to CNI, as well as drawing inspiration and lessons from us:

  • CNI began as a group conversation on Facebook Messenger around November 2019. About 25 of the 50 people in the original Facebook Messenger thread were from elsewhere (even around the world -- Canada, Israel, etc.).
  • Many in the Project Drawdown Facebook group are from around the world and want help forming similar local groups. We helped them (some results), but eventually we doubled down to focus on Indiana.

 

As we learn and improve CNI, it could become a template to be used anywhere.

Where does the money go when I purchase a carbon offset?

A:

Currently, we support the Afognak Forest Carbon Project.

 

Our all volunteer team sells carbon offsets as a fundraiser -- similar to how Girl Scouts sell Girl Scout cookies. Because our non-profit hasn't received grant funding yet, this fundraiser is our main source of financial support.

We based this fundraiser on a common retail model where our wholesale prices are about 50% of the retail price. When you purchase carbon offsets, you can purchase them from hundreds of retailers. When you purchase them through us you are getting the carbon benefit as well as:

  • Investing in our fixed costs like NationBuilder, Calendly, Google Suite, LiveChat, etc. These are investments in automation, efficiency, scale.
  • Hastening the day when we have local, verified forestry projects in Indiana. When this happens, we'll be able to take local Indiana leaders on field trips to explain how carbon neutrality and carbon offsets work. Imagine doing such a field trip with a mayor, superintendent of schools, president of the Chamber of Commerce, etc.
  • Support CNI's long term vision. Offsets aren't it. They are a stepping stone. Our long term vision is to ignite a leadership movement and reinvigorate public service. Along the way, we're going to help all of Indiana become carbon neutral ASAP. No other organization has this vision or goal.
  • Support our deeply entrepreneurial approach to climate action. Be sure to see what our network achieved in just our first 82 days, with no grant funding and in the middle of a pandemic.
  • Eventually, creating part-time and full-time staff positions with wages similar to high school teachers. These staff would do things like help household reduce their carbon footprints or advocate at the state house.
  • Support projects like our summer internship program. Most of the 15 college students had environmental internships lined up but were canceled because of covid.

How can I support carbon offset projects from Indiana forests?

A:

This was one of the questions that led to forming Carbon Neutral Indiana.

On June 25, 2019, CNI's Founder asked this question to the Indiana Forest Alliance:

After several months of presentations and conversations, Indiana Forest Alliance's Board of Directors voted to make Carbon Neutral Indiana a project.

Currently, there are not forest carbon offset projects in Indiana. For now, we support a the Afognak Forest Carbon Project in Alaska. Once enough Indiana households and businesses become carbon neutral, however, we'll be able to set up a forest project here that generates verified offsets.

What does it mean to retire carbon offsets?

A:

Retiring an offset means it's claimed against an individual or organization's carbon footprint, and it has been taken out of circulation to ensure it can only be claimed once.

 

Here's the lifecyle of a carbon offsets:

First, a "project developer" works with a "project owner" to develop a carbon offset project. They must bring in scientists / consultants to verify their plans, and they submit 100+ page project description document to a "registry" (e.g. Verified Carbon Standard). Here is the project description document of the Afognak project we support.

The registry analyzes the project to see if it passes certain criteria (e.g. it's additional, reasonably permanent, etc.) then they give the thumbs up.

The project developer develops the project (e.g. plants the trees, gives the cows a methane abatement supplement, change a landfill to capture the methane, etc.).

Usually a third party comes out to verify everything is legitimate.

Then, a year after commencing, the registry may "issue" carbon offsets. Each represents one ton of CO2e either sequestered or prevented from being emitted in the first place. Each of these offsets has a unique serial number and is tracked in a public database. Once it's issued, it can be bought/sold like any other commodity.

Let's say the project developer is acting like a wholesaler. They sell them to someone like Carbon Neutral Indiana. Then we retail them to the end consumer.

Finally, when any of our clients (a household, a business, etc.) wants to claim those offsets against their carbon footprints, we "retire" the offsets on their behalf. This means they are taken out of circulation and can't be bought / sold by anyone else.  Here's an example of what the retirement record looks like.

An analogy for all of this is a coupon for a haircut. You could pass the coupon around, but eventually someone is going to get a haircut. At that point, the coupon is torn up so nobody else can use it. In the case of an offset it isn't torn up by "retired."

Is purchasing carbon offsets tax deductible?

A:

No. Purchasing carbon offsets is not a donation but a purchase. As such, purchasing carbon offsets is not tax deductible. Neither is the margin we charge as a fundraiser.

 

A great analogy is how Girl Scouts sell Girl Scout cookies. When we purchase those cookies, it's a purchase not a donation.

Carbon Neutral Indiana is a project of the Indiana Forest Alliance, a 501c3, so donation are tax deductible.