Offsets are a great way to counter emissions but most offsets make themselves artificially cheap by removing emissions over many years. Because they ignore when the emissions take place, they are in effect an emissions loan with the atmosphere holding the balance while the offset pays down the debt. This is a huge problem because the atmosphere has reached a sort of emissions credit limit. Kotoo's investments in decarbonization only give credit for a single year and they build and create technology that will prevent emissions in the future.
When people start talking about climate change and what you can do about it the subject of a carbon offset will inevitably come up. If you're unfamiliar, an offset is a way to balance out your emissions by paying someone to do something that will have an equally opposite effect on emissions. For example - paying someone to plant a tree that will remove the same amount of emissions that your action created.
The most common place people may have encountered an offset in their daily life is when purchasing a flight. You'll also often hear companies cite them as a way that they've reduced their emissions.
At this point in the conversation someone usually turns skeptical - and they usually voice one of the following concerns:
Issues with offsets
The most common concern we hear about offsets is concern that the action will actually occur and be effective. It is a good and valid concern to have - most offsets historically have not delivered the results they promised - we've been planting trees from offsets since the 1990s and we still have a major deforestation problem. There are many reasons for this but the fact remains - tree planting programs do not have a great track record. Many people are doing great work in this arena but a simple problem exists - there is limited incentive to continue protecting something for years when you've already been paid the money and it takes years to know if a new program feature is effective in keeping trees living for many years.
No emissions reductions
A second concern centers around the fact that the root problem isn't being addressed. Planting trees doesn't prevent planes from emitting - you'd be better off not flying at all. This is also true but is usually an unrealistic response for the majority of people. People fly because it is convenient, there is no comparable alternative, and our lives have developed to become accustomed to it. Over time, technology and innovation can come up with more carbon efficient solutions to these problems but only if there is a cost incentive to do so. Thus the best solution to these problems is to increase the price of the emissions they create - and then capitalism will figure out innovations to eliminate that cost or face an unprofitable business.
The third concern is the one that is rarely acknowledged but is arguably the most important assuming you've found a well run offset program - time. The majority of offsets sell you a ton of emissions countered but they are often having that effect over 7 to 10 to 30 years. This sounds good in theory - the tree keeps removing carbon every year it lives and since this is a well run offset - it'll live out it's full life. The problem is that the pollution occurred this year so the atmosphere has to hold the pollution for you while the offset works to remove it over the next 10 years. Meanwhile - people still keep taking actions that pollute so the balance keeps increasing - causing global warming. These long term carbon removal options would have been appropriate 30 years ago, but we can no longer wait for a tree to grow up to counter emissions today.
A path forward
We had all of these concerns too, and we see it all the time with current offsets on offer but we wanted to be carbon neutral so we kept looking. We knew that in general, the best offsets are those that are investments in technology. And while it is impossible to completely avoid all emissions today, it doesn't always have to be that way.
We can make smart investments in technology that will enable an emission free future. And the sooner we stop burning fossil fuels, and the sooner we develop alternate technologies, the longer we'll have to create solutions for the hardest emissions to avoid. That's how we came to our current solution.
Kotoo's investments in decarbonization address all of these problems:
- Verification: Kotoo's investments are verified by the government.
- Root problem: 60% of the emissions in the United States would never occur if there was 100% renewable power. Our investments create technology that will enable other countries to do the same.
- Time: A ton of emissions sold today counters a ton of emissions this year (guaranteed within three years).
Offsets can be an effective tool - they allow you to live your most comfortable life given the products and technology currently available to you. But they are only worthwhile if we invest in solutions that solve the root problem of fossil fuels and if they do it quickly in a way that creates technology that reduces everyone's emissions.