When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it looks like the carbon-intensive industries are likely to face either a tax on carbon or a market for buying and selling emissions allowances in coming years. But it is not just power plants and large manufacturing facilities that contribute to climate change. All of us are accountable for some level of emissions--begging the question, how can you account for what your organization produces?
A popular answer is carbon offsets--essentially funding a reduction in emissions or increase in carbon storage somewhere so that you can continue emitting carbon here. Although offsets have been widely embraced, the actual amount of carbon kept from entering the atmosphere is often questioned. OK, it will help plant trees. But where? By whom? And will they live the 20+ years necessary to accomplish their offsetting purpose?
An alternative for skeptics is to fund projects that have received the climate-friendly "Green Leaf" designation on our online philanthropic marketplace, GlobalGiving. Our site features smaller environmental and social projects from around the world, letting you find opportunities you would not otherwise discover. Project leaders post detailed project descriptions so donors can see exactly what they're funding. And donors on GlobalGiving can see directly the difference their donations are making through updates from the field.
Instead of quantifying offsets, we are encouraging individuals and organizations to take responsibility for their own emissions by helping these projects expand their reach. And, we are able to promote a much broader range of projects that address climate change. For instance, a project in Ecuador teaches tens of thousands of children about climate change and ways to combat it. We can't translate this into tons of carbon, but it can result in a future generation of green voters, consumers, and policymakers. Other projects from the Environmental Foundation for Africa are working not only to provide solar electricity to schools in villages in Sierra Leone, but also to train technical school students in their installation and maintenance.
Encouraging the Third World to keep walking the same well-trodden carbon intensive path is ultimately unsustainable. As David Wheeler and Kevin Ummel of the Center for Global Development report, if nothing changes in the global South their cumulative contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will exceed that of the North within the coming decades. That means that even if developed countries cut their carbon emissions to zero, developing countries will face the same future--rising temperatures, more droughts and flooding, more frequent and intense storms, changing weather patterns.
And there's no better time to donate to GlobalGiving Green projects than now - the Give a Little Green campaign is matching donations to these projects by 50% through April 28th or until matching funds are exhausted.
Thanks to Bill Brower for the research supporting this post.