Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fighting Climate Change, One Car At A Time
When I worked at Texaco, several colleagues and I tried to sell the company on the idea of packaging emissions credits with the fuel we sold. The idea was simple: selected service stations would feature a "green pump", at which prices would be a couple of cents per gallon higher. This premium would go to planting trees and engaging in other activities that would offset the greenhouse gas emissions from the gasoline sold at these pumps. We didn't get very far, but now another colleague has sent me a link to a company that does something similar, dealing directly with consumers.

TerraPass sells an annual membership to car owners. The proceeds are invested in a variety of projects that reduce emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy, or conversion of methane to CO2 (which reduces its global warming impact by a factor of 20.) If you aren't sure how much your car emits, and thus how much you need to offset, the TerraPass website includes a calculator that helps you figure this out. Although it didn't include my specific model and year, it included one similar enough to estimate that I was responsible for 6500 lb. of CO2 per year.

This is a terrific idea, for two important reasons. First, each of us needs to take greater responsibility for our own impact on the climate. It's all too easy to blame big companies and expect them to clean up the world, but I'm the one making the choices about when and how I drive my car. Second, unlike traditional air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions uniquely lend themselves to the kind of approach TerraPass is taking. Planting a tree in Bolivia to remove a pound of CO2 from the atmosphere is exactly equivalent to not emitting that same pound in Los Angeles. This is the principle at the heart of carbon trading, of which the TerraPass concept is a specialized, mass-market form.

I wish them well, and have just signed up for the recommended $39.95/year Efficient TerraPass.

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