Lately, during a journey in the train, I was wondering how much money I would need to pay to compensate for my whole life’s climate-harming emissions. How much do I have to pay to have lived completely climate-neutral?
I took the generous average calculation for a German citizen – 10 tons per year – and entered it in a usual compensation platform: 230€. What? That’s all? So for 10 years, that’s an easy calculation, that’ll be 2.300€. For a middle aged person of 40 years that would make 9.200€. Taking into account that we can easily become 80 years in this part of the Western World, I could compensate half of my life for more or less 4 monthly salaries?
This result appears lapidary to me.
In order to compare this, I chose the calculation basis of ‘Fridays for Future’: 180€ is what one ton of CO2 costs according to the activists. Multiplied by 10 that makes 1.800€, the costs for 1 year of a German person having a 10-tons-annual-footprint. Projected to 10 years we’d have 18.000€.
Okay, these are different numbers!
By projecting this again to half an average life, 40 years, that makes 72.000€. Yeah, that’s a sum! For a whole life we’d have 144.000€. Hmm…. Is that affordable? If we continue this (very generalized) calculation, we could hypothesize that a person at the age of 40 is still going to work for another 20 years in a well-paid job. That means that this person would need to pay these 144.000€ within the next 20 years. How much would that make per month? 600€ per month for the next 20 years.
That seems to me astonishingly doable. That’s the good news!
Climate mitigation and adaptation ARE financeable. Even taking into account that the above calculation about individual payments is very unprofessional, scribbled down on a train journey. It was a thought experiment – I was nosy. In addition to that comes that if you’re working on climate change and adaptation and sustainability every day, you’re eager to get an absolution for your own trips by airplane or all the sins you commit living in the global North.
Even if the compensation for climate harming actions shouldn’t be the ultimate measure, as other people still have to be the ones to put in place the real change, as it’s probably way too cheap, as it still works as a sale of indulgences and invites the ‘guilty’ person to do more of these actions, as we do not really tackle the problem at the basis and the structure of our society.
Nevertheless, it can offer a tool to divert money into a climate-friendly direction. These payments are used to fund projects which transform our society into a long-term climate-friendly and resilient community. Of course, ‘climate-friendly’ means to reduce our impact, the CO2-footprint more and more by extending renewable energy generation, building insulation, a circular economy within the industrial production and a climate-friendly, instead of a climate-harming agricultural system – only to mention 4 examples. Climate resilient means, that the foundations of our societal systems, the ecological, the social and the economic basis become adaptive, so far that disturbances or even destructions through climate change consequences as extreme weather events as hurricanes, storms and similar can’t harm this infrastructure anymore.
If you’re looking for a platform to do so, compensate your last vacation journey or even your last 10 – 20 years of life, it’s worth looking at the portfolio. At any case, diverse measures and projects are a good sign, as we need a variety of measurements which mesh to ensure an effective climate mitigation and adaption strategy.
That we have to invest is out of question. As the German scientist Ottmar Edenhofer from the Potsdam institute of climate research puts it in a lecture in 2015 at the Urania Berlin – an unbraked climate chaos will cost us 20 times more than a current transformation. You can read the same in the assessment report of the American economist Peter Singer from 2009. Another interesting thought in this context: till the middle of October last year 12 billion US$ were used to fight the Covid pandemic. To commit to the Paris agreement scientists estimated that 1.4 billion US$ per year would have been necessary and enough till the year 2024 (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 10/17/2020). This is not even one eighth of the sum which was spent on the battle against coronavirus in not even a year.
Money can and has to be spent, but don’t worry – for sure not in the way, I made my calculation. Maybe you’re more inclined to order a weekly vegetable box from your nearby Community Supported Agriculture and thereby invest into a local structural change.