In America, driving is super convenient, and sometimes hard to avoid. Unfortunately, cars have a variety of costs that are externalized, borne not by the driver but by their local community and the environment as a whole. Incentives are good: if it were more expensive to drive and to park, more folks would seek out alternatives.
While there's no replacement for public policy change, I decided to partially align my own incentives. I'm donating to Project Vesta with the intention of offsetting the carbon emissions associated with my driving and flying retroactive to the start of 2020. I'm doing this because I think climate change is an important medium-term threat, and this may encourage me to drive less.
I start with an anti-car screed intended not to guilt-trip anyone (I have used and continue to use cars) but rather to inform you of their downsides and motivate my decision to try to reduce my driving with incentives. If you're not interested in being urbanist-pilled, feel free to skip ahead to the section about offsetting generally or through Project Vesta specifically.
Fuel is only a fraction of the true cost of car ownership. Costs like depreciation and financing are invisible. source: fhwa.dot.gov
Unfortunately, the above doesn't include external costs of car ownership and usage. In America, we've designed our entire country around cars to the extent it's almost impossible to imagine any other way of doing things. Societal costs of car supremacy include negative impacts to our local community, and to the global environment.
We'll need public actions more radical than the Green New Deal (which focuses on jobs and public investment) to address them. As a start, I support carbon taxes, bus-only lanes on urban and suburban freeways combined with frequent, convenient service, following in Amsterdam's footsteps to transform our cities to prioritize everyone but cars, and then making it more expensive to use cars with congestion pricing and increased registration/per mile fees.
Just as plant-focused restaurants might open in a community with many vegans and vegetarians, I hope individual action can encourage a public policy change. I've already made some changes in my behavior since I learned more about urbanism (like getting around the Peninsula by biking and taking Caltrain, rather than always driving), but it's good to align my incentives along these lines.
Relatedly, I believe climate change is super important, and among the most important reason to reduce our car usage. So, I decided to start by partially offsetting the carbon emissions of my driving and flying. (I'm excluding non-carbon externalities, costs associated with car/plane manufacturing and disposal, and other indirect costs.)
I briefly considered tree-planting organizations, but I'm concerned it's not as scalable or guaranteed. If the forest burns down, the sequestered carbon gets released, whereas the carbon absorbed from olivine eventually becomes limestone, and it's supposed to stay absorbed for millenia.
Climeworks is another organization I considered. Like Project Vesta, it's working on scaling a technology to directly capture carbon from the air. Also like Project Vesta, it's one of four organizations Stripe donated to in their first phase of climate action (to be honest, I mostly outsourced due diligence to Stripe). However, Project Vesta is a nonprofit, so it's twice as cheap for me to give to them. One downside is that while Climeworks directly attributes some removed carbon to your donation (at a price of $1.10/kg carbon), Project Vesta is a bit more exploratory. At this stage, most of their costs are from measuring their carbon and other ecological impacts of their technology. They quoted Stripe $0.075/kg, and quoted me $0.75/kg.
Project Vesta hopes that this rock, each kg of which can absorb 1 kg CO2 from the atmosphere, will be a key to addressing climate change. source: projectvesta.org
Retroactive to the beginning of 2020, I've driven around 10,000 miles and flown 15,000 miles. That comes out to $4000. I recently gave $10,000 to Project Vesta, which I'll budget as covering 2020 through all of 2021.
Thanks to Hansen and Neil for reviewing this piece.