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Want to Calculate and Offset Your Carbon Footprint? There's an App for That

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Climate action requires both structural and individual change. Offsetting your carbon emissions is a way to contribute to the global effort to mitigate climate change. You can join us in taking action on related issues here

Do you want to plant trees, fund solar panels, or help people get clean cookstoves?

These are the initial options presented to users of Klima, a new app that launched Dec. 9 that aims to help people neutralize their carbon footprint. The app takes a concept that has been bouncing around for years — calculating your carbon footprint and then offsetting it — and streamlines it, opening up the potential for mass climate action on an individual level.

“There is actually a huge disconnect between people who want to help and the opportunity to do so,” Markus Gilles, co-founder, and CEO of Klima, told Global Citizen. “Not everyone can put solar panels on their roof, not everyone can strike every Friday. On the other hand, there are all these amazing climate projects where professionals do amazing jobs mitigating climate change whether it’s tree planting or shifting energy production.”

“Carbon offsetting services have already been around for 10 or 20 years, but we felt that none of them have really been able to break through to a mainstream audience,” he added. “Those services have been notoriously difficult to navigate and difficult to understand and have lacked a certain level of transparency.”

He called this disconnect a “classic interface problem” and Klima aims to solve it. 

People who download Klima will be asked a series of questions about where they live, their diet, their primary form of transportation, how many flights they take, whether or not they pay for electricity from renewable sources.

As they proceed through these questions, their carbon footprint will be calculated based on “a vast pool of different data sources,” including from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, Giles said.

The app tells users how much it costs to neutralize their footprint. For the average American, that will cost less than $20 per month. People who have a vegan diet, take fewer flights, and don’t drive will have cheaper offset plans. 

Users can then pick between the three main offsetting options described above, which are based on Project Drawdown’s recommendations. If a user chooses the tree-planting option, they’ll be shown how many trees have been planted over time as a result of their funding. A live tracker, meanwhile, shows you how much carbon you have offset as times goes on.

“Making climate action tangible is extremely important,” Giles said. “We also encourage people to share their milestones on social media, because individual behavior change is contagious. If you put a solar panel on your roof, you’re increasing the likelihood of your neighborhood putting a solar panel on their roof.”

There are currently several other carbon footprint-calculating and offsetting apps available to the public, including Capture, For Good, and even the UN Carbon Footprint Calculator. If you don’t want to download an app, you can also reduce your climate impact by simply browsing online through dozens of different programs.

Related Stories Sept. 21, 2020 Carbon Emissions of World's Richest 1% Are More Than Double Those of the Poorest 50%: Report

You also don’t need to go through an intermediary. There are countless environmental and community-based nonprofits that need funding to restore ecosystems, reduce pollution, and foster sustainable agriculture. These groups might not provide you with a nifty receipt outlining how your carbon footprint has been erased, but you’ll still be helping the planet by investing in them.

Giles said that Klima’s straightforward design and goal-oriented updates could help to pull in a broader audience unsure of how to get started. After all, roughly a quarter of American adults say they would pay around $10 a month for climate action, yet relatively few actually follow through. 

Venture capitalists are betting that Klima could become the industry leader. Earlier this year, the app received $5.8 million in seed funding, and the app’s ambitions have been scaled to match. Giles said that his team hopes to sign up millions of users, eventually offsetting 20 million tons of carbon annually.  

“That’s the carbon footprint of a mid-European country like Croatia,” he said. “It would be equal to a billion fully grown trees every year.”

Offsetting programs can play a crucial role in the fight against climate change by helping communities scale alternative economic models and safeguarding nature. Climate action has faced a chronic lack of funding for decades. By enlisting ordinary people to offset their emissions, Klima hopes to fund the programs that are helping to build a more ecologically harmonious world. 

Related Stories Nov. 20, 2020 Canada Unveils Action Plan to Achieve Net-Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050

Offsetting programs, however, have been criticized as a distraction from the true work of emissions reduction on the policy level, and because they seem to put the budren of addressing climate change on the individual, while also lulling people into thinking they’re doing enough even as the climate crisis accelerates.

Giles acknowledged these pitfalls. He said that Klima nudges people to adopt more climate-friendly lifestyles, and also pursue political action. 

“I think there’s been a lot of perceived dichotomy between structural and individual change,” he said. “We need all of the above. You as an individual, you are not to blame [for climate change], but you have power.”

No less than Greta Thunberg has argued for individual action alongside structural change. 

“Now we all have a choice,” she said in a song for the band The 1975. “We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail. That is up to you and me.”

“And yes, we need a system change rather than individual change. But you cannot have one without the other,” she said. “If you look through history, all the big changes in society have been started by people at the grassroots level. People like you and me.”

Over the years, climate change has been hampered by the seeming disconnect between the changing environment and people’s lived experiences. Climate change is abstract and removed, people have long said

This argument can no longer be made as climate change causes historic droughts and storms, and animal and plant populations plunge. While blame for this crisis is systemic in nature, everyone can take action in their daily lives to stop it from getting worse. 

And Klima shows people a few ways how.

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