Offset your car's gas emissions for $10 a ton

Contributions go to projects that help reduce emissions

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Dennis Rogoza is counting on British Columbian motorists to put their money where their guilt is.

He's president of Climate Partners Inc., which is offering car owners a way of neutralizing their own vehicles' emissions of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming - for a modest contribution.

Negotiations in The Hague to put teeth into the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming failed in November. The governments of both Canada and the United States drew flak for resisting strong measures. But in both countries, businesses and consumers are starting to do their bit to leave less of an "emissions footprint" on the planet.

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"Transportation is the toughest sector" in which to do this, Mr. Rogoza says. He makes it sound like regulating an anthill: "You've got millions of drivers making microdecisions every day" - whether to walk or drive, whether to make an extra trip back to the mall for a forgotten item.

And yet, especially in British Columbia - powered mostly with hydroelectricity and encumbered with little smokestack industry - motorists will have to get on board if CO2 emissions are to be reduced. There just aren't many other places to cut.

But Climate Partners, based in the provincial capital of Victoria, is trying to help. Car owners can visit the company's website, climatepartners.com, and calculate the CO2 emissions from their cars by plugging in data such as vehicle make and model and annual miles driven. They then take that number - let's say five tons a year - and multiply by $10, the estimated cost of offsetting a ton of CO2. With just a few more clicks, they can make a $50 credit card donation to the Climate Partners trust fund.

From there the money will be invested in different projects to offset the carbon-dioxide emissions, the way venture capitalists invest in hot new startup companies.

One of the projects that has applied for Climate Partners funding is a Web-based carpool matching service, designed to cut emissions by taking cars off the road. Funding applications will be vetted by a blue-ribbon advisory panel, including representatives of the West Coast Environmental Law Association and the Sierra Club of Canada.

Motorists who sign up as members of Climate Partners will also get to vote on which projects get the dollars. This will likely be a selling point for the program. Jami Koehl, a partner in McIntyre & Mustel Research in Vancouver, says participants in the focus groups her firm conducted for Climate Partners "liked the idea of having input into the projects that would be supported."

"We've put a tool in the hands of the consumer," says Rogoza. "This makes it very easy to make a difference." He notes that 40 percent of the 1,000 British Columbians that his organization surveyed when developing Climate Partners ranked global warming 8, 9, or 10 on a 1-to-10 scale of their environmental concerns.

"I think governments and corporations are going to sit up and take notice," says Warren Bell, director of climate change for the provincial ministry of the environment. The British Columbia Automobile Association provided Rogoza with seed money to get started. John Ratel, BCAA's director of governmental affairs, says his members feel "a high sense of frustration that they were helpless to do anything about global warming." He predicts that contributing to offset the effects of their emissions will catch on among motorists the way curbside recycling programs have in the larger community. "With this, I can have the satisfaction of knowing that I have offset my personal numbers," he says.

Meanwhile, initiatives against greenhouse-gas emissions aren't confined to the voluntary sector. Earlier this year, the Climate Neutral Network certified three US businesses as "climate neutral" - as producing no net greenhouse-gas emissions. Last month, the network certified TripleE.com in Portland, Ore., as a climate-neutral travel agency.

Everyone knows that auto emissions cause trouble for the environment, but those who log significant air miles in a year may find they cause more CO2 emissions than their cars. Sue Hall, executive director of the Climate Neutral Network, based in Underwood, Wash., says a jet aircraft typically emits a ton of CO2 per passenger every 2,000 miles. Moreover, aircraft emissions are released higher up in the atmosphere, where they do more damage.

Now nobody is suggesting that jet fuel can actually be made "environmentally friendly." But TripleE.com's Travel Cool program invests in carbon offsets, just as Climate Partners plans to do. For instance, TripleE.com is replacing oil-fired furnaces in the Portland public schools with more efficient and cleaner-burning gas furnaces - reducing emissions and saving the schools money.

Erica Bollacasa, vice president for environmental affairs at TripleE.com, says Travel Cool gives leisure and business travelers "the option of doing the right thing." She sees a big "business to business" market for climate-neutral travel, especially within the not-for-profit sector and among companies seeking to claim the high ground of good corporate citizenship. "Travel is a huge part of global warming," she says.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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