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Ask HN: Best ways to spend money towards climate efforts
78 points by esotericn on Sept 20, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 79 comments
Hello HN,

I'm going to be putting a significant percentage of my income aside going forward in order to combat climate change.

Let's say, as an order of magnitude estimate, between $250-$2500/mo.

I've already made a lot of changes to lower my personal impact and I'd like to go further. It strikes me that, for example, though I own an electric car, this is almost certainly not the most effective use of funds.

Possible ways include:

- supporting protests globally with funds

- buying carbon offsetting directly

- buying / funding research into carbon capture

- funding renewable energy in general etc

What does HN think? Opinions on specific businesses, charities, platforms, etc?

How can individuals use their earning power to make a difference?

The effective altruism movement should be worth checking out. They're focused on finding the most cost-effective options for charitable giving.

They mainly target other cause areas in which they expect marginal donations to do more good, but their general approach is very useful to understand even if you have a narrower goal.

There is general information about the approach here: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/

And an analysis of climate change in particular here: https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/research/other-causes/climat...

https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/post/2013/11/less-burn-for-y... evaluates a few specific charities that attempt to reduce greenhouse gases.

Let's Fund (I'm a co-founder) has a campaign aimed at tackling climate change - by increasing publicly funded clean energy R&D [0]. We think it's a hugely neglected way to tackle climate change (and Bill Gates agrees! [1]).

[0] - https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy

[1] - https://twitter.com/billgates/status/1154787966256058368?lan...

We're very much EA-aligned.

Note that the Giving What We Can recommendations are from 2013; they're likely no longer valid.

I have the feeling that the answers below are going away from what the OP was trying to find out.

It's not about going vegan, starting a garden or using condoms. If a person is already exhausted personal efforts (to the extent one can with a given life condition), where can we help by directly investing.

Because I'm a working professional with solid income, maybe I don't have time/space to do the time-consuming activities proposed, but I do have excess funds that I can direct to the higher cause.

So - where should we invest our money, and not our time? Because we possible have the first, and not the later :(

Support candidates who have climate change mitigation as part of their top priorities. Local, state, federal, whatever. You will have no greater leverage than through public policy. Until an election cycle occurs, aggressively engage with your representatives or pay an org to do so.

The US military is one of the largest CO2 emitters in the world. No non profit or startup can fix something like that, but public policy can. At the local level, you can form a muni electric coop and buy only renewable energy in bulk. You can change zoning to phase out gas stations, disincentive internal combustion use, and acquire electric buses for mass transit (both cheaper and faster to deploy than light rail). Similar changes can be made at the state level. But these changes are then impactful act scale.

Find a political point of leverage and exert maximum force. I understand the squeamish feeling, but these are not tech problems; these are people problems. The tech is already mostly solved.

I do agree that answers in the vein of "doing more stuff" doesn't help when someone wants to spend money, not time. But with a mindset of incrementalism, vegetarianism and veganism can be mostly effortless. Mentally/spiritually grappling with and letting go of the social incentives and punishments around having children (called "natalism" by some) may take effort, but if you are already in a position where these don't really affect you, it's effortless: it's not doing something.

What's more, I can frame purchases within these lifestyle choices what OP wants: buying more expensive substitutes for animal-based food I'm used to is investing in the environment and the well-being of sentient creatures. Purchases for hobbies, adopted pets, and experiences is money I would have spent on child-rearing.


I wholly agree with all of those. In fact I'm doing all of the ones that are practical for me.

The main purpose of my post is - I believe that my talents in software development allow me to use that for good.

Essentially, that by me voluntarily reducing my consumption and redirecting it towards climate efforts, I can do more and faster.

I think this is genuinely more efficient than quitting my job and going all-in on protest or working directly for a charity.

Whether it's more efficient than starting one - time will tell.

You miss the point of condoms. They do not work just for you, and a sizable chunk of the world population has limited or no affordable access to contraceptives, or doesn't know how to use them. And there are quite a few charities dedicated to changing this, thus not only helping the climate, but lowering human suffering (starvation, overcrowding, STDs) in general.

I have spent a very, very long time thinking about it. Now, I can't give you a detailed report with numbers, but my hunch is this:

After having made personal adjustments and having moved your investments from fossil to renewables, the most efficient way to spend money is to donate to XR [0], and then take some time off (opportunity cost) and join the movement on the streets.

[0] https://xrebellion.org

How did you come to this conclusion? Hard to imagine XR being underfunded, spending the money effectively, and being more effective on the margin than other climate charities.

My view on climate efforts is rather orthogonal: spend less money.

A large part of the damages to the world comes from the consumerism of modern society. Mass tourism destroys pretty places and their social structure, mass farming destroy ecosystems from soils and insects to birds and trees, mass consumption means more pollution and climate change.

I last bought clothes two years ago. I wait for end-of-life before changing what I have (computer, phone, etc). I don't mind taking a quarter an hour to cook a meal, so I mostly buy local raw food, and very rarely meat. I avoid mega stores. On a typical week, I don't use my wallet, only the change that I keep near my home door to buy bread. That is the kind of life I enjoy, and it is sustainable at large scale.

I agree and try to practice it as much as practicable.

I actually don't think this is orthogonal, though.

Ultimately - at least if you're a full time salary(wo)man - you're getting the money anyway.

So step 1 is to not spend it on crap. Step 2 is to spend it on actively positive things.

I would say: - go vegan - learn permaculture/similar to grow some of your own food - invest in tree planting/greening initiatives

Yes. This is the single best thing any human can do. It would have an overnight impact on climate change if the world stopped consuming meat from Agribusiness.

Forests would not be cut down for beef, therefore sustaining trees that remove C02. Species extrinction would slow down because of sustaining habitats.

you can sign up for this. it starts 30 sept. if you do: i'll see you in class discussions :)


I'm all for such a course, but watch out for region-specific advice. I live in a high-altitude desert, and some typical permaculture techniques work fine, others are complete failures. If the course doesn't get into which techniques work in which environments, I'd encourage you to ask the instructors to look into it more and add it to their curriculum.

the intro course definitely addressed different climates and this one does too. the lead instructor practices permaculture in Arizona and he is all about using shade properly and water harvesting. he specialises in desert agriculture: https://www.permaculturerising.com/andrew-millison

EDIT: I live in a temperate high rainfall area

Let's please stop with the vegan fallacy. Cutting all meat production (and it's support industries) in USA and EU together, would have an impact of the global emissions of only 1%. [1] [2]

The more we try to mix personal ideologies (i.e. animal rights) with climate change, the more we are going to make the public at large ignore everything about the theme.

P.S: If you are really after a personal action to fight climate change, take public transportation to work, or better go by bicycle. [3] That - unlike veganism, actually makes a huge difference.

EDIT: Added links with the actual facts supporting both points. USA Meat Industry and associated industries emits 3% of their country total.[1] Same for every highly developed country due to very high efficiency of the process. Transportation on the other side, accounts for 27% of the country total in USA. [3] USA and EU together account for 20% of the world total emissions [2]

[1] citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_di...

[3] https://skepticalscience.com/animal-agriculture-meat-global-...

1) You're confusing vegetarianism with veganism. Veganism is more than just meat.

2) Your 1% figure is not sourced and allegedly only involves USA & EU. Global climate changes demands global solutions, the EU and USA together can't solve everything.

3) The best estimate if you want to put a number on it is closer to 15% [1]. Of course, you can't eliminate all of that with veganism because animals produce other non-food items that are useful, such as fertilizers.

I'm all for cycling and public transport, agree on that. Don't agree that veganism doesn't make a (huge) difference. The animal rights argument is something that you brought into this discussion. Total straw man.

I'd like to add: fly only if really necessary and try to offset carbon emissions from flying if you must fly.

[1] Start reading here and follow the sources. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_meat_p...

Not sure what your source is, but this contradicts Drawdown:

> Shifting to a diet rich in plants is a demand-side solution to global warming that runs counter to the meat-centric Western diet on the rise globally. That diet comes with a steep climate price tag: one-fifth of global emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

> Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved.


Do you have a source on the 1%? Everything I've read supports an individuals veganism being roughly equivalent to a typical individual's transportation. And land for crops for cattle is currently the leading cause of deforestation.

> Cutting all meat production (and it's support industries) in USA and EU together, would have an impact of the global emissions of only 1%.

The problem lies in meat production using deforested areas. A lot of processed meat, eg fast food, ready meals, etc, comes from such sources.

As your 2nd link highlights, deforestation & meat production are 2 of the top 3 CO2 emission concerns, so meat imported from such sources is a double hit.

What source says cutting all meat production in USA and EU would impact global emissions by 1%?

United States Cattlemen's Association.

You are completely wrong.

After personal decarbonization (using an electric car powered by renewables, using a heat pump / radiant heating powered by renewables [1], not using airplanes, eating less meat, living close to where you work and play so you don't have to use much transportation), I think funding political candidates could be a good use of your budget. It certainly seems like national candidates have an outsized impact on how quickly we as a nation mobilize to decarbonize.

Funding local elections is also an interesting way to invest where marginal dollars have a bigger impact. An acquaintance of mine has an organization that identifies local elections around the US with large climate impacts (like fossil fuel pipelines) and funds candidates that will be able to stop them. He told me their success rate is 90%. You can contribute on their site: http://leadlocally.org/

Also, I know that Wren has options for sending money to carbon-offsetting projects that usually also reduce poverty: https://projectwren.com

[1] https://medium.com/otherlab-news/how-do-we-decarbonize-7fc2f...

I think habit-change and lobby for increased taxation on climate burdening behavior are the best options.

A vegan requires a fraction of the climate burden for his/her food compared to someone on a regular diet.

And without a fair-and-square climate impact tax (i.e.: a CO2eq tax), we are going no where.

I'm considering doing so as well (after having read https://nadiaeghbal.com/microgrants) with a small personal fund first, that I will consider to open to friends & family later. France context.

However I'm wondering about the efficiency, that will start as an experiment first.

Not many different targets than yours, but my hunch starts with funding & following up in their development _local_, identified young students projects/studies working on energy, water, food, environment & politics.

The benefit is that:

  * they're already aware of the situation,
  * they'll see support from people for that area specifically
    (both financial and moral, and networking),
  * they'll have far better energy & networking & ideas & initiative to spread this further,
  * I can spread funding to more different people at first
   (funding with a significant impact is easier to reach toward students).

Maybe look into investing in triodos bank or something similar.

A lot of the changes that need to happen are quite costly and realistically unless you are a millionaire there isn't a lot you can do to fund a solar or wind farm on your own. But by investing in an ethical bank with a focus on renewable energy you can pool money with other like minded investors to fund these projects.

Another option is a p2p lending platform like abundance https://www.abundanceinvestment.com/investments

But bare in mind these are pretty risky investments.

You could also make steps to reduce your own carbon footprint e.g purchasing solar panels or something similar. Or if you have access to a renewable energy provider or a provider with a green tariff consider switching.

Finally aside from money, investing your time in your local government to make it clear you think they should be doing more is potentially more impactful. Especially if you are based in the US.

One thing that will cost you comparatively little and is often overlooked is moving any savings investments into options which have some form of climate/ethics guidelines (for example investing only in wind, water and solar in the energy sector). A lot of people here on HN often talk about index funds and these quite often invest in large oil companies such as exxon, shell or bp. I don't know the rules outside of my own country for selling and buying investment options but generally if you move a large sum of money from one option to another you need to pay taxes (and you seem to be able to put away some money per month for this so thats why I suggest it).

I also think it makes sense if you are the kind of person who wants to help fight climate change that you do not let your savings fight against your personal goals and values.

If I may be slightly off-topic, I have a similar question I still haven't found a satisfying answer to:

What's the best way to spend my work time towards climate efforts? (i.e: I have useful professional skills, how can I help in a serious way?)

For example, is there anything like a job board focus on companies/organizations/scientist labs/other structures working on stuff related to climate change? As a software engineer, I would greatly prefer to work for a group that has some positive impact on the situation, and I would expect that there is a demand for better tools, platforms, etc that can help research or whatever is the important thing to do.

There are some grassroots communities where you can volunteer your time and network with other climate-focused professionals:

https://www.techforcampaigns.org/ https://techimpactmakers.com/ https://climateaction.tech/

Ironically it's a bad day to be researching this as many climate-focused websites are on strike...

Adopt a Panama Rainforest - http://adoptabosque.org/ I met the guy behind the project, nice person

Another way of approaching this could be to look into what you can do without money. As a wealthy person, it makes sense to think that money is the only way to DO something or to make a change.

But how about this:

- Work less (no transportation needed, less power needed)

- Go out for a walk in a park, meadows, forest etc.

- Explore and discover nature and realize how much benefit it already gives you (apart from oxygen, food etc.)

- Inspire other people to take a walk

This could stress the importance of nature for well-being to others. Making it more easy for them to make a eco-friendly decision.

You could consider Divestment, making sure any of your pension investments, savings accounts etc are not invested in fossil fuel equities.

As commented in 2 recent discussions (I got upvoted once, downvoted once, on them):



...in effect we are not competent to solve this or our other key problems while rejecting the creator (and basic rules like honesty and the Golden Rule), and that none of the current events should be surprising at all, though they are sad. These are predicted, expected, and it will get worse, but we can be at peace and seek good things, and really, we can be OK. Linked to details on why I think that, and more info (a simple site: http://lukecall.net/e-9223372036854581820.html)

Consider working for one of the companies which help to combat climate change more or less directly: https://medium.com/@leventov/how-to-find-a-job-in-a-tech-com...

I commute by bike to my office every day and heavily use german train connections. Haven't touched my car for a long time. If I could I'd invest in an electrical freight bicycle, so that I can transport also heavier stuff.

A friend of mine has invested in a sustainable fond that supports green and sustainable project across Europe.

I, myself, have put an amount of money to found my own company that is focussed on green and sustainable web design/development/ux to create energy efficient websites and webapps as the internet is becoming a heavy factor in carbon dioxide emission. With https://www.surfgreen.dev you can test websites regarding their sustainability. It's still in beta and not finished yet, but already working.



Public clean energy R&D is overlooked and underfunded - so fund advocacy to get governments to spend more on it. https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/

(NB - I'm a co-founder of the above.)

I trust https://www.goclimateneutral.org/ (but with a higher amount than just offsetting your current lifestyle).

Started by (among others) Henrik Kniberg, author of SCRUM and XP from the Trenches.

Money will be best spent in areas that change the global agenda. We are moving faster and faster in the wrong direction. Money spent on carbon offset etc. will only delay the issue very slightly, but they may well clear your conscience and make you feel good.

Would something like this work?

1. Find the ways most people try to fight climate change but are wrong.

2. Create compelling article that would make people stop the useless behaviour, and reveal better alternatives.

3. Spend money on ads to direct people to the page.

- Support nuclear energy

- Don't buy an electric car EDIT: Apparently: Do buy an electric car

- Plant trees

I'm pretty sure that you're wrong to thing than an electric car is worse than a petrol one

I believe the rule is don't buy an electric car if you already have a car but if you're buying a new car an electric car over its lifetime will be better than getting a combustion car

Indeed, apparently I'm wrong. According to https://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/06/lowcvp-20110608.htm...

Electric cars have an expected lifetime emission of 19 tonnes C02, 5 tonnes less than a normal car.

Hey! I started an organisation called Offset Earth to handle a few of these scenarios. It has a monthly subscription payment model where the money goes towards buying the best carbon offsets and reforesting the southern hemisphere. It's super simple to setup and you get a lovely public profile which showcases your impact. Check it out here if you're interested! :) https://offset.earth/

I haven't done any calculation, but if I were you, I'd invest that money in companies that push clean energy infrastructure. That money will go directly towards making clean energy sooner. In the end you'll make money because these technologies actually generate cheaper energy than fossil fuels. And from that extra money, you can compound your investment.

Putting $2500/month in research or protest is not going to move the needle one bit.

If you look deeply into how carbon offsets work then actually planting trees can be a more tangible and rewarding endevour than buying carbon offsets. If you don't have the time to plant trees, then there are non-profit charities around the world that will do it for you with your donations.

Edit: I would link to one but I don't want to endorse one either way. Please search for: tree planting charity

and make your own critical decision

Take a look at Project Vesta (they claim that they can absorb all societal CO2 to date feasibly): https://projectvesta.org/ It was previously discussed on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20403570

Well, study chemistry and physics and other real sciences, realize the global warming/climate change is only a hystery and spend your money on useful things.

Collective action is probably much more meaningful than individual action. So spporting candidates that are serious about implementing policies like a carbon tax or eliminating exsisting economic incentives for fossil fuels is probably the most effective way to spend. That said, personally it has felt much more gratifying to stop using a car and take up biking and public transportation.

I think the best suggestion here is total cooperation. 'Cause problem is very big and one man isn't relevant.

There's a good movie from DiCaprio & National Geographic https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLivjPDlt6ApToQx3tYIte... , highly recommend.

Since I believe that being vegan is usually the most impactful thing an individual can do, and I don't have the skills necessary to encourage other people to go vegan, I donate money to people who are good on doing that. So I support some educators on Patreon that are doing a great job, like Earthling Ed and others.

Probably the only more impactful thing a person can do is not have biological kids (although admittedly the impact of an individual's veganism and child-free-ness is such a minuscule drop in the bucket that it's essentially pointless).

Since most people aren't willing to accept the importance of not having kids, it might make sense to donate money to people considering adoption or organizations trying to make it easier for people to adopt.

I've recently heard about The Generation Forest[1]. They plant trees for harvesting in a sustainable way. Different trees that produce wood in 20 to 100 years and you get some returns when they are harvested.

[1] https://thegenerationforest.com

As an individual, I have done 3 things:

1. Invest in renewable businesses (ethical+biological/natural food & clothing : Loom, bioburger, etc.)

2. I get my power from a business that finances as much green energy as I consume (e.g. Total Spring, ekWateur, Engie).

3. I buy locally-sourced groceries from the local store

And also, happy coincidence, I can walk to work.

I feel the hour is later we imagine. What we need is billionaires of the world to use their $ to drastically overthrow the major economies and stop CO2 production by any means. Its better the world goes into deep economic collapse than become unbearable for most life.

I recently read this article:

A New Bioreactor Captures as Much Carbon as an Acre of Trees:


Maybe you can support them to upgrade it?

Ideally: Give the money to a local chapter of a political party with a similar environmental stance to you, that may soon be in a position to break ties on a decision-making body.

$250/mo will be a transformative amount for them.

Move to a city where you don't need a car, would be a start. That's likely to cost money, although I am not sure if it would cost more than the running costs of a car.

Support programs/laws that make birth control (including abortion) available, especially to young/poor women, especially if you are in a developed country.

This is a great idea, thanks Doreen.

In the UK we have fairly good access to contraception, abortion, etc, to my understanding.

I sent a donation today to International Planned Parenthood Foundation https://www.ippf.org/ who do global work on expanding access to womens health services generally.

Don't fly. Use the money to get around air travel somehow.

Following that logic - don't use cloud computing. Data centres have higher carbon footprint than the airline industry

That is a valid point, but one source of carbon is not equal to another. Data centres use electricity and the biggest cloud computing providers are making efforts to use more green energy for their servers. Airplanes, on the other hand, burn liquid fuel directly high up in the atmosphere, and little effort is expended by the industry to change this. That is the big difference.

well... maybe. what's the marginal impact of taking a flight as an individual, versus the marginal impact of doing a cloud-computing-thing as an individual?

on a personal level i'd suggest if possible to have a garden ,or if possible in your area and you don't have a garden buy a garden plot somewhere. this is really helpful if you make it nice for insects and birds. this is someting generally low cost, but does take time and effort.

in my area if you don't have a garden you can get a plot for about 100-200 euros a year. so thats dirt cheap to make a bit of impact.

cleaning in your area / natural areas is also good. walking around with a bag and collecting plastics and other trash left by people which might impact the local wildlife / environment.

those are generally things that do cost time, but not a lot of money, i'm all for activities in your life opposed to just trying to solve it by throwing money at it.

like a silent personal protest :) it's highly effective. for example in my parents garden there are a multitude of bird families who come there every season to live or in passing on their migrations. additionally we see a lot more butterflies and bees again since they started selecting the right type of plans and flowers for the local species.

on the other comment, i don't think 'overpopulation' is a problem. just how the population behaves. but i suppose that's a matter of opinion formed by where you live. i don't live in a huge city, so that might skew opinions on that matter a bit.

another idea is giving free workshops to people how to live consciously and environment friendly. a lot of people would like to do this kind of things ,but don't have the know how to do it. an hour or two with the right content of workshop can totally convert someone to living more environment friendly the rest of their lives. they will also give those insights to their childrent, propagating the effect.

all in all its more a mindset problem than anything. people are not conscious of this problem, which keeps it in place.

if you really want to throw money at it. try funding and helping researchers / students working on renewable / cleaner living solutions. in most countries there's some university or research group focusing on this topic. they could always use some money if you have some to 'burn' ;). 2500$ a month can get them a bunch of research equipment and buy them time to spend with that equipment to research. some people don't even earn that much, so you could fund someone to spend all of their time on this topic.

There are some initiatives in Europe that let you directly buy ETS certificates (required certificates for industries to allow CO2 emissions). These companies then destroy the certificates, effectively preventing that CO2 from being emitted. The price of them is low now, so even small amounts of money can have an impact.

Any opinions on this?

How about buying land for reforestation, someplace where land is cheap?

Build a solar farm and feed the energy back into the grid.

Eat less meat

Put your money in a green bank

Plant trees

Follow this. It's a really interesting topic.

Buy some nice office plants ...

Ask Bill Gates.

The thing you can spend your money on which would have the biggest effect: condoms (and other contraceptives).

Sounds snarky at first, but really, it isn't. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have any children, but maybe one or two are enough? Also, condoms do not only help you (as in generic you, not OP specifically) in your family planning but may help people who are less well off, too, with the side effect of preventing some STD infections.

Corollary: avoid any charities that oppose directly or indirect family planning and/or contraceptives. That includes anything Catholic and a lot of other Christian charities.

Right. Without realizing the sheer number of people is the root cause of the problem all other climate and biodiversity conservation measures make no sense.

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