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COTAP’s Rationale for Accepting Cryptocurrency

June 7th, 2021

Cryptocurrency’s Carbon Footprint


Estimates vary, but it’s well-established that many cryptocurrencies in general, and Bitcoin in particular, are energy intensive to create. Most crypto activity and value is currently centered around Bitcoin, which is predominantly mined in China, and primarily using electricity generated by coal. Even when mining is powered by renewables, it still causes problems by pushing communities’ electricity rates through the roof, spurring changes in state regulations and building codes.

Only Donate Crypto To Us if You Already Own It!


COTAP only seeks cryptocurrency donations from those who already own it and are already looking to donate it.

We are not contributing to crypto’s carbon emissions, as discussed below. By contrast, we’re creating a new, unique, and compelling mechanism for crypto owners to directly donate it to offset carbon emissions. Before, you’d either have to first sell it and incur capital gains taxes, or you’d have to set up a donor advised fund (DAF).

It’s also important to note that this decision goes far beyond climate and carbon. It was also based on the fact that donors will likely find us to be a compelling option because crypto essentially sits at the intersection of wealth and carbon emissions, and COTAP sits at the intersection of not only carbon emissions abatement, but also poverty alleviation.

We Didn’t Go Looking for Crypto, Crypto Found Us


In April 2021, we received a generous donation via a DAF. When we reached out to the donors (a couple) to thank them and learn why they chose us, they told us they’d donated Bitcoin to their DAF and then made donations from there. So, we’d begun “doing crypto” unintentionally! Because we’d received many anonymous DAF donations before this one, it’s possible we’d indirectly accepted crypto even earlier.

Then the question becomes… do we send the money back? If we did, would that reverse the environmental damage caused by the mining of this Bitcoin? Of course not. Not only that, but the funds would just wind up being donated to another nonprofit, and probably one whose mission has nothing to do with climate change. The most important question is, “Did these donors go out and obtain/mine Bitcoin for the purposes of donating it to COTAP?” Extremely unlikely. Accordingly, COTAP’s acceptance of cryptocurrency doesn’t result in new or “additional” crypto-related CO2 emissions, as discussed below.

“Additionality” & COTAP’s Role in Crypto’s Carbon Emissions


A core concept when evaluating carbon credit quality is what’s known as their “additionality.”  Additionality means that a carbon removal (e.g. tree planting) or avoidance project (REDD+, avoided deforestation) would not be financially viable absent the financing mechanism of carbon credits.  So, reforestation on public land as part of a compulsory national tree planting scheme is not additional.  A forest protection project inside a legally protected area or national park, where logging is prohibited, is not additional.  As with anything, there are complexities, exceptions, and edge cases but you get the point.

Applying the logic of additionality to COTAP and cryptocurrency, the question becomes something like “does COTAP’s acceptance of crypto drive demand for crypto and/or result in additional crypto mining?”  The answer is no.  That’s why we’re only interested in crypto specifically from those who already have it and are already looking to donate it.

An Imperfect but Correct Decision


So in theory, should a climate mitigation nonprofit accepting crypto be considered hypocrisy, duplicity, heresy, etc.?  That’s a very fair point, but it’s also important to note that the carbon/climate piece is half of why COTAP exists.  The other half is poverty alleviation and vulnerability reduction, not unlike Save the Children and World Vision. Both take in over $500M in annual donations… and they accept cryptocurrency.

Again, COTAP is only interested in crypto donations from those who already have it and are already looking to donate it, and that doesn’t result in new environmentally-damaging cryptocurrency mining.

That said, we’re also not completely innocent and blameless here. Our decision doesn’t reduce the legitimization and acceptance of crypto; our decision could be rightly characterized as a missed opportunity to be a purist/activist and lead by example – swearing off crypto because of its contribution to climate change.

When navigating complicated decisions like this, it’s important to remind ourselves of our missions and why we exist.  That’s to serve our partner projects and their participating communities, some of the poorest people in the world. While the climate/carbon part of what we do is a bit fraught when it comes to crypto, the poverty alleviation part is not.

Our decision to accept crypto was binary – not a maybe or just do it a little bit, but Yes or No. By putting crypto in context and not spurring new mining activity, by realizing that not accepting crypto won’t undo its carbon emissions, and by realizing that the money would be donated anyway to other nonprofits, we believe we’ve made an imperfect but correct decision.

Cotapper Umair Kabani shares his enthusiasm for the Khasi Hills Community REDD+ Project

December 24th, 2020


Offset your CO2 emissions through Umair’s Khasi/COTAP campaign on GoFundMe. To receive a formal COTAP acknowledgement, please forward your GoFundMe receipt to donate at cotap dot org. If you prefer, you can offset through the Khasi project on COTAP.

 

 

As you can see, Umair Kabani has clear and infectious enthusiasm for the Khasi Hills Community REDD+ project! Umair is a Los Angeles-based startup entrepreneur, business coach, real estate syndicator, and connector. Earlier this year, he discovered that his ancestry includes the Khasi Hills in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya.

Umair’s research led him to COTAP, and he became so intrigued and inspired that he not only became a Cotapper and offset his personal emissions through the Khasi project, but he also launched a GoFundMe page to support it. As of December 24, 2020 his campaign has raised over $2,200 for the the Khasi Hills Community REDD+ project. Check out his video and you’ll see why!

More about the Khasi Hills Community REDD+ Project


The Khasi project is India’s first community-based REDD+ program, and one of the first REDD+ projects anywhere to be 100% owned, controlled, and operated by indigenous communities. Ten tribal administrative units called Hima represent 62 villages (with approximately 4,357 households) and collectively form the project’s governance and oversight council known as the Synjuk (or “Federation”). The Synjuk was legally established in 2011 as the Ka Synjuk Ki Hima Arliang Wah Umiam, Mawphlang Welfare Society (KKHAW-UMWS). The project is located in the East Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya and the Umiam River Watershed, which boasts one of the highest recorded annual rainfalls in the world.

Started in 2005, the project is now protecting and restoring 27,139 hectares of cloud forest, which in 2010 comprised approximately 9,270 hectares of dense forests and 5,947 hectares of open forests. 78% of the project’s emissions reductions over 30 years are expected to result from avoided deforestation through advance closure, cutting fire lines, distributing efficient stoves, and promoting alternative livelihood activities. The remainder will result from Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) performed on open forests in 1,500-hectare increments.

The project distributes benefits through its Community Development Grants Program, and the most frequent project type applied for is to improve water systems by installing tanks, building washing areas, and digging drinking water wells. The project successfully concluded its first 3rd-party verification in 2017 and its buyers include TUI Nordic Airlines, Arvid Nordqvist coffee, and Expedia, Inc.

The project operates in rural areas where firewood is the primary fuel source for cooking and heating, and the project’s purpose of reducing pressure on local forests through efficient stoves goes hand in hand with reducing wood smoke inhalation. The Khasi project’s multi-pronged effort to reduce fuelwood consumption includes distribution of electric rice cookers and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and a goal of ensuring half of the project area’s 4,400 households have an efficient wood-burning stove by 2020.

The Hima vote on how to distribute the project’s performance-based carbon offset earnings among villages. As an example, in 2015 68% of the 62 participating villages reported utilizing their community grants from carbon sales to improve their drinking water systems by installing wells, water tanks, and formal washing places. This was by far the dominant project type that year, as 100% of 8 recently-sampled water supply sites had confirmed the presence of coliform bacteria.

4 car donation case studies

December 1st, 2020

COTAP has partnered with CARS! Founded in 2003, CARS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and respected leader in the vehicle donation space that has supported over 3,500 nonprofits. Learn more on our car donation page here.

The below case studies reveal that, on average, a COTAP vehicle donation counteracts 234.13% of the vehicle’s “tailpipe emissions” while generating $1,698.77 for our projects. Because all COTAP projects are certified by the Plan Vivo carbon standard, which requires that projects share a minimum of 60% of carbon revenues with participating communities, it follows that the average COTAP car donation creates at least $1,019.26 in earnings for some of the world’s poorest communities.

Case Study #1


On December 31, 2020, a donor from Fairfax, Virginia used CARS’ online form to pledge a 2004 Toyota Matrix with 110,096 miles on it. This donor stipulated that the net proceeds go towards offsetting evenly to all COTAP projects – in Nicaragua, Uganda, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Mexico. The car was picked up on January 9th and on January 13thit was sold at auction for $2,200. Selling expenses were $130 for auction fees and $2.78 in miscellaneous costs. That left $2,067.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On February 4th, COTAP received payment from CARS for $1,447.05. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, the donor is offsetting 96.47 tonnes to our partner projects, which will receive $217.06 each and $1,302.35 overall.

So, not only did this donor get rid of a car they no longer wanted/needed, they’ll also got a tax deduction (assuming they itemize!). Further, they’re addressing their unavoidable carbon emissions, helping to protect and restore landscapes all over the world, and creating income for rural communities.

Speaking of carbon emissions, the 96.47 tonnes offset compensates for 298.76% of the tailpipe carbon emissions generated by the donated car! Plugging the above 110,096 miles and 30 mpg (For mpg, we Google the model/year) into our calculator yielded 32.29 tonnes. In this example, the car donation is not only negating the tailpipe emissions for the original owner, but it’s also likely negating the tailpipe emissions for the remaining life of the car.

Case Study #2


On June 7th, 2020, a donor from Atlanta, Georgia called the above number and pledged to donate a 2013 Buick Encore with 190,879 miles on it. They stipulated that the net proceeds go towards offsetting with our Uganda partner project – Trees for Global Benefits. The car was picked up on June 10th and on June 18th it was sold at auction for $3,200. Selling expenses were $70 for towing, $50 for auction fees, and $2.78 misc. That left $3,077.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On July 2nd, COTAP received payment from CARS for $2,154.05. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, the donor is offsetting 143.603 tonnes to our partner project in Uganda, which will receive $1,938.65.

The 143.603 tonnes offset more than compensates for the carbon emissions generated by the donated car. Plugging the above 190,879 miles and 25 mpg into our calculator yielded 67.18 tonnes. Again, this donation is negating the original owner’s tailpipe emissions as well as the tailpipe emissions for the remaining life of the car.

Case Study #3


On May 31st, 2020, a donor from Glendale, Arizona pledged to donate a 2012 Ford Focus SE with 168,537 miles on it. They chose for the net proceeds go towards offsetting evenly across all COTAP projects. The car was picked up on July 6th and on August 22nd it was sold at auction for $2,400. Selling expenses for towing, auction, and DMV fees etc. totaled $145.78, which left $2,254.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On September 17th, COTAP received payment from CARS for $1,577.95. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, this donor is evenly offsetting 105.197 tonnes across all of our partner projects in Nicaragua, Uganda, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Mexico. That’s 17.53 tonnes and $236.69 per project.

As in the first case study, the donor got rid of an unwanted car, got a tax deduction, and addressed their unavoidable emissions. What’s different this time is that they are not just protecting/restoring forests and empowering rural communities in Uganda… they’re creating those benefits all over the planet! Neither approach (one project vs. all projects) is better than the other, it’s just the donor’s preference on whether they want to focus their impacts in one region vs. “spreading the love.”

So, did this car donation offset fully compensate for 168,537 miles driven in a 2012 Ford Focus SE? We used 26 mpg, which is the lower end of the car’s fuel efficiency rating. The result? 57.03 tonnes. Similar to the first case study, this donation is not only compensating for the car’s tailpipe emissions for the original owner, but also for the tailpipe emissions for the remaining life of the car.

Case Study #4


On August 21st, 2020, a donor from Garden City, New York pledged to donate a 2005 Lexus RX 330 with 165,000 miles on it. They chose for the net proceeds go towards offsetting evenly across all COTAP projects. The car was picked up on August 25th and on October 27th it was sold at auction for $3,550. Selling expenses for towing, auction, and DMV fees etc. totaled $162.78, which left $3,387.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On November 5th, COTAP received payment from CARS for $2,371.05. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, this donor is evenly offsetting 158.07 tonnes across all of our partner projects in Nicaragua, Uganda, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Mexico. That’s 26.345 tonnes and $355.66 per project! Using the car’s average mpg rating of 22 miles per gallon, this car’s tailpipe emissions (from the original owner’s 165,000 miles) were 65.99 tonnes of CO2. By donating this car, the original owner compensated for 239.5% of the tailpipe emissions generated by driving it 165k miles.

In Summary…


The donor, CARS, COTAP, and our partner projects all come out ahead significantly and in ways that would not be possible without this very unique, meaningful, and symbiotic partnership!

COTAP’s Open Letter To George Monbiot

October 23rd, 2019

To: George Monbiot

Subject:  Plan Vivo and your “Climate Solutions Allies” duplicity

Hello George –

Greetings from the Plan Vivo stakeholder event in Edinburgh!  It was in fact kicked off with the truly excellent video w/you and Greta Thunberg.

I’m seeing that Plan Vivo is on your Natural Climate Solutions allies page (https://www.naturalclimate.solutions/our-allies).

As you know, the PV network has restored landscapes, improved livelihoods, and generated 3.5 million tonnes in emissions reductions, primarily through avoided deforestation and tree planting.  These emission reduction units are carbon offsets.  Several of your other listed allies are also involved in this form of carbon finance, which is one among many valid tools.

I actually agree with many of your points about offsetting, and COTAP makes efforts to ensure it’s properly framed and contextualized.  One of those efforts was arranging for two of our partner project leaders to appear in this recently released Climate One podcast (https://www.climateone.org/audio/carbon-offsets-privileged-pollution).  On a related note, here’s another piece we’ve recently facilitated https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/449828-americans-deserve-better-coverage-of-carbon-finance.

As you suspect, I’m getting in touch to point out that your current position on offsets and your Natural Climate Solutions allies page are at odds.  The truth – borne out by Plan Vivo for over a quarter century now – is that offsetting, done properly, and natural climate solutions walk hand-in-hand on a regular basis.  As they say, “where there is a difference of opinion, there is room for enlightenment.”

You cannot have it both ways – appropriating only your preferred attributes of Plan Vivo and similar entities, while also completely trashing offsetting – and also continue to go unchecked.

Sincerely,

Tim Whitley

COTAP

Americans deserve better coverage of carbon finance

June 22nd, 2019

This Op-Ed first appeared in The Hill and an edited version also appears on Ecosystem Marketplace.

Why we wrote it:  Beginning in May 2019, ProPublica reporter Lisa Song went on a tear with at least seven anti-carbon offsetting articles.  Done under the auspices of an “investigative” outlet like ProPublica, any topic covered is, by definition, being “investigated.” In other words, when the mission of a news outlet is a figurative hammer, then the topic at hand can’t be treated as anything other than a nail – the coverage is going to be negative and biased.

Ms. Song’s sustained fusillade, and the fact that it was done through a broad news outlet, are unique. Not unique is the phenomenon of unknowledgeable, unaccountable, and dilettante journalists who swoop in, do lasting and undeserved damage, and then leave. They are, in a sense, a lot like seagulls: they fly in, make a lot of noise, shit everywhere, and then leave! For example, in 2013 freelance hack Ryan Jacobs wrote The Atlantic piece “The Forest Mafia: How Scammers Steal Millions Through Carbon Markets.” Like Ms. Song, he used improper and/or outdated examples, cherry-picked facts, took things out of context, and failed to examine the many success stories out there. Though Steve Zwick wrote a thorough rebuttal to the piece, Mr. Jacobs provided no updates to his article nor did he write any follow-on pieces about forest carbon offsets. And – unlike Zwick’s rebuttal – Jacobs’ uncontested and shoddy work was then referenced and promulgated by many other outlets, as he moved on to writing his hot new book about truffle crimes.

Unfortunately, rebuttals like ours too often appear in more niche news outlets. They get overlooked and forgotten relative to pieces like Ms. Song’s, which get parroted ad nauseam and without question. Ms. Song knows her unbalanced and specious output unravels upon closer examination. What’s tragic is that folks like her know this and do it anyway: she declined an invitation to explain and defend her work on the Bionic Planet podcast hosted by Steve Zwick, editor of Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace.

Anyway… our piece below was once again published by The Hill, one of Washington’s most respected and influential news outlets. Enjoy!



June 22, 2019

Australian researchers recently warned that without “immediate drastic action,” climate change will degrade our forests, farms, and ecosystems to such a degree that civilization as we know it could collapse as soon as 2050. Such dire climate projections are increasingly common, as is unwarranted cynicism about climate solutions.

The Paris Climate Agreement, for example, coordinates and accelerates national climate action plans, but it’s dismissed for not dictating those plans itself. The Green New Deal is designed to generate an action plan for the U.S., but it’s dismissed as pie in the sky. Efforts to end deforestation are designed to attack its economic roots from multiple angles, but are dismissed as messy and imperfect. It’s enough to make concerned citizens feel like we’re part of some global experiment in learned helplessness.

The dire climate warnings may be justified, but the growing cynicism about solutions reflects a lack of understanding about what works and what doesn’t, rather than futility of the solutions themselves. At least some of what we’re doing has worked on a small scale, and is likely to work on a large scale.

California has the largest economy of any U.S. state and achieved some of the deepest emissions cuts through a range of measures including renewables, efficiency and a forest carbon offset program which works and could be expanded through a new Tropical Forest Standard. Four other states passed 100 percent clean electricity measures with tight timelines for eliminating fossil fuels, including a “superb” one in Washington state (which includes carbon offsets among many other tools) signed by Governor and presidential candidate Jay Inslee. Inslee also just announced a sweeping plan to revamp U.S. foreign policy to fight climate change globally, including reengaging the Paris Agreement.

Trump’s disengagement notwithstanding, the Paris Agreement is progressing as designed, with at least 80 countries soon to announce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets exceeding their 2015 commitments. Half of them use carbon finance mechanisms including carbon offsets to fund better management of their forests, farms, and fields for lower emissions.

That’s key, because up to about 30 percent of global GHG comes from agriculture and the forests chopped to make way for it. With climate-smart agriculture, we can turn those carbon emitters into carbon sinks and take the pressure off forests, but it requires costly improvements in operations and restructuring of rural economies.

That’s where carbon finance comes in. Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy initiative, for example, uses development aid tied to emission reductions to improve the resiliency of farms so that farmers don’t expand into forests. India’s Khasi Hills carbon offset program uses carbon offsets to protect forests by helping 62 villages across 67,000 acres shift from slash-and-burn open grazing of cows and goats to more sustainable stall-fed pigs and chickens. The lions’ share of the carbon revenues go directly to the farmers and community members, 80 percent of whom would otherwise live on less than $2 a day.

Although the money in these examples comes from different sources (pay-for-success vs. offsetting), both reduce GHG emissions by helping farmers manage their land more efficiently, both link the payments the GHG reductions, and both are partly financed by something called “REDD+.”

It stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, plus conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.” It’s an umbrella term for various mechanisms enabling governments, farmers and foresters to earn money by managing their land in ways that either absorb more or emit less GHG than they would otherwise.

Some of the methodologies REDD+ relies on originated (ironically) in time-tested quantitative methods which timber traders use to negotiate deals, and which planning agencies now use to project changes in land use. These techniques evolved despite a surprising lack of consensus on what constitutes a forest, given wide variations in tree height, density, carbon sequestration, and human encroachment.

Such things need rigorous definitions, and the scientific debate around them recently reached a milestone, when the Accountability Framework Initiative (AFi) unveiled a new global consensus on what a forest is, what deforestation is, and how forests impacts can be measured.

Mainstream media didn’t cover it, and that’s part of the problem: It tends to ‘ignore the forest for the trees,’ passing over this level of scientific rigor and careful definitions to seek out the conflict story. The rigor of REDD+ methodologies or AFi’s work doesn’t get much attention outside the specialized “trade” press, yet mainstream media have eagerly and often unfairly panned REDD+ and carbon offset projects for “putting a price on nature,” or promoting “climate colonialism,” or letting wealthy polluters off the hook instead of stopping GHG emissions at the source. Sometimes they publish factually-challenged “exposés” without ever diving into the nitty-gritty of how REDD+ works, citing a token sample of unrepresentative projects to conclude the whole field is fatally flawed.

There’s insufficient space here for rebuttals (one of us posted one here), but the larger point is recognizing the misconceptions that lead to such errors. One misconception is seeing REDD+ as a standalone intervention. In fact, it’s a small part of a broader, holistic approach needed to fight climate change and deforestation. We have to eat less beef, and we also have to finance sustainable agriculture as in the Ethiopian and Indian examples above.

Another misconception is that deforestation halted in one place simply migrates down the road — an effect known as “leakage.” It does happen — and gets duly accounted for when it occurs. But taking leakage as a wholesale indictment of REDD+ is a misunderstanding of how sustainable production works.

Sustainable producers manage their land to grow food and support livelihoods without churning through topsoil or cutting forests. When properly implemented, such practices tend to get picked up and copied by neighboring producers. But implementing them costs money and requires investment and training. For example, land managers who want to produce pulp and timber sustainably under Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification face prohibitively higher costs than the bad guys. REDD+ financing can level the playing field and help scale up FSC production, so it’s a big, net gain for the climate.

Sound complicated? No more so than college football, yet no shortage of reporters cover that. For decades media and policy discourse often failed to grasp, let alone explain to mass audiences, the enormity of the climate problem. Let’s not make the same mistake on solutions.

Steve Zwick is the Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, a web-based information platform which publishes newsletters, breaking news, original feature articles and major reports about market-based approaches to conserving ecosystem services.

Tim Whitley is the founder and CEO of Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty (COTAP), a 501(c)3 public charity that sells offsets from certified forestry projects in least-developed regions which create transparent and accountable earnings for rural farming communities where income levels are less than $2 per day.



About The Hill

The Hill, which is known among those who influence policy as a “must read” in print and online, serves to connect the political players, define the issues, and influence the way Washington’s decision-makers view the debate. Since its launch in 1994, The Hill has been the newspaper for and about Congress, breaking stories from Capitol Hill, K Street and the White House. The Hill stands alone in signaling the important issues of the moment by delivering solid, non-partisan and objective reporting on the business of Washington, covering the inner-workings of Congress, as well as the nexus between politics and business.