TACOMA, Washington — Reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change is an important goal for both governments and individuals. The cost of climate change in East Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions, has run into billions of dollars and deters economic growth. Droughts have reduced reservoir levels for hydroelectric power, which is problematic for the economy. Rising ocean levels caused by the polar ice caps melting threaten coastal islands. Higher land temperatures create an environment for mosquitoes and, hence, more malaria cases, adding to the national health system’s demands. Droughts also impact food prices, which make it difficult to grow crops such as maize and cotton. Reducing the carbon footprint in East Africa has a direct impact on poverty in the region.
As a reminder, a carbon footprint is the number of carbon compounds such as carbon dioxide emitted through everyday actions that involve burning fossil fuels, including sending text messages, heating or cooling a home and watching television. The average annual greenhouse gas emissions per person in the United States is 16.56 metric tons. In 2018, the United States ranked second in countries with the highest emissions, only emitting less than China.
Taking Action Against Climate Change
Now a company called Wren is helping to offset carbon footprint in East Africa and other places around the world. Its mission is to build tools that enable users of its app to take direct action against climate change. The company’s hope is for individuals to do as much as they can while increasing the number of people advocating for policy changes that help offset the carbon footprint. Wren’s platform points out that while climate change is an enormous problem for all of mankind, most government agencies are not working to address the global crisis.
Upon signing on, Wren’s app reveals typical baseline carbon footprint values, using UC Berkeley’s Cool Climate Network project, and it calculates the user’s specific country’s average carbon footprint with data from World Bank. Then the app directs the user to a carbon calculator that asks questions such as the size of his or her house, how often meat is consumed and whether the user drives a car. If a more detailed result is desired, the user can respond to more questions such as the amount of clothing that is purchased per month, or the monthly electric bill cost.
Wren runs this information through Cool Climate’s model to get the final carbon footprint calculation. Once this is calculated, the user can sign up for a monthly subscription that offsets the individual’s carbon footprint. A typical cost is around $23 for every four weeks.
Projects that Reduce Carbon Emissions
When a new subscriber signs on, Wren designates that money to a carbon offset project, such as the one in East Africa that trains farmers to plant and maintain trees. Another project uses satellite information in combination with drones to reveal warning signs of deforestation in the Ticuna community of Buen Jardin de Callaru in Peru. Tropical forests absorb 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, and indigenous forests absorb around one-quarter of that amount. Wren calculates that if it continues to scale this Peruvian model, it could protect a carbon sink of 375 million metric tons annually.
Typically, Wren’s carbon offset projects involve the use of regenerative agroforestry and agricultural techniques to stop methane gas emissions or to separate out carbon emissions. Other projects involve planting new trees or protecting already existing forests. Wren supports projects that can be measured in terms of the amount of greenhouse gas that is sequestered or stopped altogether.
Transparency is Key
The company Wren prides itself on its transparency, sending detailed information about each project to the public as it continues. Photographs and satellite images are sent to subscribers as proof that they are paying for projects that help to offset the carbon footprint. Wren’s transparency is appealing to consumers who want proof that their dollars are actually offsetting carbon footprint and reducing emissions around the world.
For instance, in Kampala, Uganda, a company called Mandulis Energy came up with a method to change agricultural waste into charcoal briquettes that provide clean energy for cooking. Previously, refugees in the Adjumani settlements of Northern Uganda used “three-stone stoves” that produced the smoke equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes daily. The report on the “Clean Cooking Fuel for Refugees” project shows that 505 tons of carbon dioxide were offset in the month of May 2020 alone, or the equivalent of 2,805 trees in 25 years’ time.
Offsetting the Carbon Footprint in East Africa
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this project was accomplished by managing briquette manufacturing via a mobile app. In the next three years, Wren plans to scale up to 16 total sites, with clean-burning briquettes provided for almost all the cooking fuel required by Uganda’s 200,000 refugee households. This action would save more than one million trees per year.
For skeptics, a study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment revealed that carbon offsets do produce real reductions in emissions. Now Wren makes it easy for those concerned about climate change to offset their individual carbon footprints, which impact poverty worldwide, including East Africa.
– Sarah Betuel