Buying CO2 removal to compensate for flying

Published: 2023-02-19.

Paul Graham tweeted last week: "Charm Industrial now lets you buy CO2 removal direct through an online form. You can take a flight, and after landing, pay to have the CO2 taken back out of the atmosphere."

The topic matters to me [1], so I researched material that would provide guidance on which initiatives I should trust.

In summary: In the past two years, reliable, auditable CO2 removal got scaled to thousands of tons per year. Since late 2022, individuals can buy it through ClimeWorks and Charm Industrial (and potentially others).

  1. ClimeWorks and Charm Industrial are the only two companies that allow individuals to buy CO2 removal out of Stripe Climate's first batch in 2020. Microsoft also evaluated and funded them.
  2. ClimeWorks comes out of CarbonPlan's CDR proposal database among 4 approaches estimated to provide CO2 removal beyond 1k years and at an essentially unlimited scale. A recent CarbonPlan report found no fundamental problems with the current absence of standards, given the nascence of the field: it seems on track to become more regulated as it scales.
  3. A Grist article on Charm and a Quartz article on ClimeWorks provide additional context. They're a bit outdated, and things have improved since then. For instance, ClimeWorks aims to deploy a 36k tons plant in 2024, running the 4k removal plant stably.
  4. Mainstream press articles confirm the conclusions on a high level.

The sources seem aligned that scaling to 50 - 100 USD per ton removed CO2 equivalent could be possible over the upcoming years if the industry keeps scaling.

Until someone provides other evidence, I'll start to offset my past & future flights with ClimeWorks & Charm Industrials and watch out to support new players in this space (the Stripe & CarbonPlan pages link to many initiatives).


[1] Since around 2000, I've tried to live without causing climate (and nature more generally) too much damage. But flying became a problem after taking a job in Cambridge, MA, while raising kids in Munich. In 2018, I flew 3 times, in 2019, 10 times, and across 2020, 2021, and 2022, 4 times. That's 16 flights, totaling around 16 tons of CO2 (according to Google).

Hence, I had hoped for reliable (auditable) CO2 removal and only rarely clicked Lufthansa's "CO2 offset" button, not having much faith in it.

To me, it's a missing piece among personal behaviors that I felt are meaningful and that I could rather easily and consistently accomplish:

  • Devoting my career to improving renewable energies until 2015 (unfortunately, without achieving much).
  • Voting for political parties that prioritize climate.
  • Cycling during the week, typically taking trains for travel (within Europe).
  • Not owning a car or devices beyond a laptop and phone (and basic household).
  • Reducing meat consumption to around a single meal per week (around 10kg/year, mostly non-beef, non-sheep, since 2010).
  • Buying local, seasonal, organic, non-packaged food most of the time.
  • Buying a wooden apartment in an area where houses are mostly made of concrete.