Today’s guest Dr. Julio Friedmann, a Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Dr. Friedmann recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy where he was responsible for DOE’s R&D program in advanced fossil energy systems, carbon capture, and storage (CCS), CO2 utilization, and clean coal deployment. His expertise includes Large-Scale Carbon Management, CO2 removal, CO2 recycling, Oil and Gas systems, international engagements in clean fossil energy, and inter-agency engagements within the US government. He has also held positions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, including Senior Advisor for Energy Innovation and Chief Energy Technologist. Dr. Friedmann is one of the most widely known and authoritative experts in the U.S. on carbon removal (CO2 drawdown from the air and oceans), CO2 conversion and use (carbon-to-value), and carbon capture and sequestration. This is a fascinating, long-form discussion, and I highly recommend you give it a listen. Enjoy the show!
Today’s guest Dr. Julio Friedmann, a Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
Dr. Friedmann recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy where he was responsible for DOE’s R&D program in advanced fossil energy systems, carbon capture, and storage (CCS), CO2 utilization, and clean coal deployment. His expertise includes Large-Scale Carbon Management, CO2 removal, CO2 recycling, Oil and Gas systems, international engagements in clean fossil energy, and inter-agency engagements within the US government. He has also held positions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, including Senior Advisor for Energy Innovation and Chief Energy Technologist. He is also the CEO of Carbon Wrangler, LLC, is a Distinguished Associate at the Energy Futures Initiative, and serves as a special advisor to the Global CCS Institute. He was recently named as a Senior Fellow to the Breakthrough Institute and the Climate Leadership Council.
Dr. Friedmann is one of the most widely known and authoritative experts in the U.S. on carbon removal (CO2 drawdown from the air and oceans), CO2 conversion and use (carbon-to-value), and carbon capture and sequestration. His expertise includes technology, policy, and operations. In addition to close partnerships with many private companies and NGOs, Julio has worked with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Treasury.
Dr. Friedmann received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), followed by a Ph.D. in Geology at the University of Southern California. He worked for five years as a senior research scientist at ExxonMobil, then as a research scientist at the University of Maryland. He serves as a formal and informal advisor to several clean energy and CarbonTech companies.
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Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone, this is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help. Today's guest is Julio Friedmann, senior research scholar at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I was very excited for this one as nobody knows carbon quite like Dr. Friedmann. Most recently he was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for fossil energy at Department of Energy where he was responsible for their R&D program in advanced fossil energy systems, carbon capture and storage, CO2 utilization, and clean coal deployment. Prior to that, he spent many years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he was chief energy technologist and was senior research scientist at Exxon for many years before that.
Jason Jacobs: He's hit this problem from many different angles over a long period of time. We have a great chat in this episode about Julio's career, when and how he started becoming concerned about climate change and how that manifested in his career decisions along the way. How he reconciled working at Big Oil and Gas and how he thinks about the big fossil fuel companies today relative to the climate crisis. The different levers that are available to help us get out of this crisis and what's going to come from startups, what's going to come from the big fossil fuel companies, what's going to come from policy, what's going to come from government. Julio's just got such unique insight into this that I think you'll enjoy the discussion a lot. I could go on, but it's probably best to just bring him out here. So, Julio Friedmann, welcome to the show.
Julio Friedmann: It's such a treat. Thank you so much for coming all the way up to talk to me.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, no, it's great to be here. I say a lot on the show, I say you were one of the first people I reached out to, but I think in this case you're actually literally like the first or second person I reached out to me when I was starting down the path of trying to learn more about this problem. You were very generous with your time at that time, and I remember thinking like, "Man, that guy knows his stuff." It was like a foreign language to me, and I've done a lot of work since then. It's been about 10 months and I still feel like a newbie. I know I'm going to come out of here, I still have mostly questions, but they're different questions than I had the first time we talked so it'll actually be interesting to do a follow up here as a measuring stick of where I am in the journey.
Julio Friedmann: Well, it's really my pleasure and it means a lot to know that I've contributed to your own thinking and learning.
Jason Jacobs: Well, great, and hopefully, to a lot of other listeners as well who are tuning in because they feel like I felt when I started down this path 10 months ago.
Julio Friedmann: One thing we know for sure is that this problem is big, and we just need more people involved, we need a bigger boat. If this can help your listeners all the better.
Jason Jacobs: Maybe For starters, let's just talk a bit about what you're up to now just to frame things for listeners, and then we can talk about how you got here.
Julio Friedmann: My pleasure. I worked for many years as a technology development guy, and I did this at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and I'm really thrilled that I had the chance to work there for so long. But when I left my time at the Department of Energy, I realized that we needed policy that, fundamentally, we need to move things into the market and clean energy technology has zero value without deployment. Deployment means finance and deployment means policy, so now I work at a policy shop in New York City. I'm at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I started there about a year ago, shortly after you and I first talked. I couldn't be happier, there, I'm leading an initiative called the Carbon Mitigation Research Initiative, CAMRI. The whole focus is how do we get CO2 out of the air and oceans? How do we keep CO2 out of the air and oceans? That's it.
Julio Friedmann: I am extra pleased that that is in the financial capital of the world, and I've been very pleased to engage a whole bunch of people in the finance community because that's what we need to get the job done. Eventually, engineers don't work for hugs. They need to get paid like everybody else, and if you want to build things and deploy them, you need people who are serious about capital markets. And it's been a pleasure for me at the center to start engaging with that community. That gives me an opportunity to learn but also hopefully an opportunity to move the needle. The other thing I've done since we last talked is I've basically spun up a little company, Carbon Wrangler LLC, and that gives me a platform on which I can help people and help companies solve the problems they have. Sometimes that's finding an X on a map where they can do a carbon storage project. In some cases, it's trying to think about what technologies are out there that they might be interested in.
Julio Friedmann: In some cases, it's advising a philanthropy on how they should spend their scarce resources to get maximum change. In all cases, though, it's all carbon all the time. If you care about climate, we got to manage carbon dioxide, period. In that context, here's a novel notion, let's manage carbon dioxide. That's the direct work that will yield the biggest dividends most quickly.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I have a lot of questions about that, but maybe before we dig into that and to how it fits into the problem, it'd be great if we just go back and talk about your history. How did you get here? When did you start caring about this stuff? What's the track that you followed? Maybe just give us the broad strokes?
Julio Friedmann: I'm going to take you all the way back like Mr. Peabody & Sherman, we're going in the Wayback Machine. I really started caring about this problem about 1993, and I had the good fortune to be invited to a week-long short course on climate change. This was still very early days in the climate change discussion and I was getting my doctorate at University of Southern California. Caltech was hosting a NASA sponsored thing on climate change, and I got to hear Sally Ride, the astronaut, I got to hear all kinds of incredible scientists talking about their work. That sort of put the bug in me and I was like, "This is a first order issue. We have to go after this for real and it's going to take a lot of science, it's going to take a lot of people."
Julio Friedmann: In 1993, there were still a lot of uncertainties in climate and science, fast forward to 2000, those uncertainties were basically resolved. We had the climate story more or less nailed by them for real. At that point, I had left ExxonMobil where I learned all this stuff about oil and gas production.
Jason Jacobs: Wait, so let's go back because you can't skip the part of why you went to ExxonMobil in the first place and what you did there?
Julio Friedmann: Right, so I went to ExxonMobil because I was a strategist for sedimentologist and because I figured that I had a choice actually of getting a postdoc at a really prestigious university or going to work for Exxon. At the time I thought, "I'm going to learn more going to work for Exxon." That was unquestionably true, I made the right call there. I learned a bunch of things including like how a company that makes payroll operates. That's really good information in general, but really what I learned while I was there was how the subsurface works for real. How you pull fluids out, how you inject fluids in. My job there was a research scientist, I was developing new stratigraphic concepts that would help them explore or produce for hydrocarbons. But really my job there was novel concepts. In 1998, while I was at Exxon, they began what we now know to be their own disinformation campaign in earnest.
Julio Friedmann: One of the more interesting bits was shortly after the merger with Mobil, some set of guys from headquarters came around to give talks about climate change. They were, basically, trying to brand test messages among their troops before they started going out. Even then, it was patently obvious that ExxonMobil was not being fully honest about what they knew.
Jason Jacobs: Wasn't it patently obvious way before that, though?
Julio Friedmann: So that's a harder question to answer. We now know, in retrospect, that they had pretty good information in 1989 that they could understand that climate change was a real thing and it was coming for them. They chose a corporate strategy then, in part, led by their former CEO, Lee Raymond, to pursue a particular course of disinformation and so forth. But in 1998, it was still a reasonable position to be a climate skeptic. Many people today don't realize this because it's 20 years later and the science has advanced a lot in 20 years. But there was some pretty fundamental issues that we did not understand substantively. We didn't understand the role of aerosols, we didn't understand the role of clouds. There weren't good models for ocean atmosphere exchange. There were still big discrepancies in the upper atmosphere microwave radiation data.
Julio Friedmann: There were things that were contested in the scientific community. People believed, as was published in 1996 by the IPCC, that the balance of evidence suggested that climate change was real, man made, and bad. We kind of knew that, but public opinion was completely absent from this and scientific opinion was still forming because we didn't know stuff. Really, by 2001, all those questions had been fundamentally resolved.
Jason Jacobs: What year did you go to Exxon?
Julio Friedmann: 1995.
Jason Jacobs: And when you went there in 1995, what was your view on climate change at the time heading into Exxon?
Julio Friedmann: The climate change was probably a major first tier environmental challenge and that we needed to organize.
Jason Jacobs: You were concerned about climate change at that time?
Julio Friedmann: I was.
Jason Jacobs: Did you wrestle it all about going to work for Exxon?
Julio Friedmann: Yes, I did. It wasn't just about climate change at that point, this was only six years after the Valdez. I also had questions about diversity in hiring and all these other kinds of things. Fundamentally, I went there for the reason I said, I figured I would learn the most, and that is the truth. One of the things I learned actually is how the oil and gas industry works. I really firmly believe now even more strongly than I did then or could have even imagined then, that we cannot solve for climate without the engagement of the oil and gas industry in a positive way. As a society, we have not sorted in our own heads what it is we want from these guys. There's a whole bunch of people who say, "Oil equals bad, therefore, we need to punish them.
Julio Friedmann: There are literally people who would choose to bake the planet if they could sue Exxon, and that's not a hypothetical. There are bills in front of Congress, which are asking for indemnification protection or liability protection from climate change suits, and environmentalists will not accept a carbon tax if that means letting the oil companies off the hook. So, literally, this is like a hot button issue that people are sorting. We have now the oil and gas climate initiative, got 13, probably 14 soon, companies that will put 100 million dollars on the table and are putting their own staff and stuff to try to figure out solutions to climate. They're working on vehicle efficiency and carbon capture and storage and methane, flare reduction and all these things, that's progress. But as a society we haven't answered for ourselves if we accept that climate change is a first order issue that threatens the world. What do we want these guys to do?
Jason Jacobs: Let's come back to that because I want to keep hearing your story because you're telling me now the 2019 perspective when we're still back in-
Julio Friedmann: So 2000, 2001, so I left Exxon in 2000 and went to the University of Maryland, and my job there was trailing spouse. I had a great job at the Department of Geoscience and I loved working there, but my wife was the music director of the Baltimore Symphony and I was following her. While I was there, I learned what carbon capture and storage was. This was a completely new field, and what I realized almost immediately is I can take everything that I learned at ExxonMobil, run it in reverse and solve a big environmental problem. I just said, "Hey, wait a second, we can take CO2 and keep it underground forever. Hey, that sounds interesting, we cannot emit." Okay, and that's what got me really into climate full time, and I began to think entirely about how do we avoid emissions? How do we replace emissions, and now, how do we undo emissions?
Julio Friedmann: In all of those cases, it started with a recognition that we have these natural resources and we want to use them in some way. As a sedimentologist, I was really interested in the distribution of poor volume in the subsurface. I was not particularly interested in the discovery of oil, which is why, ultimately, I left Exxon, I wasn't into hydrocarbon exploration production, I was into stratigraphy. What I realized is-
Jason Jacobs: What is stratigraphy?
Julio Friedmann: Stratigraphy is the way that the rocks are distributed over time, that's basically the shortest way to explain it. What I realized is that carbon capture and storage allowed me to do the thing I wanted to do. I could understand the distribution of pores in the subsurface, tiny little submicron scale holes that could hold CO2. And understanding that could solve climate change in a big way, that it could really contribute to the solution. I was able to take the knowledge that I had as a scientist and apply it to climate solutions.
Jason Jacobs: You went from Exxon right to Livermore?
Julio Friedmann: No, I went to University of Maryland, and then like three years later I came to Livermore and they hired me to lead a team on carbon capture and storage. That got me into the wider view of energy. Over my time at Livermore, I worked on everything from renewable integration to smart grid to geothermal energy to fracking. I worked on a pretty wide portfolio of energy stuff, and my background, again, and industry proved really essential to understanding how companies thought. We worked with everybody from small startup companies to great big power utilities. The whole point was, "How do we start getting clean energy deployed?" That's what ultimately led me to my three year stint at the Department of Energy. We can talk about that in a sec.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, because you saw me figuratively raising my hand to ask a question. One of the things that's become apparent to me is that there is the business of energy, and then there's concern about climate change. If you're concerned about climate change, energy is a huge area to figure out how to transition. But there's a very large amount of energy business and success by traditional metrics that can be done. Not only without pushing for the clean energy condition, but actively opposing it. You worked at Exxon, and then at the University of Maryland you were looking into things like fracking. Before you even got to Exxon, you were very concerned about climate change. How do you think about energy and climate change and how they interrelate?
Julio Friedmann: Let's talk about how I wake up every morning. I wake up every morning and by the time I hit the shower, I'm thinking, "How do we deploy clean energy technology?" The frame for that, in my brain, is always tons of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Jason Jacobs: Is that the 2019 Julio or is that-
Julio Friedmann: Yeah, that's the 2019 Julio.
Jason Jacobs: What about back then?
Julio Friedmann: Hold on a second, it's been that way now really since about 2010. For the past 10 years, I wake up in the morning and go, "We got to deploy solutions that don't put tons in the atmosphere or take tons out of the atmosphere. It's the only measure that matters, and this is something that many people don't understand about the world of energy, okay? Traditional energy sources like coal and oil and gas put tons of CO2 in the atmosphere. They do a lot of good things for us, but the putting tons in the atmosphere is objectively bad. A lot of people go, "Well, hey, great, we can just build solar panels or we can put up windmills or we can do energy efficiency and not emit." Those things are also true, ad that's helpful, but we're on the clock. It is not a question of are we making progress? The question is how many years until we blow the carbon budget?
Julio Friedmann: I'm always thinking about tons, and how do we keep them from the atmosphere and how do we pull them from the atmosphere? In 2003, I started working full time, just how do we avoid emissions? Objectively, I've had some successes. It's an assist, I haven't done all of this directly myself but I can make a credible claim to keeping 15 million tons of CO2 out of the air and oceans every year. Okay, so I've contributed to that and that's pretty good, right? It is also still not enough, we need so much more and so much faster and so much bigger. People often misunderstand my position on this, we need as much renewable energy as we can, that's not going to fix the problem. We need as much efficiency as we can, that's not going to fix the problem alone. We need to do those things and maximize them, and when we're done, we still have a huge amount of residual emissions and we have to go after that stuff.
Julio Friedmann: Which is why, for example, right now I'm working on emissions from heavy industry. I'm going there because it's hard, it's the hardest part of the problem to fix. Just from burning rocks to melt rocks in heavy industry emits more than all the cars in the world. If we don't go after that, we're not getting where we need to go. When I look at that, I keep coming back to some very simple framings, one, most of the world wants more energy. The United States and Europe, not so much, we have flat to declining energy curves and we have substantial emissions reductions, most of which have come from fracking, most of which have come from swapping gas for coal. Recently, like in 2017, we've been reducing emissions by replacing fossil assets with renewable assets, which is excellent. That's something we need to keep doing and do more of. But in most of the world, they're actually building coal plants and building gas plants and building as much of it as they can.
Julio Friedmann: Even in places like India, where they're building mammoth amounts of renewable energy, they're also building coal, they are also building gas. In China, they're doing some replacement of coal for gas, they're building mammoth amounts of renewable energy. They're pushing electric vehicles, they're pushing efficiency, all of that's great and they're adding 200,000 megawatts of coal plants even as we speak. It's about tons in the atmosphere. We need solutions that go after all that stuff, and I've learned that the US government does not make policy in other countries. I would have liked to be able to make policy in India and China but, in fact, we don't. India makes policy in India, China makes policy in China.
Jason Jacobs: Can't we make global edicts just by tweet?
Julio Friedmann: We've tried that, the success rate's pretty poor.
Jason Jacobs: I want to go back because all the stuff I absolutely want to get to, but back to you mentioned that since 2010, you've been in this mindset where you wake up every day thinking about the clean energy transition. You're concerned about climate change in 1995, and so I guess what that brings me to, what's the biggest difference between your mindset in 1995 to 2010 and your mindset 2010 to present, and what brought about that change?
Julio Friedmann: In 1995, the problem was apparent but it wasn't urgent. We all knew that we needed to make progress on climate change, but we had not seen the explosive emissions in China. We were starting to see cost reductions in renewable stuff. There were still open questions about what the uncertainty in climate was. So I thought I'm going to learn, I'm going to thrive, I'm going to contribute to the environmental concerns the way that most people do. The way that most people do is you give money to Environmental Defense, you recycle. That was my mindset in 1995, and there was not any palpable cognitive dissonance for me in 1995 saying, "I really do care about climate change, but I'm working for a major oil company." I would still want, in the right position, to work for a major oil company. It would have to be for the right position, it would have to be all about tons.
Julio Friedmann: This is something many people don't understand about oil and gas companies. Let me take a step back, energy is the most heavily capitalized business in the world by a lot. People think the automobile industry is big, energy is 10 times bigger in terms of capital. Typically, we put two and a half trillion dollars a year into energy investments, okay? The idea that we are going to have to move the world quickly and in a complex way without touching any of that stuff doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The idea that we're just going to make them all obsolete overnight, that we're just going to push aside the incumbents, that we're going to do so when we understand the technical challenges that non-traditional energy sources have. That just doesn't make sense to me. I really believe that the only way we're going to square the circle on climate is by everybody pulling in the same direction.
Julio Friedmann: I would still not only work with the oil and gas industry or utilities the way that I work with them now, I would be willing in the right context to work for them but it would have to be about tons of abatement. I will no longer work on exploration and production, that's not who I am.
Jason Jacobs: What changed in 2010 and what changed in your perspective? Because you talked about your mindset 1995 to 2010, so what was the biggest change between that and your perspective now and what brought about that change?
Julio Friedmann: A couple of things, but if I had to say the one biggest thing, in 2007, I went to China, and in 2007, China was still becoming the China that we know what it is today.
Jason Jacobs: I went in 2005.
Julio Friedmann: Right, so you understand, and there was a joke going around that the Chinese national bird was the crane because you go to Beijing and there were cranes everywhere. You go to the top of building and you look around and there'd be 50 cranes building buildings. They were building infrastructure incredibly rapidly, they were building cities, they were building power plants, they were building refineries, and it was at an incredible pace and scale at something that most people still don't really have under their fingertips. I realized immediately if we're not dealing with China in some substantive way, we're not going anywhere. China isn't the end game, it's the ball game. Again, if we don't have solutions that work for China, it's not going to work. That was one of the things that made me realize that the curve was about to bend up and we were going to about to emit a whole lot more, a whole lot more quickly than we thought and that's exactly what happened.
Jason Jacobs: Where were you working at the time?
Julio Friedmann: At the time I was at Lawrence Livermore. The other thing that really did it was we started to get really clear understandings of what the climate budget was, the carbon budget. If you can do arithmetic in 2007, you can figure out that we are going to overshoot, that we're going to emit more than is allowed in a one and a half or two degree target. The reason why is just the inertia in the system. In 2009, 2010, myself and a couple of other people in the lab complex started working on CO2 removal because we just said, "We've done the arithmetic, we're going to overshoot, we need a technology set that'll pull CO2 from the air and oceans." There's no program, there's no money, there's nobody working on it, perfect job for a national lab. We tucked in and started thinking about what's the best way to do that.
Jason Jacobs: Then what year did you end up leaving Livermore?
Julio Friedmann: The best way to say that is I went to go work at the Department of Energy late in 2013, and I was still detailed there from the lab but it was a really different job. I went from being a guy who worked with scientists developing technology to a political appointee managing a government bureaucracy.
Jason Jacobs: In that initiative that you set out to take on with carbon removal in 2010, what did that look like in 2013 when you started transitioning? Then we can get into what you did at the OE.
Julio Friedmann: In 2013, it was still the case that there was no government program anywhere in the world working on CO2 removal, it just didn't exist. The closest thing to it was the UN efforts on avoiding deforestation and land use stuff that was about avoiding chopping down trees because trees do remove CO2. But red and red plus had already been around for a while at that point, and it wasn't anything that I really could contribute to. Instead, I was like, we need to start thinking about all of this stuff that has burst on the scene. In 2010, we had the birth of the smart grid, we had the clear signs that renewables were dropping, we suddenly went from having no natural gas anywhere in the world to a superfluous abundance of natural gas everywhere in the world. All of that stuff was pretty recent, now that was less than 10 years ago that all that started to hit.
Julio Friedmann: You could see that we were going to need more stuff, even in 2010, 2013. At 2013, we had gotten some internal money at the laboratory to start developing technologies to pull CO2 out of the air and oceans. That program still exists, my colleagues at Lawrence Livermore are doing a lot of that work, and they're working on everything from soil carbon to turning CO2 into fuels to direct air capture to mineralization of CO2, all of those things, and it was born out of that 2010 recognition.
Jason Jacobs: Then how did the role of DOE come about and what were you brought in to do?
Julio Friedmann: That came out of a conversation I had with Secretary Ernie Moniz who I'd known from a prior project. He'd asked me to come on board basically as the number two guy at the office fossil energy position called Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and he wanted me to do two things. One, he wanted to be the government's resource on carbon capture, use and storage. I was very happy to serve that role, and one of the best moments of my time at the DOE was at a Christmas party. Somebody came down from the top floor and said, "Julio, you need to write a two page brief for the President on carbon capture and storage." The Secretary is having breakfast with him tomorrow, he wants to know some stuff. I was like, "This is why I'm here." I left the Christmas party-
Jason Jacobs: And now you're doing podcast with me.
Julio Friedmann: And now I'm doing podcast with you.
Jason Jacobs: Wow, you've really backtracked.
Julio Friedmann: All true. That's okay, we all contribute however we can. But the other thing is he said, "Look, the Office of Fossil Energy has a research program that was basically built in 1997. It was 2013, we need to pivot it towards a new world. Can you help me with that? I began to work with the people, first in the office of clean coal, and then across the entire function and elsewhere within the department to try to figure out how to use the investments that we were making in technology development in the most appropriate way. One example of this, and so this is something that I'm proud of, we issued the first ever solicitation on direct air capture, first solicitation anywhere in the world. We put out a call for what were dilute streams of CO2. Part of what made that possible was actually language that was added to a congressional appropriations that said, "The DOE needs to spend some money on CO2 removal and direct air capture."
Julio Friedmann: That allowed me to put out the solicitation. A consequence of that was actually it sponsored one of the direct air capture company's carbon engineering and they wrote the paper in Jewel, which allowed them to say, "Hey, we think we're going to get below 200 bucks a ton, possibly, below 150 or 100 bucks a ton." Which allowed them to get a bunch of investment and a bunch of interest in the field. That one investment led to one paper, which led to corporate investment at large scale. That's actually part of how the ecosystem works. You have to feed every bit of the chain or else some part of it goes unmet.
Jason Jacobs: At this point during your time at DOE, how had your thinking on the problem of climate change evolved?
Julio Friedmann: Dramatically, and in part, it was because of who I worked with and their sensibilities. I had the really good fortune of working for Secretary Moniz and his team, and people there who really mattered in my thinking were Jonathan Pershing, who was both the principal deputy for international affairs and the principal deputy for policy. I had the good fortune of working for Melanie Kenderdine who's a turbo star in the political realm. I worked with dozens of analysts, people like Howard Gruenspecht at the Energy Information Administration. Everybody there can do arithmetic, and so we basically said we need a whole lot more ambition. We need more ambition inside the United States and we need more ambition outside the United States. But the whole conversation was what is actionable? It was not what was theoretically possible, it was not what's the maximum limit of some opportunity, it's not if we can get everyone to stop eating meat, how can we save the world that way?
Julio Friedmann: Everything at the discussion was what is actionable? What is actionable as a function of people doing stuff, what is actionable as a function of money? What is actionable as a function of US politics and international politics? In many cases, we did not have the full answer to what it was we wanted to do in India, in China, with Europe, with Brazil. We didn't necessarily know what would succeed and what didn't, but we were actually at the helm of the boat, and so our job was to say, "We got to try some stuff, what do we think will lead to success?" I made trips to China about four or five times a year to meet with officials over there to try to figure out what was possible? What can be done? First under President Hu and then under President Xi. Same thing with India, how can we move the needle? Part of how we move the needle is we need to create stuff that doesn't exist, we need to make technologies that we know we need and aren't out there.
Julio Friedmann: Part of it was we need to harness the private capital that's out there, what are policies we can put in place? I had the terrific honor and opportunity of working with the White House and the Department of Treasury to craft a production tax credit and an investment tax credit for CO2 storage and removal. That never became law, it was a budget proposal that President Obama put out in 2016 and '17. But that helped to actually lay the groundwork for things like the 45Q tax credit and the low carbon fuel standards in California. The whole question is not what is possible, the question is what can we do? That is now my current mental framework. My mental framework is we're going to overshoot, we're not going to get two degrees. We might not even get three degrees unless we all work super, super hard. The question is not what should we do, the question What can we do? Let's get everything we can.
Julio Friedmann: Let's get the maximum vehicle efficiency we can, let's get the maximum vehicle electrification we can. Those are different things. Let's get improvements in HVAC systems and lighting. Let's go after utility scale solar in a way we haven't before. But can we build big transmission lines across the country? Maybe we should try that, but we might not get it. If we don't get it, what do we do? We probably need to do huge amounts of carbon capture and storage. We can maybe get five or 10 plants in the next few years. A lot of people ding carbon capture by saying, "We don't have 1000 plants." Well, it's like we know that, that's not a mystery but we can't get 1000 plants until we get a dozen plants. Why don't we get a dozen plants? Can we get that? If we can get it, how much money needs to go in? Where does it need to come from? Where are the Xs on the map? Do we need pipelines?
Julio Friedmann: It's all tactics, not strategy. How do you get the job done? One of my fundamental beliefs here is that not only do we need all of the above and any of the above in this, we have to go after what we can. I don't believe we can get the world to stop eating meat, I just don't believe that. I think we're going to make progress with things like impossible foods and finless tuna and all these sort of things. I think technology is going to move a long way, but there's no world in which we actually achieve the goal of stopping eating meat. The question is, what can we do? Can we feed cows seaweed? Maybe that's good and we can reduce their emissions. Can we intensify the agriculture so they have a smaller footprint? What are things we can do if we can't do the other thing?
Jason Jacobs: Given how much needs to get done and the fact that, as you said, the US can dictate global policy... and not that the US is in any position to be taking a leadership role, even if we could, but that's another story. Each country has autonomy and then each sector is a different nut to crack. Then within that sector, each step on the assembly line, if you will, has different incentives. Given all of that, how do you quarterback change like this in, I was going to say, in an efficient way, but it's like how do you do it in any way, let alone, in a way that is in any way efficient or practical
Julio Friedmann: I learned in government that government is not efficient. When it's at its best, government is effective and we need effective action a whole lot more than we need efficient action. Direct air capture is a good example of that because we know it's a whole lot less efficient than pulling CO2 out of a power plant. But we know that, that's physics and chemistry and thermodynamics. There's no mystery there. But, in fact, we still have to do it to be effective whether or not it's efficient, so we need to start moving down that load. To answer your question, it's basically the old joke about how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I have a hard time with the people who are like, "We have 12 years." It's like, "No, no, no, no wrong framing. Let me take a step back."
Julio Friedmann: There's only three things you can do, mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. If you don't do enough mitigation and adaptation, you're going to have more suffering. That's the work, the work is as much mitigation as you can do it and as much adaptation you can do to minimize suffering. In terms of how do you quarterback this? A couple of useful things. One, I'm very much in President Obama's All-of-the-Above camp. It is not, I think, sensible or morally honest for anybody to say, "Climate is the biggest threat to humanity, but we're not going to do those things I think are icky." When people say, "I'm all about tackling climate change, but nuclear is off the table..."
Jason Jacobs: I knew you were going to say that one.
Julio Friedmann: But the same thing for carbon capture, there's a whole bunch of people who are like, "Carbon capture's off the table." I'm like, "Really? It's the biggest threat to humanity but you won't do it." It makes absolutely no sense. It's shaving off the gears in your head to say, "I'm going to save humanity but only taking the medicine I like as opposed to the medicine that will get me well." Nuclear has its problems but everything has its problems, everything has its challenges. I'm a huge fan, for example, of Dr. Vaclav Smil up at University of Manitoba. He, basically, distrusts and dislikes kind of everything, he's like, "Biofuels have these kinds of problems and [inaudible 00:36:27] have these kinds of problems and [inaudible 00:36:29] they have these kinds of problems." He sheds a dark light on everything, and it's wonderful to talk to Vaclav because he's so insightful and stuff.
Julio Friedmann: But everything has its problems, so what? We still got to do the work, we still got to clean our room. It's just a hard boring of boards, you have to go after every bit of it. It's not in series, it's in parallel. You have to do all of it at the same time. If you start with that framework, there's a couple of conclusions you reach very quickly. First, we are not spending enough money, so part of the question is how do you get more money in the system? The fact that investments and renewables have been growing very rapidly, that's awesome. We've got like $800 billion in renewable investment last year, that's awesome. Total investment is two and a half trillion, so there's a lot of money we're not spending on the problem. That's thing one, thing two is we need way more people. You and I are pretty active in this community, there's a whole bunch of people who are pretty active in this community, but we are grossly understaffed for the job of saving the earth.
Julio Friedmann: The third is we have to be clear eyed about what we're doing. For me an example of this is single use plastics. I understand all the problems associated with single use plastics, how it kills fish and how it kills whales, how it contaminates the environment for real, and I'm very sympathetic to that. But during the climate change town hall, a lot of questions were about single use plastic. That is not a climate change issue, it's not, it's an environmental issue. But if we got rid of all single use plastics overnight and had a fully circular plastic economy, it wouldn't move the needle on climate at all. You have to focus on tons in the atmosphere. What gets tons out? What keeps tons out? This is why I keep coming back to what I do, I keep coming back to carbon dioxide management. Because if you're not doing that you're not serious. When you build renewables, you're avoiding future emissions, you're not unremitting what you're emitting today.
Jason Jacobs: One of the arguments that our prior guest brought up is that the carbon removal, or even mitigation for that matter, like anything that is going to reduce emissions or take carbon out of the atmosphere or even adaptation, this is more of like an engineering approach. But until, this was the argument with prior guest, until you address the fundamental, more systemic issues like using GDP as a primary measure of growth. It's GDP growth at all costs, and our culture of consumption, for example, buying a bunch of things that we don't need and stuff like that. Where does all that fit in? Life as we know it is all this stuff just happening in the background, at the government level with mandates and capital and things like that, and then you and I, and everybody else just carries on and does what they do, or does life need to change a lot?
Julio Friedmann: I just fundamentally disagree with that whole premise. Fundamentally, I just can't agree, sorry. It also basically says the only way to solve the world's problems are my way, which I also don't believe at all.
Jason Jacobs: What is the premise that you disagree with?
Julio Friedmann: Well, first of all, multiple premises in your guest's comments. The first one is that we have to solve consumer based culture to solve this problem, there's no basis in which to say that. Technically, I don't agree with that at all in terms of tons, economics, technical options, like I just don't believe it. That's thing one. Thing two, the idea that we have to somehow solve the biggest most intractable problem of how humans behave before we can really make progress on climate change is completely backwards. It's exactly the opposite of what I said earlier, which is you do what you can. Changing the way that human beings think about things, that's a pretty long term effort, we will bake the planet by then. We can't wait, we got to do everything we can now. If we can figure out a way to really conserve, to have more broadband demand destruction, I am all for that.
Julio Friedmann: But I know people who cast that hope out 10 years ago, they called it the China Dream. The idea was there's an American dream, and if China pursues the American dream, we're all done. Like there's just going to be so much consumption. We need a new narrative, let's see if we can cast a narrative in China in which the China dream is one of community and nature. It's a high standard of living, but it's small on consumption. People took a pretty serious run at that for 10 years, I don't think the evidence supports that China has changed all of its billion and a half people in the way that they consume stuff at all. It is preposterous to say, "I'm going to engineer the world's society and change the foundation of human behavior to save our planet. But I don't want to just do building stuff, I don't want to spend money and engineer systems." I cannot square those things in my head.
Jason Jacobs: Is there another argument, though, that says, essentially, I guess the other side of that is why is it either or? If all the responsibility is on the systems, then that lets you and I off the hook. If you and I are off the hook, then we just kind of go about doing what we do. But we're also going to care less about showing up at the polls and we're going to care less about squeezing our employer and gets them to do the right thing and care less about allocating philanthropic dollars in this direction, etc. How do you instill urgency and absolve responsibility from consumers at the same time?
Julio Friedmann: It is not the job of the consumers to solve this problem, it's not, it's the job of governments to solve this problem. It's what governments exist for. This was something Pete Buttigieg just said in the last debate, governments exist to solve problems of the common that are outside individual action. This is really at the heart of where I live and work every day. The idea that we're going to do this with some movement that's enabled by tweets is bollocks. If you can't get trillions of dollars in the economy reorganized, then we're going to lose. Banks spend that money, investment and pension funds spend that money, sovereign wealth funds spend that money, and they're not going to do it based on strictly social engagement. They're not going to even do it as a function of consumer preference strictly. I enter this world as a technologist, and I'm an optimist about this problem, I'm not a pessimist at all.
Julio Friedmann: But if you want people to buy electric vehicles, the best way to do it is make a really good electric vehicle. It is not to mandate them, it is not to tell people they're bad for buying internal combustion engines or banning internal combustion engines. By the way, none of those things are things that customers do either. But if you want to move money into General Motors to rebuild their factory floor for EVs, they better be selling a pretty good EV. There's a lot that governments can do to stimulate that. There's a lot that investors can do to stimulate that. But until you have the cheaper battery, until you have a really good electric drive train, until you have a lightweight EV that doesn't have to move a ton of metal every time you're doing it, it's still not going to hunt. We tried that experiment in 1990 in California, we mandated electric cars that didn't exist and they didn't enter the market.
Julio Friedmann: It starts with technology, that's why I started in the technology camp, I'm still basically there. We need more wizards. Part of the thing that's important about direct air capture, in my arithmetic, is we know how much land there is in the world and there isn't enough land to do all the CO2 removal that we need. That means we need to engineer stuff, it's just a design framework. You can like or hate consumerism, that arithmetic's pretty robust. If you keep coming back to your budget and saying, "Hey, we still need to solve this math. How do we get enough tons of CO2 out of the air to solve the problem? You keep coming back to engineered solutions. This is why we use solar panels instead of growing trees and burning them. A solar panel is born 10 times more efficient than a tree. It's just better at converting photonic energy into energy.
Jason Jacobs: If you take this point in time snapshot, this is an urgent problem and I've heard you say that loud and clear. We're not on the path we need to be on, I've heard you say that loud and clear. It's not a problem that is going to be solved by consumers, and it's not a problem that's going to be solved by minutes, this is what I've heard you say. What does that leave? What do we do to get us to move a whole lot faster than we are today since I've also heard you say that we're not moving nearly as fast as we need to be?
Julio Friedmann: A good mental framework for this is the mental framework of a parent trying to get their kids to clean their room. I am a parent, I try to get my kids to clean their room, and it turns out that you need a mixture of carrots and sticks. I can say you don't get to go outside until you clean your room or you don't get dinner until you clean your room. I can also say, "I'm going to give you a lollipop if you clean your room. Basically, the kids like the lollipops more than they like the threats. This is again basic human behavior. A lot of people think the only way to get this done is with a carbon price or with a carbon tax, that's clearly untrue. We've done a mixture of mandates and incentives in most countries and that's worked just fine. Things like, in California, we have a renewable portfolio standard that's now a clean energy standard and it was matched with investment and production tax credits. That recipe is pretty good.
Jason Jacobs: Is this an end or are you opposed to a carbon price?
Julio Friedmann: I am in favor of anything what gets the job done. If we can get an economy wide carbon price, that's a good thing. I think that is among the least politically actionable things we're going to get. I would love to be proven wrong, though. There's certainly good people like the Carbon Leadership Council, which is working on an economy wide carbon tax in the US. I wish them all the luck in the world. If they fail, what else can we do? But there's another bill in front of Congress which is 100% clean energy standard. I really like that approach because it basically says the standard should be zero emissions. Whatever power you can generate with zero emissions, do it, great. If you want to do nuclear, you want to do natural gas with CCS, you want to do geothermal, you want to do small hydro or large hydro, it's all in bounds, okay? Anything that's zero emissions.
Julio Friedmann: By the way, if you emit more than that, you have to unemit that. They have as a compliance mechanism CO2 removal because, in fact, it's really hard to get the zero and all these things. But the whole point is the whole country should have zero emission power. That's a great goal. That is made possible by decades of investment in research and development that have made technologies that will do the job. It didn't just appear out of nowhere, and renewables is the best case I can think of. LEDs is another good case. We have 40 years of massive government investment and working our way down the cost curve, we had government procurements buying that stuff. Most solar panels for many years were bought by NASA and by the Department of Defense, and that created markets. Same thing with batteries, batteries were bought by the military, all this stuff worked its way down the cost curve. We had renewable portfolio standards in the US, they went from 5% to 10% to 15% to 20% ss the technology improved.
Julio Friedmann: Now that it's cheap, suddenly, everybody's like it's cheap, let's just do that. It's like, "No, like we still need everything so we need to do all of it. I come back to a hard problem over and over again, which is cement and steel. Cement and steel together about 8% of global emissions. How do we get that? I come back to aviation, aviation is growing like 3% a year, it's 3% of global emissions. What you're going to do about that? Electric planes ain't going to do it, we know that already. Maybe you can pull CO2 out of the air, make a synthetic fuel and have a circular economy for jets. They don't change their business model, they don't change their production lines, we have a zero carbon emissions scheme. Like that seems interesting. I'm interested in the idea of using either green electrons from the grid to make hydrogen or making hydrogen from steam methane reformation with carbon capture, whatever is zero emissions in favor of it. Use that to maybe make ammonia to maybe do shipping.
Julio Friedmann: Global shipping is a big emissions fractions, like 5% of global emissions. We don't have a solution to that. You can't electrify it, you can't. We need a zero carbon fuel, maybe it can be recycled methanol fuel, maybe it can be a zero carbon fuel like ammonia made with zero carbon footprint. Whatever that delivers the goods is that, but if you don't get the whole thing, you don't get the whole thing. In this, I want to come back to the analogy of the kids cleaning the room. When I tell my kids to clean their room, I come back a half an hour later and what they're doing is they're playing with their favorite toys. I say, "No, don't play with your favorite toys, you got to clean your room." Then I come back half an hour later and what they've done is they've picked up the biggest items off the floor. I'm like, "That's good. I'm glad you've done that, but you still haven't cleaned your room. There's still clothes on the floor, there's still little Legos, there's dirt, there's other stuff in your room, you got to clean your room."
Julio Friedmann: I come back a half an hour later, they've done a better job, but they haven't vacuum cleaned. They haven't opened the window and aired things out, they haven't made their beds. I'm like, "You've got to do all these things if you're going to clean your room. If you don't do all the things, you don't get the job done." Right now we are just pivoting from the position as a world where we're playing with our favorite toys to the part where we're picking up the biggest bricks. I think that's great, but you can't confuse that with having a clean room. We don't have a clean room, we have to get all of it.
Jason Jacobs: Is it just a question of time or are there actually things that we can do to get the planet cleaned up faster?
Julio Friedmann: To your listeners, I say this to every audience I get the chance, the most important thing that you can do, the most important individual action that you can take to improve climate as an enterprise, vote for people who care. By far the most powerful thing you can do. If you're looking for other individual actions, I think they're all good and they all count. I try not to drive, I ride my bicycle, I work from home, I try not to drive a lot of the time. I also have to fly around the world. I pay a company to pull CO2 out of the air for me for a portion of what I fly.
Jason Jacobs: How do you do that in case anyone wants to do the same? What do you use?
Julio Friedmann: Right now there's a company called Climeworks, you can go on their website and subscribe to CO2 removal services. I look forward to the day when more companies offer more of those kinds of services.
Jason Jacobs: What about not individual action? Let's say instead of an individual action, you're actually a puppeteer or a god or whatever you believe that's sitting above the planet and can pull any strings that they want to accelerate our progress on this problem? If that were the case and you had a skeleton key and you could make any change, what would it be, or set of changes for that matter?
Julio Friedmann: Again, I keep looking at the fact that we are going to keep admitting from a bunch of places, and that that's a hard nut to crack. We're going to keep emitting from cement and steel, we're going to keep emitting from the 1000 gigawatts of coal power that has just been built in China and they're building in India and Southeast Asia. We're going to keep emitting from that stuff for a long time. The only way we fix the problem is by not emitting from those sources. We're not going to get them to shut down prematurely. I don't know how anybody acts from any part of the world, whether you're Al Gore or the President of the United States or the CEO of a bank or an oil company, you can't get these people to not operate the plants they just built.
Julio Friedmann: They're printing money for them, they serve an important societal need. Cement and steel in China is what they used to build their buildings, and they're building cities for 10 million people every year. You can't tell them to just stop doing that. You have to stop the emissions from places that are emitting, job one. That's carbon capture and storage. These industries are already highly efficient, they already use very small amounts of fuel. You can reduce some emissions by fuel switching, in this case, the cement you can reduce some emissions by clinker or substitution. But you can't get the plant to stop emitting. To do that, you have to capture and store the CO2.
Jason Jacobs: So then the natural follow up is what's the biggest thing holding back carbon capture and storage and what change could you put in place to unlock that trajectory?
Julio Friedmann: We've just started down this road, CCS today is about where solar and wind were 12 years ago. In 2005, we started the investment tax credit for wind. Good thing to do. I'm sorry, 2005, the investment tax credit for solar, apologies. That led to a lot of investment in solar because people could finance it. The issue with CCS is not cost, it's not public acceptance, it's not liabilities, it's not any of that stuff, it's finance. So last year, Congress passed an incentive that was basically a social cost of carbon. They said, "Hey, we will pay you 50 bucks as a tax credit to not emit CO2 anymore." That's the 45Q amendments. Already that has stimulated investment in everything from pipelines to retrofits of existing plants and stuff. We also know that's not enough to do the job, that shouldn't be a surprise. We didn't stop with the 2005 investment tax credit and say, "Hey, we're done with solar, you're on your own."
Julio Friedmann: Instead, we said we need additional incentives in the form of production tax credits, we need additional incentives in terms of loading orders and renewable portfolio standards or feed in tariffs or mandates. We added to the policy deck until suddenly people said, "Okay, now I can finance your plant." That's where CCS is going, we just need to go there more quickly. We need to add enough incentives that somebody, say, who runs a petrochemical plant or a glass making facility or a steel mill will go, "You know, I should take advantage of that." If you tried to do that as a carbon tax, it'd be like 300 bucks a ton to start getting all those things. It'd be a lot and very hard. But in point of fact, even at some say $200 capture cost for a steel mill, that does not change the price of a car very much.
Julio Friedmann: The cost of the consumer is not large, the cost of the steelmaker is very large, so you need to figure out how to do that. At the same time, at some point, you want to say, "Let's not build a conventional steel mill, let's build a steel mill that doesn't emit anymore." Maybe we can do a direct production of iron, maybe we can do like Boston Metals does, and do direct electrochemical conversion of iron ore to iron. Well, there's all these things you might be able to do, but until you develop that technology, you're going to keep building the thing you've got today. We need to innovate big. For me, the largest lever we have is innovation.
Jason Jacobs: And how do we spur more innovation?
Julio Friedmann: Again, Congress, thankfully has been paying attention to that. It's not as fast as we need, and we know that, but every year they've been appropriating more money for research and development across multiple agencies. The Department of Energy and National Science Foundation at USDA, they've been growing the set of investments necessary to fund small companies and innovators, to fund researchers, to fund universities and national labs, to create stuff. To create knowledge and enterprise and human beings to do the job. We need to quadruple that, basically, in the next five years. We are not on pace to do it, but we know the rest recipe, the recipe is quadruple it. Part of the way you get there, I think, is you have a good narrative, you have a good story, something people understand and like. America's second to none in innovation. Why should we give innovation away to another country? Like, well, that's us, we're the guys who do that.
Julio Friedmann: I think that's a way to stimulate some action and investment. Fundamentally, it's a big ticket game, you need to get hundreds of millions or billions of dollars into each field, so it's a lot of money and that's kind of a government play. But part of the way you do that is actually you convince the appropriators, just maybe 10 people, you need to convince in Congress to actually make that happen. There's plenty of people who are thinking through how to do that, and they're working very hard to make that specific outcome, but it's not from lack of understanding. This is something that drives me nuts in many of the people I talk to. Everybody in Congress knows what we're talking about here. There are very few people who truly lack understanding or information about the topic. They're trying to figure out, instead, what's politically actionable.
Julio Friedmann: Politicians are good at politics, they're really good at their jobs. They're good at their jobs the way I'm good at geology, and I want people to understand that you have to enter their world to make progress. You can't just assume they're ignorant and that if you just come and yell at them loud enough, they'll do what you want. Like, no, they already understand the problem. Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, federal and state, most people in the mix actually have the full compass of knowledge they need to act. There's not an information deficit, there's a narrative deficit, there's a political deficit. It's fair to ask how do you make that up?
Jason Jacobs: I hear you that you're an optimist that we're going to solve this problem. I also hear from you that some degree of overshoot is basically inevitable at this point. How bad are things going to get and what's the role of adaptation in all of this during the transition period?
Julio Friedmann: Let me come back to the whole question of energy transition for a second because you've mentioned that before. What most people don't understand is that our prior energy transitions were all energy additions. We didn't go from coal to gas, we added gas to coal, we added petroleum to coal, we added coal to wood. In each case, we have used more of that over time. We use more wood today than we use 200 years ago. The current need and the energy transition is not adding renewables, it's actually getting rid of all the stuff we're using now, it's replacement. We've never had an energy transition that looked like that ever and it's super, super hard. So back to your question like what's the role of adaptation? What's the role of what we're going to do? I sort of see a couple of things.
Julio Friedmann: One of them is part of the political drive to do more here is going to come from communities. It's going to come from cities and municipalities and counties and states because they're the ones who are stuck holding the bill. When there's a flood in Tulsa, Oklahoma-
Jason Jacobs: What's your third bucket? Suffering.
Julio Friedmann: Yeah, but adaptation is basically, again, government spending. That's an infrastructure play. That's a lot of it. I think a clarifying way to think about this is also solar geoengineering.
Jason Jacobs: I was going to ask you, I'm glad you brought it up. I had Kelly from SilverLining on yesterday, actually recorded that.
Julio Friedmann: Great, so I've had some people say to me that it's such a moral hazard to think about that we shouldn't even investigate it. My response to that is you're really selecting ignorance as a plan? Like you don't even want to know because you think it's so dangerous. Didn't we run the moral hazard movie already? You said we couldn't think about carbon capture because that was too big a moral hazard. Then you said we can't think about CO2 removal because that's too big a moral hazard. People said for decades, "You can't even talk about adaptation. If you talk about adaptation, you're going to decrease the animus and urgency around mitigation." So take it off the table. Well, we could have been working for the past 20 years on adaptation and we didn't, and now we're just stuck footing the bill. Which is more money, which is more suffering.
Julio Friedmann: I don't have a lot of time for the moral hazard arguments. Instead, I'm thinking, doing arithmetic. I've talked to environmentalist who say we've already lost the Arctic. I knock on the window and say, "No, we haven't. We're losing the Arctic, but we could stop it." There's technology options out there, things like solar geoengineering. Do we know if it works yet? No. Are the real risks associated with it? Oh, yeah. There's real concerns and real risks. Are we going to make progress with ignorance? No, we've got to start studying this stuff. For me the clarifying moment on solar geoengineering was when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman, bought a Leonardo da Vinci painting. He spent $500 million, $560 million actually, on a painting. At which point I realized he can do solar geoengineering, just him, forget a nation doing it like Pakistan or Russia. Like he can do it. A guy, because solar engineering is cheap enough that a single person can think about doing it.
Jason Jacobs: Well, Kelly said yesterday there's only eight million in total geoengineering funding across all sources, government and otherwise.
Julio Friedmann: I saw this at the beginning of the Obama administration, a number of scientists made the case that we should start researching solar radiation management. The pushback was basically it is too politically hot a topic. The entire community has basically been bootstrapping it. It's been individual investigators with side money on the edges of their grants running some simulation models. We also now have this program at Harvard that's basically been funded by angels and philanthropists to run a little experiment and learn something of which people are howling and making up all kinds of crazy stuff about chemtrails and the sun stealers and all this kind of stuff. These are people who just are saying like, "Hey, we think we're probably going to need this option, maybe we should learn something first."
Julio Friedmann: The way I explain that to people is that if climate changes like weight loss, that conservation and efficiency is like eating less, that renewables and alternative energy is like changing what you eat, that carbon capture and storage is like go into the gym, it's like exercise. And solar radiation management is like gastric bypass surgery. It's what you use in the most extreme case when the patient's life is extremely at risk and none of the other options work. But you know what? I'm really glad that some researcher out there did some research on gastric bypass surgery before starting to cut people open. It's not something you do to everybody who weighs 10 pounds more than they should, it's something you do in an emergency situation. Are we going to lose the Arctic? I don't know the answer to that, but that's on us now because we actually have a line of sight to a technology that could save the day, and the question is are we going to learn enough to deploy it safely and well?
Julio Friedmann: The people who are like we're going to change global consumption patterns and we're going to make everybody change the way that they buy things, they're like, "Well, it's too complicated to come up with a global governance system for solar radiation management." I'm like, "Come on [inaudible 01:03:07], go back a bit, like really? You're telling me you're going to change your behavior of every human being on the planet but you can't get a couple of governments to agree on how to manage something?" It's the same thing that says we can solve all this by planting trees. First of all, I'm a big fan of planting trees, we need a whole lot more tree planting, we need to put our foot to the pedal and do as much of that as we can. But, again, not an information deficit, we've known that chopping down trees is bad for the climate for a very long time. We're still chopping down trees. It's not because we don't know it's bad, it's because we can't get people to play nice.
Julio Friedmann: This is why I keep coming back to technology because when the technology gets cheap, everybody's like, "Oh, I like that now. Now I have an option that doesn't make me lose political office and that doesn't break my country's treasury." The technology's matured, "Okay, now I'm interested." Ultimately, we need the prophets and the wizards to play together on this, right? It's not all wizard all the time like the true techno weenie optimists like they think it could all be done with technology. I don't believe that for a minute. We definitely need civil action, we need proper financial institutional investment, we need governments of the world laying out policies and aligning markets in a way that delivers the goods. But you have to start with making it cheaper and easier to do the job.
Jason Jacobs: If someone offered you $100 billion that you could allocate towards maximizing its impact on this transition, where would you put it, how would you allocate it?
Julio Friedmann: I would put a whole lot of it, maybe half, into doubling the innovation budgets. Not just to the United States, we need Japan and China and Europe and other people tucking in. I would start with basically a challenge grant, go to all these governments and say, "Hey, I'm going to put a billion dollars on the table for five years, you guys match it." Get more done. I would definitely invest in companies that are developing new technologies and get them to scale and get to market. We got to get pilots built, a bank's not going to build a plant until we have a demonstration so we need the pilots built and operating, we need some numbers, we need to ratchet down the costs. I also think that I would work, I would spend some of that money really making human beings. We need human capital on this. We need universities training for jobs that don't exist and economies that don't exist.
Julio Friedmann: If we want a circular carbon economy where we pull CO2 out of the air and turn it into everything from agribusiness to cement and concrete to carbon fiber, there's no degrees in that, there's no universities that offer that as a curriculum, there's no professional societies, like we don't have any of that stuff. I put some money on that. The last piece, I think this is grossly under-resourced but essential, I would put some money in the arts. We need writers, we need musicians, we need painters, we need architects, people who really capture hearts and minds who are really good at that. We need those people involved. It's not enough to write the laws of a country, you have to write the songs of a country to get people really, really working on this. I don't exactly know what that looks like, but I worry that it's a key nutrient in our ecosystem of thought that is absent.
Julio Friedmann: And that if we try to do it all the time from a position of policy wantonness and technology development and punitive environmental action, we're not going to get to where we need to get. People have to believe that the options are real and they have to want them and that's a job for artists.
Jason Jacobs: I guess my last question is just any parting words for listeners? I think this was a great substantive episode. We covered a lot of ground, how do you want to close it out?
Julio Friedmann: The most important thing that I would say to your listeners, the task I would leave with them and with you, is be open, more than anything else, be open. Be open to ideas, be open to the idea that the thing you dislike may actually be useful. Be open to the idea that the person who's across the table from you is not a monster, they just see the world differently. Be open to the idea, and for real, like be open to the idea that there's more that we can do. Because there's just way more that we can do. We invent impressive, awesome stuff all the time. We're an incredibly generous and resilient species. If we remain open to the idea of what's possible, then we're going to get a whole lot farther, a whole lot faster.
Jason Jacobs: Great. Wow. I really enjoyed this one and I can't thank you enough for finally coming on the show.
Julio Friedmann: It was a real pleasure. Thank you so much.
Jason Jacobs: Hey, everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note, that is .co, not .com. Someday we'll get the.com but right now .co. You can also find me on Twitter @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. Before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The words made me say that. Thank you.