Today’s guest is Noah Deich, the Founder and Executive Director of Carbon180. Carbon180 is a new breed of climate-focused NGO on a mission to fundamentally rethink carbon. They partner with policymakers, scientists and businesses around the globe to develop policy, promote research, and advance solutions that transform carbon from a liability to an asset. Their vision is to build a prosperous, carbon-conscious economy that removes more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit. If you want to learn more about everything carbon removal, this one is for you! You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future guests/topics or topics to cover on the show. For more information, visit www.myclimatejourney.co.
Today’s guest is Noah Deich, the Founder & Executive Director of Carbon180.
Carbon180 is a new breed of climate-focused NGO on a mission to fundamentally rethink carbon. They partner with policymakers, scientists and businesses around the globe to develop policy, promote research, and advance solutions that transform carbon from a liability to an asset. Their vision is to build a prosperous, carbon-conscious economy that removes more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit.
Noah is a cleantech professional with a passion for fighting climate change. Prior to founding Carbon180, Noah worked in consulting, and gained experience with environmental market and carbon offset modeling, financial valuation of renewable and fossil energy power plants, energy efficiency and demand response program design and implementation, and corporate social responsibility strategy assessments.
Noah received his M.B.A. from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and his B.A. from the University of Virginia, and his writing has been published in GreenBiz.
In this episode we discuss:
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I hope you enjoy the show!
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and via email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
Jason Jacobs: Hello, everyone. This is Jason Jacobs. 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.
Jason Jacobs: Hey, everyone. Jason here. Today's guest is Noah Deich. Noah is the Executive Director of Carbon180. I was super excited for this talk because as I've made the rounds there is two things that I've identified. One is that carbon removal is a big lever in the climate fight, and the second is that Carbon180 is at the forefront of that, so Noah's name probably came up 50 times before I finally got introduced to him, and I was excited to have him come on the show.
Jason Jacobs: We covered a number of things in this episode including Noah's background and what led him to founding Carbon180. We talked about Carbon180 and what the organization is trying to do. We talked about the progress that they've made so far and where they're going next. We also talked about the general state of the carbon removal industry and what it will take to help it to reach its fullest potential. Finally, we talked about climate change overall, the nature of the problem, and how anybody that's concerned about the problem can best help. I thought Noah was a terrific guest, and I hope you do as well. Noah Deich, welcome to the show.
Noah Deich: Thanks for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Thanks for being here. It's funny, so I'm about seven months into my learning tour. I'm just going to move a little bit because I have the sun in my eyes. But, I'm about seven months into my learning tour and about six weeks into the podcast, but as I've made the rounds I swear it's like carbon removal is such a big piece of the equation and any time the topic came up people would say, "You need to talk to Noah Deich and Carbon180." Your name has probably come up 50 times before I finally met you yesterday for the first time.
Noah Deich: It's great to get finally connected. I hope the hype can live up to the reality here, excited for the conversation.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, I just wanted to put that out there to try to psyche you out and get in your head up front just so that it sets off the conversation on the wrong foot.
Noah Deich: Yeah.
Jason Jacobs: I'm just kidding. But the one disclaimer I should say to our listeners is that typically I do prep and research and send topics in advance and Noah can react. We didn't do any of that in this case. We happened to be at the same conference here in Sausalito. It was great to see him and meet him. I didn't want to lose this opportunity to do this episode, so we're doing it live.
Noah Deich: Improv podcast.
Jason Jacobs: The cool thing here to is that in some of these cases I've known people and we've met many times, and so I'm constantly thinking it's stuff I already know, but it's like on behalf of the listeners right, and I keep saying that. In this case, I really don't know that much, so I'll be learning along with everybody. I mean, maybe a good place to start is just, what is Carbon180?
Noah Deich: Yeah, of course. Carbon180 is a fairly new nonprofit. We're on a mission to figure out how to build an economy that sequesters more carbon than we emit, which might sound like a fairly anodyne goal, but at the end of the day it's going to be amazingly ambitious for us to stop pulling carbon out of the ground at the billion ton scale that we're doing today and start doing the reverse of taking it out of the air and returning it back to the ground.
Noah Deich: We work on all sorts of different strategies to do that from planting trees to farming in ways that put carbon in the soil to building big industrial machinery that essentially filters carbon directly out of the air and from there puts it back in either deep underground where it's permanently stored, or into our builtin environment for some sort of valuable use, buildings, or roads, or some other opportunity.
Jason Jacobs: I mean, I've heard from a number of people as I've been trying to get my brain around all of this that no matter how much we reduce our emissions or even if we take them down to net zero that we still have so much carbon in the air that we're going to have to remove a bunch of it to get back to alignment, or equilibrium, and we don't know how, or do we know how? What's the state of the state there?
Noah Deich: Well yeah, so that's the question that brought me to this space is I came from an energy sector background. I had worked a long time on how do you reduce pollution? When it comes to the more conventional pollutants that come out of our energy sector, they have a feature where when it rains, all that pollutant comes out of the atmosphere. It's very bad. If you put sulfur in the atmosphere, and it comes out as acid rain and so forth. I wondered why didn't carbon dioxide do the same thing? That's a very basic question for somebody that has a background in atmospheric chemistry. But I came at this from a business perspective, and so I didn't have any of that fundamental science knowledge. What I learned was really shocking, which was that the carbon that we have dug up from the ground and put into the air stays in the atmosphere for a very long time.
Noah Deich: What happens in reality is that some of that carbon comes out very quickly and gets absorbed by the ocean, and gets absorbed by plants, but a good fraction stays in the atmosphere for not just decades, but centuries. All of that carbon has begun to accumulate over the past 100 plus years of industrial activity and that's what's really causing our climate problem that we have today. So where I had entered this problem was let's just stop putting carbon into the atmosphere. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, all of these conventional solutions that we think about when we think about climate change.
Jason Jacobs: It's probably where most people enter this problem. Well, most people don't enter this problem or haven't yet, but the ones that do that's typically it seems like where they start.
Noah Deich: And so for me, it was just a naïve question of well, if the carbon doesn't come out naturally, do we need to clean it up? I think the more you dig into this question all of the scientific research on this topic says that, yes, we have to figure out not just how to reduce emissions faster than anyone is talking about today in the policy or business world, but we also then have to go and clean up a lot of the carbon that remains in the atmosphere from these centuries of past fossil fuel extraction and emission into the atmosphere, and that was the piece of the puzzle that was a light bulb for me.
Noah Deich: I thought I was a person involved in the clean energy space. I've worked in policy, I've worked in business, and I had never heard about this. I thought that I was somebody that was fairly literate when it came to climate change, but this really hit me as something that was quite surprising and was something that I... the more I dug into the more urgent that I saw it as being a necessary, but just a very missing or underappreciated piece of the climate solution portfolio.
Jason Jacobs: When was that time-wise that you were starting to get turned on to this problem?
Noah Deich: Yeah, so when I was starting to explore this problem was a few years ago. One of the more recent IPCC reports, the is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the big UN body that does climate change assessments to say, is the climate changing, what are the impacts of that changing climate, and then how might we start to mitigate that problem and address it? This huge report, thousands of pages of scientific information in it was just coming out at the time. I was looking through the solutions piece of this and saw this big wedge in there where it says, we have to reduce our emissions through all of these more conventional strategies and in addition, start to build out this carbon removal wedge at the bottom at a scale that was huge.
Noah Deich: In these models, it shows us cleaning up as much carbon as we're going to be emitting by the end of the century. Or putting it another way, even if we reduce our carbon emissions by say, 80% by the end of the century, we're going to be cleaning up more carbon than that carbon that's going into the atmosphere then, billions of tons of carbon removal. I just had no clue what the solution set looks like to actually get such a large scale project happening.
Jason Jacobs: Is that where you started, is trying to dig in on where we were on the trajectory of figuring out how to remove carbon at scale?
Noah Deich: Yeah and for me, it was trying to figure out where I could have impact. I worked in the conventional clean energy space working with big electric utilities and oil and gas companies, some Fortune 500 companies on sustainability efforts at the corporate level. What I saw the action in that space was very, very slow. People were trying to solve for the very small subset of clean energy solutions that would also make those companies more money, or at least not lose them any money relative to the baseline. And that subset of intersecting opportunities of it's clean and it makes money was growing every day, but certainly not fast enough to actually meet what all these climate scientists were saying and the emissions numbers were showing that.
Noah Deich: That if you look at global emissions, they weren't coming down quickly. In fact, they were going up. In some years they were remaining stagnate. But even today, we see emissions continue to rise globally even in the face of all of this progress. To me, that was a clear indication that we needed to figure out not just what this incremental change looked like, but what are those big levers that we can pull to actually bend the curve on emissions downward? And not just downward I realized, but then below zero and start to clean up large amounts of carbon.
Jason Jacobs: The incremental change that you were seeing at the time was mostly focused on emissions reduction, net new emissions?
Noah Deich: So it actually wasn't focused on a specific type of solution. It was focused on a specific type of company. I got to work with start ups, not at start ups, but seeing various types of clean tech start ups try and sell their products to large incumbents and in some cases, try and disrupt them and take share of the market. Those companies were moving with much greater purpose and speed and efficacy than a lot of the big incumbent energy companies were.
Noah Deich: That's what drew me to this space initially was where is the exciting clean tech start up field of the future going and what are those companies of the future going to look like? What are they going to do? Are they going to be renewable energy companies, electric vehicle companies, battery companies, smart grid companies? I think the answer is yes to all of those, but then also this big carbon removal wedge, and that to me was a really exciting, almost discovery for me personally.
Jason Jacobs: Okay, so you saw the IPCC report and what kind of scale would be required. You saw that very early on, on that path. You saw that the big companies were slow. You saw that the start ups were quick and nimble, and so you were drawn to start ups at the same time as you were drawn to this white space that was an important piece of the puzzle, which is removing carbon from the atmosphere and cleaning up our shit.
Noah Deich: Exactly. That's where Carbon180 really came from was trying to understand how in this very new field of carbon removal can we bring that enthusiasm that the start ups were bringing on the for profit side to really create this field and start to get the solutions from the lab. There were a ton of really exciting research projects happening. There were a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs trying to figure out how to bring solutions to market, and the question was, how can we help this entire ecosystem grow in as effectively, and as catalytic a way as we could?
Jason Jacobs: Where did you start?
Noah Deich: We started in ourselves very much like a for profit start up would. We went out and tried to interview as many, "customers," as we could. So we went out and talked to not just clean tech venture capitalists, but folks that worked at other environmental nonprofits and climate philanthropies and government agencies. And part of this was just my education to understand if I was missing something like, why aren't... Are you seeing the same climate math that I'm seeing in terms of the carbon removal? And many folks said, "Yeah, it's a huge problem. You should figure out how to work on it." What was simultaneously exciting and challenging was there was zero consensus on what to do. Some people said, "Go do research," others said, "Yeah, go work on policy," others said, "Yeah, maybe you could try and start a for profit venture in this space."
Noah Deich: But everyone had even within that suite of activities different things that they were excited about. Some were very excited about soil carbon sequestration, others direct air capture, others turning CO2 into cement. And part of this enthusiasm, to me, was seeing that whole portfolio and seeing that was needed in the space was not just me trying to figure out what to do, but figuring out how we can get thousands of people all working on different pieces of the carbon removal puzzle in a way that we could all of the things that needed to be done in parallel.
Noah Deich: And so, that's what really gave birth to the idea of Carbon180, which as a nonprofit we really seek to convene that ecosystem and help bring the resources to entrepreneurs that want to start companies in this space, to help policymakers design and implement policies that are effective for these various solutions at the scales they're at today and to work with researchers to understand where this field is going and what the future holds and what the really smart shots on goal are for us to take and bring those messages to the policymakers how businesses get started in ways that reflect the best available research that we have on the field today. That's where Carbon180 really came from.
Noah Deich: I would say, where, when we started in 2015, we had very little information about where in that portfolio it made sense to get started? And so, one of the early things that we worked on was helping to get a National Academy study funded, and this study looked at exactly that question of, how do we start to think about funding research and development activities across this broad portfolio of solutions because it was very unclear about how much funding was needed, which of the solutions should get what types of funding, and so forth?
Jason Jacobs: Who actually executed that study? Was it your team?
Noah Deich: No, so that was a National Academy study that they themselves executed. They're an independent group, so after we helped them get that study funded, we stepped back for the full duration of the study, which ended up being about three years. They went, and they got participation from leading academics across each one of these sub fields of carbon removal, and went out sourced all the primary literature that they could find and made a consensus assessment on how much funding to give to each of these programs, or really each of these solution areas if we wanted to achieve the scale that the academy saw as essential for negative emissions.
Noah Deich: If we want to have a billion ton per year carbon removal portfolio, how much research and development funding is needed today to get started and really unlock that economy of the future? That was the question that they were setting out to answer.
Jason Jacobs: Okay, so you set them down on that path, and you stepped back while they did their work, and then what did you do with your time in the interim?
Noah Deich: Yeah, so we definitely did more than just twiddle our thumb and wait for the academies.
Jason Jacobs: I figured.
Noah Deich: Yeah. Part of the challenge at this point was, the science community was really starting to have consensus on this topic as being important, and not having a silver bullet solution, needing to get started on this portfolio of activities in parallel. But what were seeing was that, that message and information was not making its way outside of the academy and into policy circles, business circles, and the broader philanthropy and nonprofit community.
Noah Deich: And so, what we set out to do was really help change that narrative and go out and understand what people understood about carbon removal today, what they were worried about, what information they thought they needed and do a lot of work in helping to share all of this technical information that we were seeing and help them essentially come to their own conclusions about what to do in this space. I think once people start to look at the portfolio of carbon removal solutions as an essential piece to solving our climate puzzle, all of a sudden this becomes not an academic exercise, but one of possibility and a widely expanded solution set.
Noah Deich: So for us what was so exciting was to see people look at things like soil carbon and say, oh wow, we can take carbon in the air and change our management practices and make farmers better off because they have healthier soils that also sequester carbon. We were seeing businesses thinking about, hey, carbon emissions if we just let the CO2 escape from our process today it goes into the air and pollutes the atmosphere. But what if we could pull that back out, add clean energy, and turn it into something valuable, whether it was a cement, a chemical, a plastic, a fuel? These were really exciting paradigm shifts that we saw happening where climate change was moving from, oh, this is just a bad thing. It's going to be terrible. It's going to be expensive. It's going to require taxes.
Noah Deich: And in many cases, all of that still remains true, but carbon removal expands the aperture of how you turn that problem into an opportunity? And how do you take the problem we have created and left for ourselves and start to solve it in a way that brings together creative thinking and innovation, and starts to create this economy of the future that's not predicated on carbon that's in the ground, but builds its carbon based building blocks from carbon that's in the sky?
Noah Deich: And that shift from carbon pollution to a potential resource back on the ground, I think was a really interesting thing for a lot of folks to see both in the policy world and in the business and investment community because it means that we don't have to pick between can we solve climate change and can we have a growing and prosperous economy. It's, how do we have a growing and prosperous economy in a way that reduces emissions really steeply and effectively, and then keeps on going and cleans up the carbon in the atmosphere and tackles this really wicked problem of climate change?
Jason Jacobs: So as you made the round, and you started uncovering that people through a combination of education and just evolution and thinking as they started coming to their own conclusions from understanding the problem that they were starting to get excited about this and the possibilities from a solution standpoint then how did you envision that Carbon180 could play a role on return?
Noah Deich: What we saw at this stage was a lot of the questions we were getting were no longer, what is carbon removal, should we do this, does this even make sense? I think people were for whatever reason, whether it was the climate math, or the business opportunity were understanding that carbon removal was something to do. They just didn't know what we needed to do today to start moving the field forward. Policy makers wanted to know what types of policies should we actually be passing today that help advance the field most effectively? What does smart policy making look like in carbon removal?
Noah Deich: We also we're hearing from investors and entrepreneurs that were saying, "Hey, we some interesting opportunities here, but how can we start to build companies around this carbon removal theme today that make money within the existing context and prepare for a future where we're actually starting to pay for carbon removal services?" All of these operational questions were starting to be much more prevalent instead of these theoretical more research questions about, should we even do this, if so where, at what scale, what solutions?
Noah Deich: And so, that's what motivated us to shift our work to really try and dig into, okay, how do we help the policy and business community figure out how to move forward in this space and develop really effective policies and get those policies passed while also bringing the business community to the carbon removal space in a meaningful way? What we found is it's a positively reinforcing set of activities that we're working on.
Noah Deich: In many ways, because we work with the business community, we're able to understand what's holding companies back in this space? What's holding investment back? And so, we can help policymakers understand where these market failures are and what's needed to get to scale. At the same time, those policymakers are looking for people beyond nonprofits and academics going to them and saying this is important.
Noah Deich: And what we were seeing is that this business community were really good champions for carbon removal in policy circles that could stand up and help show that the world needs carbon removal and that when policymakers take action in this space, it's something that their constituents like and will positively reinforce that sort of policy behavior. And that was a really encouraging thing to see, and I think it's created a very bipartisan space when it comes to the carbon removal field. That's very different from the rest of the climate conversation in many cases, which it still remains highly polarized here in the US.
Noah Deich: The fact that so many groups from environmental NGOs to farm and labor groups to businesses and investors, both big and small, we're all seeing the promise in carbon removal was something that I think has really enabled the field to have a broad bipartisan support from policymakers. I'm really encouraged that, that can be something that the field continues to seek that sort of consensus and cooperation and starts to lead to policy change that can be positively reinforcing for the carbon removal field as a whole.
Jason Jacobs: It's sounds like, if I'm hearing the state of the state is that there is a bunch of exciting R & D happening in more of a research setting and that there is policymakers that are increasingly, at least starting to have the dialogues in a more serious way about what types of policies might unlock this innovation, and increasingly business leaders are coming to the table and having similar discussions. Is that where we are, we're in a discussion phase, or are we doing stuff?
Noah Deich: We're doing stuff. But I would say that what we're doing right now is small and incremental, which is really significant at an early stage, but we need to move with pace and with scale. And so, that's going to require much larger funding flowing to this field, both from the public and private sector alike, as well as policymakers making changes, so that the markets really start to value carbon removal solutions and start to pull those strategies to market. That's going to be the big shift. It's when we think about policy, we think about the art of the possible. Right now the art of the possible is significant, but still too small. We have to expand what is possible when it comes to carbon removal.
Noah Deich: To put some numbers on that, the National Academy has essentially recommended a billionaire dollar per year scale R & D Apollo Program for carbon removal. Right now, the total funding that is available is on the order of tens to hundreds of millions depending on exactly how you count, so you can see that we're short by a factor of 10 to 100 in terms of just the R & D funding that we need. We also recognize that R & D funding is not sufficient in and of itself to catalyze this new carbon economy.
Noah Deich: You also have to start creating policies that pull the solutions to market. Exactly like what happened with solar, and wind and batteries, where we had big government research programs, big corporate research programs, but what enabled these markets to take off was mandates that said states would have to buy a certain fraction of their energy from these new clean energy sources, or that the federal government will give you a tax credit if you want to have renewable energy. So, we know the playbook when it comes to a lot of the clean energy solutions. What we need to do is now start developing those in a smart way for the specific portfolio of carbon removal strategies and start to turn these policy ideas into legislation and new policy.
Jason Jacobs: This is not an area that I know a whole lot about, but as I've made the round what I've heard from some people is that this will never be able to be done at the scale that is required, and that land use will a huge issue, and that it's unclear who would pay for it. Are those the types of concerns that you're hearing as well, and if so, how do you respond to them?
Noah Deich: Yeah, so those are interesting concerns, and they're certainly challenges that the field faces, but I think that for any set of new technologies there will be skeptics. I think we heard the same thing for every renewable energy source, for electric vehicles, for the past decades that people said solar will never be cost competitive. Wind will never be cost competitive. Electric vehicles will never be cost competitive. What we've seen is that if you invest in the research, and the incentives to get these solutions manufactured at scale, they would come down in cost considerably and all of a sudden many energy analysts see a very large clean energy future as inevitable. Many transportation analysts see an electric vehicle future as inevitable. And so, I think we have a really bad history of saying things are impossible when we're not facing actual technical limits. We're just facing our current conception of what economics look like.
Noah Deich: Today, the economics of many of these solutions are more expensive than the comparable fossil fuel, or conventional alternative. But at the same time, we haven't started to deploy these solutions at any meaningful scale, and so we don't know how quickly they're going to come down in cost once we do. We don't know with significant research funding where these solutions will reduce in cost too, but we have a lot of analysis now that says if we do invest in these strategies, there is every reason to believe that they can come down in costs enough to be deployed at a large scale. What is possible here is a function of our investment and making these strategies possible, and the political will that we can marshal to make strategies scalable.
Noah Deich: There aren't technical limits to doing a lot of these strategies. And when we do run into technical limits, of course we can't just plant the entire globe with forests. That makes no sense. But, there are a lot of strategies that once we start to exhaust the low hanging fruit of forest restoration opportunities, for example, we can figure out how to deploy technology to get a portfolio of solutions to scale. The technical solutions, they have no real biophysical limit. They only have economic limits, which are a function of how much we as a society are willing to invest in them.
Noah Deich: The economics piece is also a really interesting question to me. I think one of the examples, or analogies that really resonates with me is the idea of trash collection, or waste management more broadly. That nobody every says, oh, there is not going to be a customer willing to pay for waste management ever, which is some cases is true. You're just throwing out your trash. But at the end of the day, society decides that we prefer to not have our trash just pile up on the street. And so, we organize ourselves to have trash disposal services.
Noah Deich: In many regards, we can see climate as a similar problem where we are simply polluting the atmosphere in the same way that we would be just throwing our trash on the street. CO2 is different. You can't see it, you can't smell it. It doesn't cause any local pain in the way that rotting trash would, which is why we have clearly figured out that problem sooner than the CO2 one. But we have all the tools in our regulatory, our business and our investment toolkit in order to figure out how to create really strong markets for carbon removal. It's just a function of the political element getting in place to unlock that market.
Jason Jacobs: So if the long term goal is for this stuff to scale, how are you phasing that in your mind and for example, what are the organization goals in the next 12 months?
Noah Deich: In our mind what we want to do is find the solutions that work today in existing markets and scale those as much as possible. In many cases, these are not the really large scale strategies. We're talking about carbon utilization today when it comes to climate impact. But they are huge economic markets. We've done back of the envelope calculations that looked at what if we switched out the market for fossil fuel based products today with products that came from CO2 from the air? Those markets are enormous. Trillions of dollars of top line revenue can be created through building materials, fuels, chemicals, a number of other more niche products.
Noah Deich: And so, the idea is how to get this waste to value economy started? How do we start to get tactical innovation funding that gets broad bipartisan support passed? And how do we start to get that next generation of entrepreneurs and scientists and policymakers really all engaged and working to push this field forward? So, we have goals across all of those areas in terms of making sure that we're passing policy at the nation level that funds carbon removal in smart ways, about getting entrepreneurs the support they need to start new companies and to scale the ones that they've just started in the carbon to value space and to provide opportunities for that next generation of carbon removal practitioners to get started in the field with research whether that's on the science policy or broader social pieces?
Jason Jacobs: If you could wave your magic wand and change one thing, or one or two things, I mean you pick, but that would most catalyze this transition, what would they be?
Noah Deich: So, at the end of the day, what we need to have is policymakers that vote for strong, comprehensive climate policy. I don't know that there is magic wand that's going to get us there today. And so, I think what we need to do is not think about how we wave magic wands, but think really tactically about how we make sure that we're building that broader policy system to support the whole range of climate policies that need to get passed today.
Noah Deich: I'm very confident that if we are able to fund research and development at a reasonable scale and that if we're able to create the market and regulation, so that companies can bring innovation from the lab to the market and then scale those innovations that the finance will flow. We see a ton of investors today whether they're really early stage start up investors or big strategic companies looking to write a hundred million dollar, billion dollar checks to get projects in the ground, everyone is eager to finance these projects if they make sense economically. And so, trying to square that circle through the whole set of tools that we have is really important.
Jason Jacobs: And from a policy standpoint, when you mentioned strong, comprehensive climate policy, but you also mentioned earlier in the discussion that there is a lot of debate about what that strong, comprehensive climate policy should be, does Carbon180 have a specific view or are there specific initiatives that you're working on, or that you think will be most impactful?
Noah Deich: Yeah, so we think that what matters the most is policy that drives deep emission reductions. Exactly how it gets there, there are a lot of pathways that could solve for that question.
Jason Jacobs: Like what?
Noah Deich: So, everything from broad economy wide carbon taxes, or cap and trade regulations to a series of specific industry targeted policies, so these are tax incentives for doing good things. These are financing incentives so that we can fund farmers to adopt new practices and start ups to start new ventures as well as industry specific regulations that require more and more emission reductions and greater and greater carbon removals as well. So, it's really going to be a portfolio of things that could work. What we want is a suite of practices that actually drive emissions reductions that get passed into law and are durable. Right now, there are a lot of different policies that are out there. Many of which can achieve those goals, and we're supportive of all of those knowing that where we come from carbon is the goal that these policies have to really address.
Jason Jacobs: So, no specific horse in the race other than to put your weight behind anything that looks like it's going to be materially additive to your cost?
Noah Deich: Right. At the end of the day, we want carbon out of the atmosphere. And so, there are lots of ways to do that. As what we worry about is fighting about which of those pathways is the best as opposed to getting compromise on something that is good and will simply achieve the goal.
Jason Jacobs: Are there any industries where this is starting to get some meaningful scale? If so, which, and if not where is the fruit the ripest in terms of the ones that are ready to leave the nest?
Noah Deich: Yeah, so what we're seeing on the business side is that there are a lot of folks working to turn carbon back into value today. So, we're seeing that happen in the building material sector, cements, concretes, aggregates. A number of companies are working on using CO2 to strengthen their building materials. This is great. You don't have to sell it on a carbon price at all. It's simply a better product that also happens to sequester carbon.
Noah Deich: We are seeing other companies figure out how to take carbon and turn it back into commodity chemicals that are used for plastics or other chemical applications. And then we're seeing folks address low carbon fuel markets with synthetic fuel production. All of these have enormous potential, but we're really just getting started today. The capital has only started to flow, and we haven't seen a lot of large scale projects in the way that we are seeing in the renewable energy space, for example.
Jason Jacobs: Earlier in the discussion, you talked about the big companies are slow moving and that the start ups are nimble and moving a lot more quickly, which drew you to start ups. So that begs the question in my mind, what is the role of big strategics whether it be the industrial processes companies or the big hydro carbon companies. What's their role in this transition, if any?
Noah Deich: So, I think every company has to think about how they are going to be positioned to operate and profit in an economy that sequesters more carbon than it emits. That economy no longer will allow and will provide returns to any of the stakeholders of that company if you're pulling carbon from the air and putting it into the atmosphere unabated. So, we have to figure out how every single company in the economy can think about what their long term strategy looks like, so they're not just going to survive, but really thrive and grow in that economy.
Jason Jacobs: How would you describe their participation in the efforts that you're trying to champion at this stage?
Noah Deich: I would describe it as very nascent. There are some leaders. We have companies in the manufacturing space like Interface that have already committed to what they call climate take back. We have some oil companies, Occidental Petroleum for one who has... Their CEO has talked about them being an oil company beyond an era of oil, and they'll become a carbon company, and a carbon management company. It's really early days right now. What I've seen is that these companies are really focused on near term shareholder returns. And without something changing that mindset, without investors, or the shareholders demanding that they think about the long term and change strategy, without policymakers saying, hey, you can't keep doing what you're doing, you have to change policy, there is no urgency in this space.
Noah Deich: And so, right now everyone says, "Yeah, we're starting to understand that this is going to be the economy of the future. We're starting to think about some of the things we could do." But they're not actually deploying their capital differently. They're not actually changing their business strategies to reflect this coming future. At the end of the day, we don't have that much time to do this. A few decades might sound like a long time, but when it comes to really transforming the energy sector, the transportation sector, food and ag, manufacturing, all of these different pieces of the economy, they're not... There is a lot of inertia in the system. We have to figure out how to start making those structural changes today and not wait for 10, 15 years and think that we can just change on a dime because that's just not how capital works in these big industries.
Jason Jacobs: So four years in, are you more or less optimistic than you were when you started?
Noah Deich: Oh, I'm way more optimistic than when we started. There has been a ton of progress in the field today, and it looks nothing like the field when we started four years ago. What's going to make me optimistic is that in four years, we're not simply in a new narrative, which I would say we are now compared to four years ago. But, we're actually starting to deploy capital, change policy and make the strategic investments that we need to, to start building this economy of the future.
Noah Deich: We're going to have to go see lots of projects in the ground at large scale, not just artist's renderings of what these projects will look like and excitement about that. This is a whole other challenge in and of itself is figuring out how to deploy these projects in smart ways early on, so we can learn and figure out how to do them well for the future. So, that's what I'm looking for. I'm looking for real projects large scale and not just a handful of pilot projects that we can look to, but real structural change that policymakers and businesses are not just talking about a carbon sequester and economy of the future, but actually taking action to make that possible.
Jason Jacobs: So, if someone dropped a hundred billion dollars in your lap and they didn't drop it in Carbon180's lap, they dropped in your lap, Noah, and they said, you can deploy this however you'd like, but it's got to go towards the way that you believe will maximize the impact on helping us out of this carbon problem. Where would you put it, and how would you allocate that money?
Noah Deich: So, this is a really challenging question because 100 billion dollars is a lot of money. I think the way that, that money can be deployed to the best and highest use is to restore a functioning democracy in America, and to use that money to counterbalance all of the special interest money that's flowing in. If we could figure out how to restore democracy, so it's actually fair and that people can express their votes in a meaningful way, I think that would solve a lot of the issues structurally here. If I'm constrained to actually talking a little bit more about the direct investments that I would make, I think a lot of them require investing heavily in research and development across a portfolio of strategies while simultaneously investing in the projects that will be the economy of the future.
Noah Deich: I think one of the easy things to do would be to simply buy an oil company and figure out how to get that company stopping extracting carbon and starting to put carbon back into the ground, starting to use their wealth of resources that they have in terms of human and financial capital to think about not just extraction, but removal. And so, you'd have to think about how you can get really creative ideas with that amount of capital in order to really make a difference, I would say.
Jason Jacobs: If not, fine, but when you talked about restoring our democracy, any specific ideas of how you'd use that capital to do so?
Noah Deich: Unfortunately, that's a bit above my pay grade. But, yeah, we just have to figure out how to get the special interest money out of the political influence and make sure that everyone can vote. I think once we do, what's clear is that the public really wants to take action on climate change, and they want to do so in a smart way. And if that public preference can get reflected by our elected officials, I think that would be a really powerful way to change quickly.
Jason Jacobs: Anything I didn't ask that I should have, or any parting words for our listeners?
Noah Deich: No. I think this is a great conversation to get started. I'm really glad that I had the opportunity to speak with you today. I'm curious to hear about your climate journey going forward and where you come out of all of these interesting conversations and move forward?
Jason Jacobs: One of the nice things about the podcast is that initially when we started I was toying with the idea of making it more like [inaudible 00:46:36] and master the scale where it's really just each episode is on an island, and it's going deep into that guest journey. But the aha for me was to have the common thread be my journey and therefore, just by continuing to do the episodes, you'll actually be able to see hopefully my perspective evolve, but also showing my work along the way of why it's evolving, and how it's evolving, and what are the discussions, and what are the key tipping points, and what's the pushback I'm getting and why is my world view shifting and, which thing did I have strong conviction in that got proven wrong, and where I got convinced otherwise, and it's all going to happen publicly.
Jason Jacobs: So, I don't know where it's going to go, but that's one of the motivations of doing the podcast is to not only get there, but get there in a way that shows my work, so that hopefully it can bring some other people along for the ride.
Noah Deich: Well, did anything today change your mind, or shift how you were thinking about the carbon removal space, or the broader climate journey that you're on?
Jason Jacobs: I mean, I came in without a lot of background and I think it gave me some good foundational knowledge to absorb and think through, and then figure out where to go next. Some of that going next means reading. Some of that going next means, I think you've helped clarify what kinds of guests would help fill in that perspective. For example, some of the innovators on the front line, some of the people working on policy. What are some of those specific policies? And then who is championing which ones and going and talking to each one of them. I definitely don't have answers, but I think it has helped push the discussion forward, which means that it's doing its job.
Noah Deich: Wonderful. Well, I'm glad to help.
Jason Jacobs: Noah, thanks a lot for coming on the show.
Noah Deich: Thanks, Jason.
Jason Jacobs: Hey, everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you would like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. No, that is .co, not .com. Someday we'll get the .com, but right now, .co. You can also find me on Twitter at @JJacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode, or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And 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 lawyers made me say that. Thank you.