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“Nature vs Technology”: The debate is over

August 26, 2021

The AirMiners event on Forecasting supply curves for carbon removal last week blew my mind. (here is the video version of my note below)

The team analyzed the first batch of Stripe carbon removal purchases and made predictions about future costs and availability of carbon removal - and some thought provoking conclusions.

AND - all of this work was led by a team of AirMiners as part of a Climate Sprints project. Congrats to Jennifer Mills, Ryan Anderson, Jason Yosinski, Shashank Agrawal, Jake Connolly and the team on a terrific work. PhD-level dissertation in 3 weeks.

From the presentation:

This got me thinking about permanence (aka how many years carbon is removed from the system).

Intuitively I've always been biased towards higher permanence. But is higher permanence always better than low permanence? Do we only want solutions that pull carbon from the air for thousands of years?

What changed is I've come to appreciate a benefit of shorter term carbon removal is it can come with all these economic side benefits. Planting a forest improves the air quality in the area, watershed, a nicer place to live. Longer term solutions like injecting carbon dioxide into basalt rock for example don't have these side benefits -- the only benefit is the carbon removed. The thing that clicked for me is that means shorter term carbon removal can potentially accelerate more quickly in a carbon-tax-free world because the economics make more sense.

I'm not saying people need to reevaluate their interests. If you're really into natural solutions or engineered solutions, that's wonderful, use that passion to keep pushing following that thread.

But to the extent that there's a debate about which one is needed, the debate is over. Natural, engineered, whatever you call it, what matters is permanence and building a planetary-scale system that overall pulls gigatons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

That's why AirMiners is built to support a range of solutions to get to gigaton scale carbon removal. You need to be obsesesed about understanding how permanent your solution is, whether it's removing carbon for minutes or millenia.

The solution space is massive and we've explored basically none of it. Looking back in 50 years today's hottest idea in carbon removal will look like a rotary phone. (You stick your finger in it???)

We need to get 2x better at carbon removal every 12 months for the next decade to get to gigaton scale carbon removal. Moore's Law meets Fast and Furious.

Forecasting supply curves for carbon removal is my #2 favorite* presentation of 2021. Give it a listen.


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