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Mistakes in carbon removal

October 16, 2020

I've been thinking about the nature of mistakes, lessons learned, and taking risks in the carbon removal world.

I really enjoyed the discussion of mistakes at the Shopify AirMiners meeting. During the open discussion, Stacey Kauk at Shopify talked about how some of their carbon removal investments likely wouldn't work out, or they would dis-prove that something didn't work.

I came away thinking mistakes in carbon removal. I've started to see that the carbon removal world is so nascent today the only real mistake we can make is inaction. Every thing that you can try will likely unearth some big lesson, key insight, or undiscovered angle. Every attempt you can dream up will likely grow the knowledge about the space significantly. Given the emergent nature of carbon removal right now, not taking action is really the only true "mistake".

This won't always be the case. Eventually we'll know a lot about carbon removal, it'll be taken a lot more seriously, and it'll be harder to uncover new lessons by trying stuff. Compare carbon removal today to a field like math or chemistry. Making the mistake of calculating 5 + 5 = 12 doesn't unearth anything new and useful, it's just a mistake...but that's because math is pretty well understood. Carbon removal doesn't have that certainty right now, it's the early stages of a new industry, so those experiments and those trials inevitably transform into lessons learned. It's part of what I love about this stage of the industry.

But it's hard to get around those mistakes of inaction. Apple made a mistake of inaction on carbon removal yesterday. I'm a lifelong Mac addict and watched the announcement of the iPhone 12 the other day. Apple's Chief Sustainability Officer Lisa Jackson got up on the roof of the Apple Spaceship to make a big announcement. (Such a cool shot!) But then there wasn't really much to it, like "our magnets are now carbon neutral" kinda stuff. A missed opportunity for more.

Can you name any big mistakes in the carbon removal world? I can't really...I've heard about a few things behind the scenes, big changes or last minute decisions. But because of the nature of the unknown in carbon removal is so big, those "mistakes" are immediately converted to new insights, new paths, and new lessons.

I want to see bigger mistakes, bigger lessons learned from individual air miners all the way up to big leaders like Apple. I'm challenging myself and the rest of the carbon removal industry to take more shots on goal, try weird things, unearth those lessons learned.


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