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Necessary + Impossible

March 28, 2022

Note: this is a longer message and the video is here.

Carbon removal is necessary and impossible.

It's necessary because there's too much carbon dioxide in the air. Even if we stopped every single emission today, there would still be an excess of a trillion tons carbon dioxide already in the air. The IPCC says we need to get to 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide removal by 2050.

It's impossible because to get there carbon removal would need to grow faster than any industry in existence. Last year we removed about 10,000 tons of carbon dixoide. 10 billion tons per year is a million fold improvement from where we are today.

That means a 50% year over year improvement every year for 28 years. How fast is that?

Let's compare this rate of imporvement to the fast growing computing industry. (Note: this comparison comes with major caveats, we're discussing here in #science-data on AirMiners Slack.)

Over the last 57 years, the cost of computing has improved 40% year over year. That's an observation called Moore's Law, coined by Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel. That 40% year over year improvement has been a constant force in our lifetimes as computers from big rooms to our desks and then into our pockets.

If carbon removal needs to grow 50% year over year that means we need to improve faster than the computing industry has.

Today, fewer than 3,000 people are working on carbon removal solutions. Solutions are in scarce supply. The business models all suck. And we need to improve fast.

Like I said, necessary and impossible.

Why am I talking about this? Should you just give up and do something that's necessary and possible instead?

I'm talking about this because making progress on "necessary + impossible" requires different skills from business as usual. From afar, what's happening in carbon removal might look like business as usual. Typing an email, machining metal parts, scooping up soil and putting it in a box. It's easy to mistake this for everyday activity.

In a business as usual setting, working hard pays off, working smart pays off. In a "necessary + impossible" world, you need to do all those things and more. You need playfulness, a willingness to entertain weird ideas, and care for your mental and physical health over the long haul. You need to keep it fun, funny, and dark humor goes a long way. Do all that and there's still going to be times where you want to throw it all in the garbage and quit.

It's important to keep in your own mind that carbon removal is both necessary and impossible. Your pitch deck can say you've got it all figured out, I understand. Bring in playfulness, weirdness, and health everywhere you can.

That's how we build an industry and a community to get to 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide removal per year by 2050.

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