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What can solar, computers, cars, and weapons teach us about carbon removal?

October 21, 2022

What can we learn from the growth of technologies like solar, computing, cars, weapons? (TL;DR answering this question unlocks phase 2 of the carbon removal industry). Video here

Climate scientists say we need to be removing 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. Today, we're removing only about 10 thousand tons per year. That means we need to grow global capacity 1 million fold in 28 years.

That sounds like a lot. What industry can we compare it to?

The idea of learning from other industries sparks a bunch of questions:

As you can see, I’ve got a lot of questions on this. I don't have answers. That's uncomfortable. I'm talking with air miners, IPCC scientists, and more to figure this out. You can join the conversation on AirMiners Slack here.

But here's what I am pretty sure about.

Answering this question is important. It's a key that opens up a lot of doors.

Imagine a made up answer: “carbon removal needs to grow as fast as solar did in the early days, but not as fast as computers”. Think about all the other answers and actions that would unlock:

  1. A map of where we need to be by the end of 2023, 2030, and 2040. Below where we need to be? Figure out how to go further, faster.
  2. For governments, this unlocks projections for how much R&D budget they need at each stage, and what kind of policies do they need in place, and how to track along the way.
  3. For corporations, this helps budget for pre-purchasing carbon, and planning how quickly they need to decarbonize before it gets insanely expensive
  4. For startups this tells you how quickly you need to scale to meet the market demand without building prematurely
  5. For entrepreneurs this gives you a roadmap to identify gaps in the market you can build a company around
  6. For new graduates if helps you look for a job and ask what role you want to play in this new industry
  7. For everyone on the planet it gives you an idea of where we are and where we need to go, are we on track or not. And that we have to decarbonize everything or else removal doesn't matter.

All from answering this one question! Imagine an AirMiners "State of the Union" where we chart the growth of carbon removal capacity against other industries. We ask what worked, what didn't, where are the gaps to fill, then we light fireworks and get ready for another go at it.

My main point in this note is to get grounded in this question about what can we learn. If you’re curious to see what such a graph looks like comparing a bunch of industries, Ryan Anderson put together a great draft of a chart on the thread here on AirMiners Slack. I'll follow up on this next week with more details.


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