💡 Your best ideas on climate impact

What would you do with $20 million dollars?

Last week, I put a simple question to our premium members.

If I gave you $20 million to mitigate the climate crisis, how would you spend it? The response was lively and fascinating, and I would encourage you to read it.

This is a members-only post that I am making publicly accessible. Please consider taking an annual membership.

While $20m might be a small sum for such a large problem, the members came up with wide-ranging ideas that broadly fell into four categories: government lobbying, initiatives focused on the Global South, innovation and entrepreneurship, and specific suggestions that defied categorisation.

🌍 GLOBAL SOUTH

Since $20m goes much further in parts of Africa than Europe, the Global South is the most exciting place to start. As Hannah Tucker pointed out, you could spend roughly $20k on regenerative agriculture programmes in 1,000 agricultural communities in Africa. “Not only would this draw vast amounts of carbon back into the ground, but it would also serve to bring the soil back to life, enabling it once again to produce nutritious food without chemical additives.” Bit of a double whammy here and what’s more the body of knowledge from the process could easily spread across the continent. Ramona Liberoff added that the addition of vertical farming into the equation would present an opportunity to leapfrog while land restores. 

Another idea, added by Christine Loh, was to focus on cities and entice them to design and implement aggressive public education plans to reduce food waste on a specific timeline. Imagine the effect in a place like Lagos or Rio. The crackdown on plastic bag usage in places like Rwanda and South Africa offers some hope here, but the road is long. 

Given the gravity of the climate crisis, it’s easy to get bogged down with the large challenges instead of the minor ones that could have an explosive impact. Take land ownership registries. Alexis Caporale noted that reforming land ownership databases across every country would massively speed up nature-based solutions deployment. This is an especially pressing issue in emerging markets, where the lack of proper land registries has a knock-on effect across society.

🗣 LOBBYING

Using the money to fund lobbying efforts was another popular response. Doug Winter put it: “I would lobby for the abolition of all subsidies on fossil fuels.” This would mean specifically targeting the aviation industry and outdated legislation such as Article 24 of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, which states that "aircraft flying to, from or across, the territory of a state shall be admitted temporarily free of duty." In practice, this makes it a criminal offence for states to tax aviation fuels, which keeps flight costs cheap and creates a significant carbon challenge 

Keith Timimi echoed the sentiment but suggested splinting the funds. Take $10m to market and lobby for the abolition of subsidies, and $10m to re-market and lobby for a global or pan-regional carbon tax. “Setting a price for carbon is a huge spur for innovation.”

🧪 INNOVATION / ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Speaking of innovation, there was a robust thread focused on the role of venture capital as a means of pushing innovation. Paul Dowling would use the money on a massive programme of pre-accelerators and accelerators focused on creating and supporting startups in climate impact. Spreading the money across accelerators would prove an extremely effective means of stretching the seed capital. 

Yet, as Shanu Matthew pointed out, “$20M isn't enough to scale existing technologies that need to be deployed or change consumer behaviour on a grand enough scale. However, it could have a material impact in encouraging more innovative early-stage opportunities and funding early-stage entrepreneurs.”

Nicolas Russell amplified the sentiment with a suggestion for challenge prizes as non-dilutive grants to business or academic technologists worldwide with promising technologies for carbon extraction. Interestingly most of the comments related to VCs focused on carbon extraction. Perhaps this has something to do with Stripe’s efforts on climate impact (Read about that in EV #298). In fact, Brett Bivens would do whatever he could to get an allocation in Stipe’s next funding round, although $20m won’t get you much.

🤩 OTHER IDEAS

The power of narrative was a compelling theme. Daniel Valenzuela said that he wouldn’t invest in tech or business. Instead, he would “put together a working group of producers & lobby experts to create a policy-effective art campaign that reaches the broad masses.” With the right A-list celebrities and voices onboard, such a campaign could have a deep impact. 

What about using the money to change the global sentiment on the climate crisis? Robbie Stamp contributed echoed the general feeling on this idea. “I, like many others, have thought about where $20 million would have maximum leverage and not be a drop in the ocean (even a carbon-capturing one). I would like to think about narratives/stories that change minds and behaviours that affect the context in which we all act - from individuals, to board rooms, regulators and governments.”

Several suggestions didn’t really fit into any category, from Maartje Bus’s idea to build a blockchain-based carbon credit market pace protocol to looking at carbon stored in the ocean. By filtering solvated CO2 out of the ocean and converting it into useful bicarbonate powder for biofuels, Glenn Leighton wrote, the impact could be climatically relevant, once scaled. Educating the TikTok generation about background radiation, as Jen van der Meer wrote, could let a thousand Gretas bloom. 

Perhaps the most innovative and out of the box idea came from Matthew Carrozo, who would “orchestrate a decade-long conspiracy to enlist the world’s most-read horoscope writers to nudge, cajole and threaten the necessary behavioural changes across all personality types.”

I’m not really going to give out $20m, but this exercise highlighted just how many practical ideas could be achieved with a relatively small amount of money.

Last month, I wrote about how the pandemic mindset, which delivered three vaccines in record-breaking time, was needed to face the other pandemic-level challenges facing society. Combined with a small amount of money, real change could be possible. 

Cheers, 

Azeem 


Dig deeper:

Alden Donnelly on Nori’s blockchain carbon marketplace

Alex Evans on handling climate change and Covid-19 as a community

The members’ discussion.