Climate change is a wicked problem. It will take a systems-thinking level solution to tackle it. Kelly Erhart, co-founder of Project Vesta has just the elegant solution we’ve been waiting for using green sand beaches and enhanced coastal weathering of olivine rock. Talk about turbulence! Kelly is a practical optimist and has a remarkably elegant solution. There’s hope here and some big mental shifts to check into.
Positive Turbulence to Fight Climate Change
Welcome to the positive turbulence podcast, stories from the periphery. Here we journey to the edge to talk to turbulators about their experiences creating positive change. Hi, I’m Rob Brodnick.
And I’m Karyn Zuidinga in sharing these stories, these perspectives on innovation, creativity, change, and leadership we hope to generate some positive turbulence for you.
Global pandemic not withstanding. The biggest challenge of our times is climate change from raging wildfires in places like my home, California and Australia to rising sea levels, to the disappearance of Arctic ice and starving polar bears. There isn’t a quarter of the earth that is untouched. The forecast is grim.
Enter Kelly Erhart, a social entrepreneur, applying creative strategy at the intersection of climate and regenerative business. She is co-founder of Project Vesta, a project to sequester carbon dioxide by putting a type of green rock on some beaches. Their solution will not only potentially tip the scales of carbon buildup in the atmosphere back into balance, but also may have a positive impact on ocean acidification.
It’s like two birds with one stone and better yet. If their calculations hold true at scale, they think the cost for them to do this good work will be about $10 per ton. This is an order of magnitude, less than any other solution we know about today.
It sounds too good to be true, too easy. Right? Also you’re probably asking, but what about the impact on coastal ecosystems? What the heck is this green rock anyway, and aren’t they harming one area of the earth to save another? Stay tuned. Rob, I asked all of these questions and many more. We think you’ll come away hopeful too.
But before we begin, let’s take a moment to acknowledge our supporting organizations.
The positive turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI an innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals learn more at aminnovation.org.
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Here’s my experience with project Vesta I saw that you were going to be speaking at a Andrew’s event. I looked at the website and my first impression was, come on. Come on, really? Green sand beaches are going to solve climate change. I was skeptical. And then you spoke and I was, I got off of that call and I was so excited. I was telling my partner, Oh my God, you got to check out this website. It’s the coolest thing.
So if you wouldn’t mind, Kelly, take us back. Tell us a little bit about what is Project Vesta and , why do we care about green sand beaches?
Kelly Erhart: Gladly. Project Vesta is a team of scientists and entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs that are trying to scale a solution that we think really can create a meaningful impact in reversing climate change. There’s a group of us and we’ve spent a lot of time working in different carbon removal technologies and in the climate solution space. And we analyzed the different methods for carbon dioxide removal. Knowing that today we’re in this place where we really can’t just stop emissions, we’ve put so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that at this point we must remove it, even the IPC C, the inter-governmental panel on climate change released a report in the last few years that stated some pretty lofty goals for carbon dioxide removal. And at this point, none of the technologies that are necessary in order to achieve those goals have been scaled. The state of climate change today is one that really needs a lot more aggressive work. A lot more focus across disciplines and across industries.
We looked at the different solution sets and we saw what’s called enhanced weathering as a really interesting solution that wasn’t really being deployed in the world. What enhanced weathering is is it’s really drawing from nature’s processes, right? What a lot of people don’t know is that actually 99.9% of carbon on earth is stored in rock.
That’s an incredibly significant amount. That means only 0.1% of all the carbon that we talk about all the time is actually in the atmosphere and in biomass. We can look to the process that results in that which is the carbonate-silicate cycle for inspiration.
So that’s exactly what we did. The carbonate-silicate cycle is this process that we all probably learned about in eighth grade geology where carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere after a volcano erupts. So once that volcano erupts over long timescales, as rain falls on the volcanic rock, that’s been spread on the local area, there’s a chemical reaction that occurs. And that chemical reaction actually causes the carbon from the atmosphere to go into the waterways and eventually into the ocean where it settles as sediment, and then it’s subducted as limestone.
This process typically takes hundreds of thousands of years. The question that we asked is how can we speed this process up? And so what we’ve done is we’ve worked with a number of scientists that have been working on researching this process for the last 30 years and are taking a sort of research project in lab settings and bringing it into the real world after seeing some really incredible and promising results.
We’re harnessing this natural process and expediting it by working with natural ecosystems. So what we do is we use the free energy of wave motion to continue to grind down the olivine rock. And that’s helpful for a lot of things. One is that it increases the surface area of the olivine rock, and it also breaks down this coating that’s on the rock that slows the weathering process.
And so that means that we’re able to exponentially increase the rate of weathering, which is the process by which carbon dioxide is removed and the rock breaks down. and in, in the same time, we’re also able to de-acidify the local ocean ecosystem. So this is pretty phenomenal for a lot of things. One is carbon dioxide removal. And the other piece is deacidification. Many of us know about coral bleaching. Many of us know about the mass species die off that’s happening in the ocean due to acidification. And we believe that this will help to balance the pH levels.
Two birds with one stone, right? You’re dealing with the carbon and you’re dealing with the, the acid levels.
Yeah. Feeding two birds with one scone.
I like that. Yeah.
That’s exactly what we’re testing for. What has, as I mentioned, there’s been, 30 years of research and labs on this process. And what we exist to do is bring it from the lab and onto the beach or into the real world. So we’ll take olivine and spread it on coastal areas and be able to monitor the rate of weathering.
So how fast exactly, it might be a year or it might be three years where we’re not a hundred percent sure. But the beauty of the process is that unlike many carbon dioxide removal methods when the carbon is removed from the atmosphere, it’s permanently fixed for millions of years. So when you plant a tree, that’s an incredible thing to do because there’s tons of ecosystem services that that the surrounding forest receives, right? However, there’s a saturation effect. When a tree is growing, we’re at whereby at a certain point, you’re not removing as much carbon. And then also if you have a forest fire or after the tree dies, the carbon is emitted back into the atmosphere. So you’re looking at, a hundred or so years of storage.
It’s on a completely different timescale. The other piece is that it’s incredibly affordable. So lots of carbon dioxide removals today that are interesting for scale are very expensive. So we look to direct air capture, which is, 600 to a thousand dollars a ton. Whereby our process we’re looking at 10 to $25 a ton. So it’s an order of magnitude cheaper. And then the last piece is that it’s really scalable. In the models that we’ve run, we would only need to cover about 2% of coastal shelf areas, of the entire globe in order to sequester humanity’s annual emissions.
So that’s a really big thing for us as we look to towards meeting our Paris agreements for carbon dioxide removal.
Olivine what’s olivine. Where’s it coming from? How do you make it? Is it natural?
It’s a natural volcanic rock with this really beautiful green tinge. Sometimes it’s a little bit blacker. Sometimes it’s a little bit lighter, but in its gem form, it’s actually called peridot. Many of us have probably seen it in jewelry even.
It’s highly abundant. It’s actually one of the most abundant minerals on earth that makes up over 50% of the upper mantle. Not olivine itself, but the type of rock that it is. We can find it on every continent which means that scaling is very possible in that way too.
So it’s extraction how you
Sorry. Yeah. So it’s actually today, it’s the tailings of a lot of mining operations. It’s often the waste product that isn’t ever utilized. One Avenue that we’re looking at is working with mining companies and utilizing the tailings. In that way we wouldn’t be doing further mining and that would be likely the route that we go for the first number of beaches. However, mining certainly doesn’t have the best reputation. As Project Vesta, we’re trying to think about this as a whole system. We want to be able redefine what’s possible with mining. That means working with specific partners to do restoration efforts and try and leave that land better than it was when we got there. and really work to understand. Yeah, just exactly how we can be restorative in this, in this process.
I want to break it down a little bit. Project Vesta exists to translate essentially the results in the lab to the real world. My question is what were the results in the lab? What makes you confident that this is going to be at least one of the solutions we can use to help reverse climate change?
Presumably that’s the end goal. We don’t just want to sequester the emissions. We want to reverse the impact. Ultimately. How effective could this be?
One thing that is very clear and has been tested and proven is that for every ton of olivine that is subject to this chemical reaction, 1.25 tons of carbon dioxide are removed. So that’s a number of that, that we know for sure. So that means if we were looking at and removing 2 trillion, tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, we’d need a couple of trillion, tons of olivine.
And that’s very doable. So that’s one piece that’s really exciting.
Whoa. I want to back that up. We’d need a couple of trillion, tons of olivine and that’s that, and that’s really doable.
Well, the beautiful thing about this is that, we’re not creating a new technology. We’re not banking on a new technology that might work or might not work. This is billions of years in research and development. That’s gone into this process, the carbonate-silicatecycle, right?
So we know that works. And we know that for every ton of olivine, stoichiometrically, 1.25tons of carbon are removed. So 1 trillion, tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I don’t have the math at the exactly on top of my head, but let’s say we need a trillion, tons of olivine. There is plenty of industry and in the world today that has experience in dealing with mineral extraction and transportation at scale. So we’re not inventing new technologies for that either. It’s really just, how do we form partnerships and look to what’s already been done and optimize existing legacy infrastructure that has thus far been used for harm and actually use it to create good.
There’s a real opportunity in that way. Looking at the whole supply chain, understanding how we can optimize it and create good is a key piece there.
I’m sold on the science. I’m wondering about the cultural impact. How do we tip the scales? We know the, the public good, you know, the good for humanity and science works, but how do you get people to want this, to invest in it, to want to participate in it? I think that’s going to be a, a big battle. What are you experiencing so far?
I’ll back up and I’ll say that in the lab, the other piece that we’re testing, because you said you’re sold on the science and we’re not actually a hundred percent sold on the science yet. That’s why we’re testing it. I think it’s very important to highlight that our first pilot experiments are crucial, right?
So we’re not trying to deploy olivine worldwide right now until we have our test results. The one thing we’re testing for is this weathering rate that I just spoke to. However, the other thing that we’re testing for is the safety or understanding the full ecosystem impact of deploying olivine in a place where it, otherwise wouldn’t be.
We’re being very rigorous about this and testing very comprehensively of what the ecosystem impacts would be. We have good reason to believe that the ecosystem impacts are going to be beneficial. Like I said, the de-acidification can serve a lot of different functions for marine life.
However, there’s concerns about nickel, content and magnesium release. And so that’s something that has been tested in the lab. And based on those experiments, we anticipate that there’s nothing to be worried about.
However, we’re going to be monitoring that very carefully in these first beaches so that we can scale with clear confidence. And that the rest of the world can follow.
We don’t want to be the only people doing coastal enhanced weathering at a trillion ton scale. We just can’t be. We’re definitely committed to proving the science in a very rigorous way before we move into scale.
And now addressing your other question regarding the social cultural impacts and perception. I think that’s somewhat of an, not an open question, but it’s different depending on who you talk to. There’s some folks who you speak with and they are so excited and they can’t wait to have a green sand beach as the new eco-tourist destination. The screen sand beach behind me right here is a natural one in Hawaii. It’s called Papa Kaliya. And it’s a, it’s definitely a tourist destination because it’s beautiful and Marine life thrives there and all of that.
However, you also have folks who are like, I’m not so into the green thing. Can you make the sand white. And we can, there’s some olivine that’s lighter and there’s some olivine that’s more black. And so there’s certainly ways that the color could be different on beaches. But there’s also the advantage that we say green sand beaches, but it doesn’t absolutely need to be on the shoreline. Like visible as a beach. It can be just under the shoreline and the same process will be performed. So there’s that benefit as well.
We really do hope to work closely with governments and then have this be something that they’re really proud of that they can say that they’re meeting their Paris targets and making a lot of progress on climate change as a leader in the space.
I think there’s always differing opinions. I think the one question that we get a lot is, is this geoengineering, are you messing with the earth cycles? And it’s not. We certainly don’t think so because geoengineering in itself is introducing some foreign organism, that, that wouldn’t normally be happening in an ecosystem. And what we’re doing is we’re just expediting the Earth’s natural process and supporting it to, to bring the to bring carbon back into balance.
History is riddled, absolutely riddled with people who have brought particularly organisms, not so much rocks into places. And throwing the balance of an ecosystem out. I, I think about rabbits in Australia and, plants, where I live. So the question I have is. Can you put this on any beach? Can you, for instance bring it up to British Columbia and put it on beaches on the West coast where I don’t think this rock has native, so that’s my big question. And is there a risk to the ecosystem?
I understand you’re doing the science right now to understand that better, is there that potential risk to ecosystems, if you bring in this foreign type of mineral into that environment,
In terms of the efficacy we could bring it anywhere. It’ll be more efficient in warmer waters and more efficient where there’s higher amounts of wave energy. So would we bring it to British Columbia unlikely but could happen.
To answer your question around, the ecosystem impact of introducing something that’s not native to the local environment. It’s a great question. And once again, it is exactly what we’re testing for, so what happens when there’s an altered mineral content of the sands in a place, what happens to the smallest little creatures? We’re testing for over 160 parameters to really understand what’s going to happen.
Everything from, eco-toxicology, measuring the different mineral content in tissues of different animals to the nickel release in water and how that impacts some of the really tiny animals. Like I said, we’re going to be testing for it, but we’re pretty confident that it shouldn’t because of the, the dissolution rate in the ocean, it really shouldn’t make a negative impact.
If anything, in, in acidified areas of the ocean, once again, will bolster in a lot of ways. When olivine goes into the ocean and turns into calcium carbonate and calcium carbon is used by marine calcifying organisms like corals many organisms make their shells and skeletons out of it. so we think that that will actually be beneficial.
I love it. Thinking about the West Coast, Hawaii places where kind of has a natural fit, the mindset of the people that live there. I I’m thinking now, Florida, I’m not going get political, it’s a certain state of mind in Florida, white sand beaches. And when I think culturally. right. The white beach is important. But, if you only got 2% of the coastlines to cover, to, to mitigate, and even if it has to be 4% to start to take it backwards, if you can get halfway 1% of the coastline, you should be able to find what you need out there without having a green Daytona beach, which I actually think would be really interesting.
I don’t anticipate us doing, you know, a green Daytona beach. I think what probably would be more likely is scaling on larger, more uninhabited coastlines that aren’t really visited by folks as much. And then there will be specific partnerships where people are excited about the eco-tourism angle and they’re like, turn the whole thing, green let’s do it!
Yeah, just North of Florida, Georgia has some barrier islands that are relatively uninhabited. I mean, there’s a lot of places where I think you could find the fit between the science and the culture.
My next question is about economics of this and how have you measured, or other kinds of ways to get the substance transportation, however you have to place it to create the sustainable beach with this on it. How do the economics work? Has anyone modeled that out yet? I’m curious.
So as I mentioned, it’s about 10 to $25 a ton. Today the cost of mining, milling and transport is about $25 a ton. But we think at scale, we’ll be able to bring it down to $10 that’s based on lots of calculations different mines around the world and different beaches and all of that.
When that is compared to other carbon dioxide removal methods that’s an order of magnitude cheaper. And so one component is, today we’re a nonprofit and we’re primarily funded by individual donations and grants. And that’s because we’re in this research scientific phase of what we’re doing.
Even though we’re a nonprofit there’s this huge market, the carbon market where folks are buying and selling carbon removal credits And that market is gaining a lot of maturity. And it’s also gaining a lot of traction for both consumers and corporations.
One, one thing that was really exciting this year is that we actually partnered with Stripe the payment processing company. They made a huge commitment this year to being a carbon neutral company and funding a million dollars for nascent carbon dioxide removal companies. And so the reason they did that is because they saw the value of funding, something that isn’t quite formed yet, as long as it has a huge potential for impact.
They found four companies that were working on a novel solution that could really support reversing climate change. We were one of those four, so they pre-purchased $250,000 of negative emissions credits from us this year before we even had sand on the beach. So that was really huge for us.
And we sold those carbon credits not at $25 a ton, but more expensive because at this point we’re paying for incredible amounts of sensors and monitoring technology and a scientific team. So the cost is higher today, but will go down. And we anticipate that market is only going to grow, so finding other corporations that are making big strides in their carbon removal commitments as well as the consumer marketplace.
And then there’s obviously also the mandatory carbon market where corporations that are emitting a lot are obliged to purchase carbon removal credits. The other sort of revenue stream that exists as we were just talking about places like Georgia and these coastal areas. I’m sure you’re familiar with beach nourishment where sand is actually brought in from elsewhere.
This again is actually going back to your question as well about what happens when we bring in sand from a different area.
That’s been happening with beach nourishment for many years, as coastlines are eroding, sand is brought in. We think that there’s a great opportunity to work with beach nourishment, operations. There’s a big revenue opportunity there. Today we’re funded by donations, we think that there’s a huge market for olivine coastal enhanced weathering, just because of the cost.
We have our first pilot beaches. We’re working on the final steps of the permitting to be able to actually begin the experiment. And we are focused on fundraising so that we can buy all of the sensors that are necessary and complete these two first experiments.
We’re raising in total 2.5 million. Our goal for this year was 1.5 million. We’ve raised about 900,000 of that. We’re trying do another big fundraising push right now. That’s a big hurdle. We have a phenomenal amount of support in terms of folks who are supporting us in finding secondary beaches when we’re ready for them.
I think that the other hurdle. As we move forward is going to be having the right government connections. So folks who can help us to make the right connections that can help us with permits. And also the local sort of socio-cultural component too. So having connections that are on the ground and can help build relationship.
Normally we stop here for a sponsor break to tell you that the positive turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI a not-for-profit innovation learning community. But because we are so inspired by project Vesta, we wanted to use this opportunity to give you an update. Since we recorded this interview, Project Vesta has received $1.6 million from Additional Ventures.
That grant allows them to proceed with their scientific research of laboratory and field studies designed to measure the ability of ovaline sand to safely remove CO2 from the atmosphere when placed in coastal waters. To find out more about Project Vesta, visit project V E S T a.org. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Rob and I, and the AMI community congratulate them on receiving their grant and wish them well in their research.
Thinking a little bit about donors and that kind of fundraising. I know in every other part of the startup community, and I’m sure it’s part of your world too, is the idea of what’s your origin story? I think this is an amazing project I, and I love the systems thinking that’s going on here.
The connecting all of the dots, not just a couple of them. Really thinking the problem through all the way. But how did you get from some people in the lab knew that olivine would work to this, to, to working through, Oh yeah, we could play in the carbon market and we could do, beach restoration. How do you go from a guy in a lab to Project Vesta where you’re raising two and a half million dollars and how do you go from zero to 60?
My background I’ve worked on different carbon dioxide removal technologies and have done independent consulting on climate solutions. And myself, I’m a social entrepreneur. I co-founded a climate beneficial toilet company where waste turns into a liquid fertilizer.
I’ve worked in a lot of areas of everything from disaster relief, project management, the more like a systems level to, to really specific technologies. I was doing this independent research and saw it as a very interesting solution when I met one of my co-founders Eric.
He was a part of a climate change think-tank called Climitigation. And they found the same thing. It stalled about 11 years ago that the science around coastal enhanced weathering. And so it took this more, I hate to say it, but Silicon Valley entrepreneurial mindset to come in and be like, wait a second, this is awesome. Why isn’t this happening? Can we do it? Can we scale it?
Heck yeah, we can. And so I think all of us were just really motivated to try and do something. There’s so much climate anxiety in the world that so many people are feeling. This is a potential solution that I think inspires so much hope because it feels so intuitive and possible.
And so for us, it was no question we couldn’t not do it. It took finding the right team and having an incredible group of scientists that have come on board, who are really leading a lot of the efforts. They’re doing the experimental design, they’re writing papers to understand the suite of effects and try and bring coastal enhanced weathering into frame, In kind of mainstream climate policy in a bigger way.
For us, it wasn’t a question. We just needed to do what had to be done.
I love it. Talk about positive turbulence, two different ways, right? Positive turbulence on the physical sense, because that’s part of the process, right? You need the wave motion. You can’t just put it on a, a Placid Lake with no churning, right? It requires actually the energy of the ocean and the waves to do it. Positive turbulence in terms of upsetting the status quo and the mindset.
I think there’s a lot to be said about that. In terms of the idea going from small snowball to avalanche, what do you think you’d need to do to, to get over that, that big hurdle? Great idea. I love it. The snowballs rolling down the Hill, but we need this to happen at mega scale. What are you going to do to supercharge your vector, the direction you’re heading right now?
There’s been a lot of public support. When we first started, that’s what really helped us is we launched in on earth day of 2019. And it was just incredible. We went viral and we got a bunch of press and it was picked up by Reddit and Hacker News and and it was really incredible, the swell of support from the ground level that came up. With any solution, it needs both top-down and bottom-up support. So we need the grassroots communities of change that are championing us at a local level and letting their friends know and helping to support through fundraising or through just getting the word out.
We also are going to need to be pushing policy and, making meaningful government partnerships to be able to allow for that kind of scale. Policy and government partnerships as we move forward, it will be very important. it’s interesting. I think when you’re trying to be effective about implementing climate policy, you need to look to who’s doing it already. Who in the world is being aggressive about meeting their Paris targets. Who’s actually taking action. We’ve had a president for the last four years who hasn’t even acknowledged that climate change is a real thing. And one that pulled out of the Paris Accords. I’m very hopeful that with this new administration, Biden has a lot of interesting climate policy on the table. And I am happy to hear the way he’s talking about it.
We’ve talked a lot about the benefits and how, we think it’ll work. You’ve really thought through a lot of the problems. I’m pretty confident that you guys will manage your fundraising goals too. You’ve been successful so far. You’ve got a lot of people behind you. So what’s the flip side of that. Where are the downsides here? Because it sounds amazing. Almost too good to be true, but okay. I’m convinced I’m all in. Where are the potential downsides? What are the the risks you’re mitigating for?
One thing as I mentioned is the nickel release. Monitoring that very closely. That could be a potential downside. We want to be sure that won’t harm any marine organisms. There’s, of course, naturally present nickle in all ocean ecosystems, but it would be slightly more, almost undetectable. But we’re monitoring that.
The other risk is mining as mentioned, There is a component of what we’re doing that is trying to set the stage for how coastal enhanced weathering is deployed. And that means the full life cycle. So from cradle-to-cradle or or from the mine to the beach.
And so one of the things that we’re creating is what’s called the CEWIAM the Coastal Enhanced Weathering Integrated Assessment Model. That’ll be an integrated model that includes safety data, speed data, and a life cycle analysis that any NGO or government or company that wants to deploy coastal enhanced weathering can plug this data into and get a really clear sense of what the impact will be in that area. That will include the mining impact or where you’re getting the olivine from and things like that. And we do want to mitigate for environmental harm in that way.
There’s some really scary things that, that folks are looking to try and curb the effects of climate change, including, like seeding clouds with iron, and also like blocking out the sun if need be. And we have no idea…
Volcanoes explode on their, you know, in, in, in ways like a little bomb underneath it, or let’s blow it up and put ash into the environment that might help. Right.
Yeah. And in terms of what’s the worst that could happen. If we did this at large scale, I think it, it pales in comparison to most, anything else that has the potential for this scale. You look at the industry that would be needed to scale something like direct air capture, where you’re creating these huge machines that require a lot more industry to create them.
And this is just it’s on another kind of magnitude of simplicity in some ways. But again, yeah, it’s being very conscious about how the mining and transport is done.
It’s hopeful. There’s a lot of new technology coming out. I’ve even heard about hydrogen powered ships, which are crazy to me, but that would be amazing if we could move our olivine around on hydrogen powered ships. Great. The other piece is there’s ships going across the ocean and all the times that have empty or mostly empty shipping containers, how do we work with what already exists to minimize impact.
Again I love the embracing of the complexity of the system and trying as much as you can to fit into what already exists today, because we know those work. People are there, but how are you finding the public understanding of the problem right now?
I remember a few months ago during what I was calling the great pause when we were all just like not doing anything and nobody was driving anywhere and the air was so clear and, I go out on a bike ride and I could hear the frogs at UBC, which you don’t normally hear because it’s just too loud.
Yeah. Beautiful thing. And it seemed to me that was a great moment to talk about carbon and air pollution and all that. But it seemed that nobody wanted to where I’m going with this. Nobody wanted to make any changes because they were afraid of that change to the economy.
And that, okay we might, yeah, it might be a little bit better air, but jobs. And you always get that trade off. I’m wondering now is, A do people get it in your opinion or are people with you on this idea that yeah, we got to do something like last week about climate change and B, is there a a wide enough I know you’ve got support from certain sectors, but is there a wide enough support for something as in some ways radical as green sand beaches?
In terms of the kind of socio-cultural perception of climate change. I’ve been really heartened by how much more real it’s gotten for people. Certainly not heartened by the climate anxiety piece and the pain and grief that I think a lot of folks are in right now as they come to reckoning with that.
But heartened by the seriousness at which it’s being taken. And I think you’re right that in that time of pause a lot of folks look to the slowness and the kind of reviving of ecosystems as something that was reminded them of the world that they wanted to live in. And I was really Inspired by the way that Corona virus showed us, you couldn’t turn your, you couldn’t turn your sights away from the fact that, Oh, actually this is all one system. Earth is one system. My impacts as one being actually can ripple into the entire community. If I make a choice that is irresponsible, I could kill people.
That’s a really big deal. If I make a choice that’s irresponsible that could move all around the globe. And so it anchored that, I think at a sort of primal level for people in a way that we haven’t felt since probably the last pandemic. And I think that’s really interesting as a parallel to how we take climate action.
It’s this opportunity to move out of this learned helplessness that we have in so many axes of society of, Oh the technology is controlling me. I can’t do anything about it, or, Oh climate change is bigger than I thought, and I don’t have anything I can do, but like really there’s a place here for agency.
And that means, taking responsibility and doing what’s in your sphere of influence to make change. And I have been really heartened by the different activities that I’ve seen sprouting about different funding efforts from groups of both companies and individuals. I saw I can’t remember which prince, but from England David Attenborough, and one of the princes of England just came out with an earth shot prize.
So really like big media. Yeah. Prince Harry, really big media to push the needle forward on climate change. As well as policy changes, like I already said, I’m glad to see that Biden is taking a stance on climate. And in the U S over the last couple of years, there was the sunrise movement and a a lot of public support moving towards noticing that this is a real issue.
I think it’s going to continue to be hard for us to fully grok it because the effects are so long-term and our primal brains, aren’t really able to conceive of what’s going to happen to us in the next hundred or thousand years. But it’s something that I think we’re also getting better at understanding and taking more responsibility for.
I will be the first to tell you that I’m, I’m an optimist and I might be more optimistic than a lot of people in the climate space. But I am optimistic. I think that we, we don’t really have time to, to not be one of my closest friends said, pessimism is a luxury for a time, much less urgent than now.
Karyn Zuidinga: Yes.
Kelly Erhart: We simply can’t stall. This fear state, we, we have to really stand in in our agency.
I love, I love agency. We, we talk about agency all the time relative to positive turbulence. It comes up. And the dark side is the possibility that yeah, this starts to happen. And it’s kind of like the pill you take the, the night after too much wine. And he had a hangover and he said, Oh wow. Now there’s this pill. I can go drink more.
Kind of on the moral hazard of being able to remove carbon dioxide. I think that it’s a dangerous argument to make the moral hazard argument because sure. There’s definitely truth in it that if we’re like, Oh great, there’s an easy way to just. Flip the switch and reverse it.
Then humans could keep emitting and all of that. In climate change movement, the foundation of change, can’t just be, we need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It needs to be, we have been living on a planet in a mindset that is we live on this dead inert thing that we can just extract resources out of. And it doesn’t matter because as long as I have what I need, that I can consume it there’s somewhere where it’ll go once I’m done with it, there’s this consumer mindset of extract, consume and then just push away has led to this plague of climate change and ecosystem collapse that is far beyond the carbon levels. It’s how we interact with natural environments. It’s how we see the planet as, instead of an inert object, how can we move into understanding that there’s interdependence in all systems and that we as humans are animals we’re natural.
We are a part of nature. And so we need to behave in that way. We cannot just be in this extractive mindset. We have to be looking towards earth as how we can actually regenerate it. The word regenerative is becoming a buzz word now. It’s replaced sustainability. And I think it’s interesting for a lot of reasons, but if we look at where we are on the earth today for many years now, we’ve been in a degenerative system where we’re extracting resource and not accounting for the externalities that happen when we do that.
And so we found ourselves in this degenerated state. We’re seeing ecosystem collapse and species die off that we have not seen ever before at rates of change that are really unseen. And so if we were to sustain at that rate, we would sustain a degenerative system. We overused, sustainability, a little too early. We were too early on the sustainability tip. What we actually need to do is regenerate the system, re regenerate generate our ecosystems and our way of creating products. And then those all need to be regenerative and giving life back to the ecosystems. And that’s our financial ecosystems. That’s our natural ecosystems. That’s our social ecosystems. All of these systems are plagued by the same kind of extraction scarcity mentality. Moving into this regenerative system so that we can get to a point where it would be meaningful to sustain. But certainly the cultural shift is a huge one that’s necessary.
Yeah, there’s an artist, Philip Glass did a, sort of a soundscape and a movie called Koyaanisqatsi, which essentially meant life out of balance. I think it’s been, in small amounts of awareness for a very long time, but in order to tip the scale, so it becomes part of social consciousness that no, we’ve just got to get things back in balance and the things that are producing excessive… name, it there’s a list of many. How do we change that mindset? And so I think, it’s a global consciousness issue. I, I love the, the technology and where it’s going to go. And it inspires me to think about, wow, this is, this is another, another small seed that could eventually, you know, turn the tides in a more significant way. So I love it. Karyn, you were about to say something, I’m sorry for my ramblings. I got a little
You got philosophical.
Kelly Erhart: Philosophical and everything got really exciting
One of the conversations I’ve been having with myself actually over the last little while is supposing this and other projects are successful. Supposing we’re able to tip the scale. And we’re able to do this ecological regeneration.
And there are lots of great examples of, of smaller systems that are able to regenerate. So it is possible. It’s not like it can’t happen. Can you give me a sense of, let’s say this happens, the scales tip, green sand beaches all over the place. We’re sequestering carbon.
We’re dancing in the streets.
We’re dancing! Yes! What is, what does life look like? 10 years after that happens? What kind of lifestyle? Who are we then? Do you have a sense of what that looks like? That, that, that.
Still dancing in the
We’re still dancing in the street. What does, yeah. What does life look like? Becaouse I, I think that’s one of the barriers for a lot of people.
They there’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of anxiety. Oh my God. The world’s going to hell in a handcart. There’s hope in Project Vesta and thank you, that’s a wonderful piece of hope, but how does my life change? How does your life change?
It is such an important piece. It’s the, one of the fundaments of systems thinking systems change. If you’re familiar with Donella Meadows’ work, Thinking in Systems, it’s a big thing that she mentions is if you can’t imagine the future that you want to create, you can’t create it.
If we’re constantly, cycling on this creepy sci-fi dystopian reality, Oh my gosh, climate change is going to burn us all. And that’s what we’re going to end up with. But if we can imagine a better world than we can create it. As I said, I’m an optimist, I’m also a realist.
And I think that, unfortunately I just, I, a bit earlier I quoted one of my friends and I’ll quote her again. Amanda Joy Ravenhill, she’s incredible. And what she has coined is what she calls the Awkward Era. So that’s the era once we’ve gotten to a point where we can achieve carbon draw-down where we do have the technologies in place. And they’re starting to do the work we’re looking at like 50 to 60 year period of a lot of awkwardness. And so that’s when you know, bad news is getting worse, but good news is getting better. The world is going to take a little bit of time to, to reorient because there is this excess carbon debt and there’s already the impacts of carbon are already being seen and will continue to be seen.
However in that future world that we’re trying to create, I think it looks a lot different than today in many ways. I think that one thing that’s really beautiful about COVID is that we’ve all gotten used to zoom conferencing and realizing we don’t actually need to go everywhere.
And so something that I hope to see is people much more rooted in place. And to me that means a deeper responsibility for stewarding place. The shift from ownership of property to stewardship of place, I think is going to be really fundamental because we have a lot of restoration and regeneration work to do, and the only people that are going to restore our landscapes are those of us who live there.
I think there’ll be a deeper sense of stewardship. Hopefully we have a decarbonized economy where we’re not driving around diesel or gas powered cars anymore. I hope that we have the kind of world where all of us are able to eat food that’s locally grown where, small Island States aren’t solely exporter countries that are exporting one product but instead are able to grow food in their abundant ecosystems.
I hope that we have a world where, you know, In a hundred years, our children can drink the water that they swim from and be safe, have that be safe and healthy that our children still know what insects are that they’re still seeing birds flying in the sky. And that biodiversity is thriving and we can see it, hear it, feel it.
And I think that mindset shift that we talked about earlier of really shifting from seeing the earth as an inert object to something that is I don’t want to say alive in this esoteric sense, but truly it is alive. It is all one interdependent living ecosystem. And recognizing that creates a whole new form of freedom. Once we can see ourselves as a part of that. It just means that we have to be responsible. I think that that will shift. I think there’s lots of things on the small scale when it comes to urban design that’s really exciting, But at a more, philosophical level, I think that that’ll be some of the key components.
I’m a fan of Sci-Fi and, not real hardcore. There’s so many interesting examples in literature and science fiction around the whole idea of consciousness. One, one of the series I’m rereading right now is Dune. It’s coming back out as a movie. Third revival, I don’t know. I’ve gone a little further the, the whole world that was created. There’s this thread about this planetologist Kynes that is this wasted world or Arrakis, his goal is to bring it back to life and how they, they planted different things and how the water comes back. It’s just, And it’s fun to think about and talk about, but, you’re operating at the scale of the planetologist here, where we’ve got to think about the whole system.
The little pieces don’t always add up and like, Oh, why should we do this project? Because it’s going to cost so much and the beaches are going to turn green. But as soon as you step back and let your, your mind expand to something a little bigger, like we got to do this, it’s mandatory. Right. And so I, I love, I love this conversation. I’m excited in six different ways plus more. And it’s, it’s just popping all these different things in my head, but that I’ve read or like music. I’ve heard it, all this stuff. So a very, very, very evocative really enjoy it.
I think it’s interesting that you mentioned the component of Oh why are you do this? It’s going to cost so much money. And do we really need to do anything about climate change? The one kind of other shift that I didn’t mention, that it feels really important is the shift in how we value things.
Right now a successful country is one that has a high GDP and that doesn’t at all matter how they got that GDP, how much land they extracted, how much carbon they emitted, what their ecosystems look like, how healthy their water is, whether their people can actually grow food on their soil.
There’s also the shift that needs to occur, which is moving from our primary value set, being economically based to seeing that there is no economic basis for anything unless we have a thriving planet. We can create a Mars state basically, where humans can just barely survive and we’ve killed off most of the organisms, but we can’t actually do that at scale.
The shift of valuing ecosystem services is another key one. There’s the eight forms of capital and the regenerative capitalism framework that I would recommend looking to, if anyone is curious to learn more about different ways of referring to value sets and capital and then operating on that basis. It’s a great jumping off point.
You’ve also tweaked for me, both Kate Raworth of Doughnut Economics, as well as… right? As well as Mariana Mazzucato with The Value of Everything and reassessing this, this crazy model of a system. That’s not, it’s a one that the GDP system is, it’s just a straight line. It’s not a system. It’s just this false machine that we created once upon a time. It didn’t really take into account the complexities and the, the, the work that is not valued.
Our KPIs are all screwed up. You know, if it’s all GDP, we got to put some other indicators in there to measure worth and value. Right?
All right. Well, you I think that’s, unless
Can we do another hour or two? Come on.
Nope, we have to let Kelly do her work if she hangs out with us and does nothing, but talk to us project
This isn’t going to happen.
We want it. We want it to happen.
And I really want to just take a moment and just thank you so much for taking this call with us, spending this time and describing Project Vesta.
Time, well spent best part of my day.
Such a pleasure,
Hey, lovely listeners stay tuned for this episodes, positive turbulence moment coming right up. But first a huge thank you to AMI who have nurtured us in developing this podcast is the source of so many of our guests. And of course the founder, Stan Gryskewicz is also the author of the original book, and dare I say… the Rachel Carson of positive turbulence.
AMI is a pioneering nonprofit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations in society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors, research, and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation.org.
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And here’s our positive turbulence moment.
Is there a dream funder or a dream partnership? We all have those in any project we’re on like, okay, the projects going on, we’re doing a thing, but Oh my God, if only blank, if only, I don’t know, Elon Musk would show up with a couple million dollars tomorrow, or if only
Rob Brodnick: Billions
Or if only David Attenborough would, feature our project on, on, YouTube or whatever. Is there an, if only in your head? A big wish.
There’s a lot if onlies his for sure, yeah. I think that having a big name who could come in and then stand behind Project Vesta and fund it and get really excited about it. That would be huge for us. Certainly if it were David Attenborough or Prince Harry, that’d be amazing.
Or if Leonardo DiCaprio or, his Amazing Planet Fund is doing great things. So if he said Project Vesta is great and we’re going to give project the $2 million. That’d be amazing. Also advisers who can be donors/advisors. We have an incredible new board member actually, who Is a brilliant technologist and engineer and made a sizable donation to the organization and is also helping us to design our experiments.
So there’s the kind of internal support, that would be dreamy. And then there’s the external and really getting it moving in the world. So yeah, I send me all of your, send me all of your celebrity friends.
Well, they’re going to just hear this podcast and you have like a magnet right to you.
Exactly. The power of the podcast.
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