I’m restarting a newsletter — for me, for you, and for the climate

The why, what, and how of a monthly newsletter from an entrepreneur on a mission to reverse climate change

This year, I’m restarting a newsletter.

In the summer of 2016, when I left a dream job as chief strategist at the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, I started a mailing list as part of my new company called Carbon A List. It was a way to put my stake in the ground as a climate entrepreneur. It was raw, personal, and full of insight on solutions that could capture, use, and store carbon. The goal of the mailing list was twofold: 1) to get more client work so that I could learn the ropes of climate finance on other people’s money before building a scalable software business and 2) to build community to find and inspire other entrepreneurs/intrapreneurs to share the journey of reversing climate change. Both goals were met.

Just over a year later I got together with Nori’s CEO Paul Gambill and we decided to go into business together. We competed in a hackathon (that we ended up winning) which pulled together the founding team for Nori. While the execution is complex, the idea behind Nori itself is shockingly simple. There’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere, and there’s no easy way for people to pay to remove it. So we embarked on creating the infrastructure for a carbon removal marketplace. By the end of 2017, I forked the list I had begun into Nori’s mailing list. It’s a great weekly newsletter, and it’s growing quickly. My colleague Ross Kenyon writes it and I edit it. And you can sign up for it here. It includes links to our podcasts, articles written by and about us, videos, events, opportunities to participate as a buyer or seller in our marketplace, and more. Although any content I create is most likely informed by my work at Nori, this isn’t an official Nori newsletter. This isn’t even an unofficial Nori newsletter.

When I told my mom I was starting a new one, she was confused about my intentions but related what I was doing to an Emily Dickenson poem.

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me, —
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me

This is my letter to the world as I make sense of it. Writing publicly holds me accountable to share my journey. It’s also a forcing mechanism to document what I’m learning, doing, creating, and pondering. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much of my identity is tied up in Nori. I am more than my company and I want to be seen as more than just my company. At the same time, I realize my unique vantage point in a space where there is a lot of smoke and very little fire. In some ways, free-writing in this way is a reclaiming of my own voice. And when I think about what I can offer to the world, I realize it’s more than just my position in scaling up a business. It’s being able to freely share my ideas, insights, struggles, and nuggets of wisdom that I might pick up along the way. And, to be candid, build a personal brand.

My plan is to publish all the content on medium (with no intention of putting this behind their bogus ‘suggested stories’ paywall, so follow me!) and for those who sign up to get the emails to include something extra special. Sign up to get my monthly mailings delivered to your inbox here.

Christophe to the world, here we go, round 2.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the challenge of building a carbon removal marketplace like Tom Sawyer in Huckleberry Finn who needs to whitewash a fence. In the story, Tom ends up getting folks to be so excited to have the privilege of whitewashing the fence that they pay him in frogs to do it. I’ve been spending a lot of time whitewashing the fence (generating sellable carbon removal). It’s manual painstaking labor. Sometimes it feels like I’m being asked me to whitewash other fences (like soil carbon not in the US, or other carbon removal methodologies). But now that I know what it takes, I feel more at ease finding strategies to support others to whitewash the fence. Indeed, management is simply about accomplishing goals using other people’s work. Soon the world will be whitewashing the fence and paying those who can remove carbon for the privilege of doing it.

I’ve been stewing on the tension that emerges from establishing carbon removal as a commodity in light of the complex nuances that are associated with the actions associated with commoditizing it. Is a tonne removed in Georgia more valuable than a tonne removed in Zimbabwe? The atmospheric carbon balance doesn’t care, but someone paying for it might. Moreover, does treating carbon like a commodity take away the place-based reality of the land we’re working to regenerate? Charles Eisenstein frames this tension as carbon reductionism and points out that it lets emitters continue to be part of the problem, and implies a know-it-all attitude over a landscape transformation with only a carbon lens that there is so much more.

I grapple with this and don’t have a good answer. My only answer can be “Yes, and.” It’s a two-sided marketplace so there is supply and demand. For demand, “Yes, emitters should pay for carbon removal for a social license to operate, AND we have over 1 trillion tonnes of excess CO2 to remove. Yes, farmers should get paid for removing carbon, AND there are a suite of other ecosystem services which can be tracked, monetized and contextualized in the broader systemic challenges that farmers face today with the recognition that carbon payments are not a savior to US farming and without strong social fabric and addressing the plight of rural America.

  • I had fun presenting in a webinar with our partners at Mad Agriculture, Pipeline Foods, and NSF International talking about new ways to support farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices.
  • I got geeky and wrote an article “Soil Carbon: estimating and incentivizing its accrual.” Writing it forced me to get even deeper in my understanding of Nori’s positioning to scale the foundations that are already in place to estimate carbon removal in US croplands from all the different estimation techniques out there.
  • I was quoted in stories in Yale Climate Connections and Better Farming this month.
  • Pipeline Foods. It’s been a delight to spend time with this group in my farmer education and working with different partners, but this month I very much enjoyed breaking bread and meeting farmers with a company whose thumb is on ~40% of organic foods in the US and has been in the business of writing checks to farmers for a really long time.
  • Open TEAM and Dorn Cox. Dorn is one of the people I met early on in the journey of Nori. In December he invited me to do a presentation to his group virtually, and in early January he convened a meeting at General Mills at OpenTEAM that included complementary efforts of other markets to pay farmers. It was a delight to find common ground in the name of improving metrics to quantify carbon removal in US croplands.
  • I’m currently in Memphis until February 28th. It’s a great experience to be part of the Ag Launch Row Crop Challenge accelerator, deepen my roots into understanding agriculture, and work with a leading player in the agtech industry whose interests are aligned first and foremost with supporting the farmer. If you know people to meet, things to do, or farms to see in Tennessee or in the mid-South, please tell me!
  • I am hiring for a supply account manager. If you know someone qualified for the position, please tell them to apply as soon as possible!
  • Subscribe to this list to get future newsletters to your mailbox and share this with people who you think would want to follow my journey.

Climate change entrepreneur and consultant. Recovering from carbon exuberance. I like to stir the pot.