Planetary Regeneration Podcast | Episode 8: Martin Wainstein
This blog is a transcription of the eighth episode of the Planetary Regeneration Podcast, hosted by Regen Network’s Chief Regeneration Officer, Gregory Landua.
Gregory: Hello and welcome to the Planetary Regeneration Podcast. I’m your host Gregory Landua.
Hello for episode eight of the Planetary Regeneration Podcast. I am welcoming Martin Wainstein who is the leader of Yale Open Labs and doing some amazing work on bringing together a global community to create a global carbon accounting system. Regen Network has been working with Yale Open Labs over the last year or so to, for our part, create the land ledger, the registry of credits that can help keep track of carbon drawdown in an integrated accounting way. We’ve been really grateful to be a part of such an innovative process. This conversation with Martin was super fun. We go pretty deep. In fact, as always, we edge up and even go over into some of the deeper ethical and philosophical quandaries in this case delving into understanding the limitations and possibilities of reductionist science and quantitative approaches to sense-making and agreements. I think you’re going to enjoy this podcast with Martin. I’m very much looking forward to continuing to work with Martin and Yale Open Labs. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.
Gregory: Bienvenido Martin. I’m so excited to have you on the show. We’ve just got done with kind of a breathless roadmap synergizing session and I’m excited to roll in and zoom out a little bit and talk more about your vision of this Earth ledger, open Earth ledger. Just explain to folks what you’re seeing and how it’s coming together. Thanks so much for being on the show.
Martin: Gracias Gregory. It’s been a pleasure since we met a year ago or two, working on conspiring important ideas. Indeed like you say, just thinking in terms of on the ground collaboration and road-mapping is perfect. It’s really what we’re doing on the day to day but zooming out and talking about the big picture and what really connects us all is something that I’m always excited to do because that’s really what drives us. Right?
Gregory: Yes. You’re calling in from your office at Yale?
Martin: That’s right. I’m in New Haven, Connecticut.
Gregory: You’ve been working there using that as an incubator for this open climate initiative. Do you want to explain a little bit about the vision there and what’s moving?
Martin: Yes. I’ve been here over, I think, two years now. The first need and vision that I had that was pulling me was the creation of an Open Innovation Lab. That’s essentially what’s been the umbrella of what’s connected all of my work here. We started the Yale Open Innovation Lab a year and a half ago which is structured as a partnership between the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale where my office is and the Center for Business and the Environment. The point of the lab is around the thesis that with such pressing and existential global challenges, our biggest issue is not financial, is not political, is around our mindset or technological. It’s really changing our mindset. A big one there is our attachment to a paradigm of competition as a driver of innovation.
The Open Lab is really about — how can we drive innovation through radical collaboration? How do we address global problems through radical collaboration? What we do that’s very different is absolutely everything that we do is published under open-source licenses and creative commons. We’re really trying to be a platform for multi-stakeholders to engage. The lab incubates different projects. They often carry “open” as part of the word but they’re really flexible in terms of how they’re designed. What we essentially do is try to look at leverage points in these global challenges by using system’s thinking and then deriving that into design thinking approaches to come up with ideas. Then, proof of concepts, then real-world pilots and then eventually spinoffs so that they can take off.
We have three projects. One is a virtual reality educational technology platform to understand how energy as a vector really [inaudible 00:05:35]. This is a project you start in a digital campus. You go into the sun, you follow photons and then you can take the different journeys that photons have. The one that I was most excited of being able to design in a virtual reality experience is to transfer photons into electrons through photosynthesis. We do cross-scale navigation like going inside the planet and understanding how the sun is really part of pumping our oxygen and sequestering carbon. At the end of the day, this is the key metabolism that allows us to be here and that is the one that we get to tap into.
Being able to do educational technology and being able to re-route how we understand what I do here actually affects at the macro-scale and micro-scale. That’s what the project’s about. Another one is called Open Solar which is financial technology to enable normally complicated contracts to finance communities on energy but through contract an automation driven by blockchain smart contracts. We started actually this in Puerto Rico after hurricanes Irma and Maria as a way of — how do we help investors around the world help but also invest on microgrids that can be owned by communities? Most of the financial innovation drive of solar is related to third party ownership. Someone else owns the solar panel. When it comes to community energy, it’s a different model. We wanted to really reinvent the pay-to-own and the power purchase agreement for the purpose of this. We’re now, for example, in a partnership with Rwandan government looking at how we do the same thing that we’re testing in Puerto Rico but cross-border. How do investors from different parts of the world can use a climate bond — for example, as a way to invest in the rural electrification or all Rwanda landscape and also as well with the rest of Africa — integrating off-takers of energy through mobile banking and things like that. Totally open source. It’s something that connects into climate finance eventually. The third project which is I think what you’ve mentioned, it’s been taking most of my time this year fortunately because I think it’s a very important and needed project. We’re calling it “open climate” but we’re always very sensitive in naming, sort of branding, even though I like to frame things because I think that project more than anything else we do needs to be truly ownerless and at the same time, everyone needs to own it. It’s really about thinking of a global accounting system. There are a lot of, let say, climate accounting initiatives or registries and greenhouse gas inventories, but they are often siloed. The amount of ecological underpinning that we have is really low. There is also very little accountability of the amount of pledges that non-state actors created. Cities, provinces, companies, organizations, universities, they are all saying, “We’re going to be carbon-neutral by this year.” There’s no way of tracking that. There’s no way of having to find the mechanism to be part of the Paris agreement itself, to have mechanisms of recourse, rewards, incentives. I think that part of that is where we — we originally started when we set Earth ledger by thinking in terms of how we can use blockchain accounting systems to keep the track of the carbon budget because, at the end of the day, that is also a huge accounting problem that connects us all. It is literally the physical amount of greenhouse gases that we can fit into our single atmosphere before radiative forcing takes us over the ledge of 1.5°C of warming. We’ve been using this amazing credit card that we’ve had from the planet Earth and we are eight years away from busting it out.
Gregory: It’s sort of petroleum extraction and burning.
Martin: Yes, absolutely. It’s banking on millions of years of trapped photosynthesis outcome in the form of carbon–carbon bonds, non-financial bonds. We really turned them into financial bonds to some extent. We should have used it 100% to finance an infrastructure that is more like trees in their metabolism but now we’re just using it to burn it and power our system. Carbon in the atmosphere is the key platform that shows how evident this is. We started with the carbon budget and how important it would be to add an accounting system. I often say, “Wouldn’t it be a lot easier and transparent to manage it at every flow meter that extracts coil, oil and gas at the upstream level would be publishing to a public ledger?” Fortunately and unfortunately, coil oil and gas is managed by a very small amount of organizations called “carbon majors.”
60% of global historical emissions can be traced to just 90 companies. That actually makes it easier to be able to track where higher carbon is coming into the system. We really thought that it would make sense to explore the junction between decentralized accounting technologies and atmospheric carbon budget management, and then got into the more political side. By political side I mean things get really complicated when we bring in our human-created political boundaries — the concept of countries, the concept of cities, the concept of a region, the concept of a company. These are all synthetic concepts that we came up with but obviously, they are the underpinning of all our climate agreements, and part of the geopolitics that’s just been going around climate for so many years. That’s when things can really get complicated. At the physical level of Earth, things are a bit more straightforward.
Being in the weeds of like, how do we tap into better, more transparent and decentralized systems that help all of those political actors — and even us as individuals as political climate actors — connect? That’s what led us to not just about climate accounting but looking in terms of world actor registries where all of their greenhouse gas and commentaries lie, where their pledges lie, and their action tracking happens. The process of certification of climate action can be monitoring, reporting and verification of those actions, MRV. The role of a new form of climate markets is very different under the Paris agreement versus the Kyoto protocol. We normally look at a much more heterogeneous landscape in terms of climate markets. Kyoto was pretty straightforward as it was very top-down. Paris Agreement, and I think that’s one of its biggest powers, is a very bottom-up agreement but it also leads with everyone’s coming up with their own way of doing things. That heterogeneity requires a bit more of interoperability, a bit more of thinking in terms of how to create fundability between climate assets. When I talk about climate assets, I mean certified actions and I include emissions as well there, but also mitigation and adaption. Adaption is very important and also harder to track. Mitigation is often, we could use a general currency of carbon displaced or carbon captured. Adaption is around vulnerability reduction. It’s around increasing resilience, but it’s still essential or for climate action and being able to also certify adaptation actions. Because, that certification is linked to the last step which is climate finance or how do we mobilize capital.
I like to do system integration and look at all the pieces of the puzzle. Last year, I was spending a lot of time on this which led us to say, “We need a global climate accounting system that needs to be ownerless, that needs to be open-source, needs to be user-friendly, needs to be decentralized.” Since earlier this year, we’ve been putting this word out. I think that’s been often the context in which we originally met and clearly a platform that helps us connect and collaborate on tangible projects and tangible pilot at the technological level but also at the narrative. Because it’s really about — how do we reframe the narrative both of being able to create these global tools as part of the digital public good that allows us to understand that we are part of the same system? We can have jurisdictional divisions and different mechanisms for each part of the world, but we need to have a single layer that connects us all when it comes to climate at least. That was a long story of how [inaudible 00:15:42] of what we tried to do in the get-go, two years ago.
Gregory: Yes. That’s fantastic. Thank you for that overview. Just to orient myself and maybe some listeners, how this meta-ledger of atmospheric accounting or as I’m actually hearing you talk about it, it really ends up beyond atmospheric accounting. It’s like an Earth ledger really at the end of the day, because there’s other pieces of this that need to be accounted for — adaptation, biodiversity, water and things that are related to it. It’s an interconnected whole. Regen Network is a piece nested in this vision as a platform focused on ecological state, land health, natural carbon cycles, biodiversity, water. There’s other pieces of this which you’re describing, which have to do with the ability to ledger multiple scales of goals and geo-locate those pledges and stretch between atmospheric carbon removal or drawdown on one side and emissions reduction on the other. The efficiency play and the investment in natural carbon cycles as play and being able to create a dashboard where any citizen or government or corporation can understand at a glance their commitments and how well they’re doing with their commitments and the relationship between their commitments and other global commitments so that we actually have the ability in this short timeframe that we have as a human civilization to transform our economy. Is that contextualizing in my world, is that an accurate…
Martin: Yes. The way that I describe it and I think that you’re alluding to this is we remind ourselves and everyone the distinction between Earth and the world. Earth is our physical planet and the world is the one that involves a lot of the individuals and the collection of societies, culture. That’s why it’s said when we bring in the world aspect is when things get more complicated because it’s not just about the physical planet.
Gregory: National borders and national prospects [crosstalk]
Martin: Yes. Society [crosstalk] conforms to laws and all of that. That’s part of our world. That’s the world we created. It’s also the world where we put all of other sentient beings on the planet and force them to be part of to some extent. Yes, there is a clear distinction between Earth and the world. When we started talking about Earth ledger, we really had [crosstalk]
Gregory: That was [crosstalk] that. I get you.
Martin: We still talk about Earth ledger as being… It’s simple to understand in terms of how the IPCC structured the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Working group one of the IPCC is the physical science, is independent to what the Paris Agreement says. It’s independent of countries. What is the current state of the planet? Working group two is around adaptation and climate impacts and understanding of what that means in terms of how it affects our world. Working group three is mitigation. When we talk about Earth ledger, it’s really about working group one and having consensus about what’s the state of the planet. I think the core work that you guys do at Regen Network really taps into that foundational layer because it’s like, “Let’s agree on what the physical planet and what the ecosystem state is right now.”
Martin: Obviously, you’d think we would have this clear, but there’s still a lot of discussion and a lot of people still don’t incorporate the facts of science and the facts of the state of the planet Earth.
Gregory: Even some scientific communities. This is an important piece to explore more which is — what do we need to create consensus about? Do we need to have a global consensus about the state of the planet as a whole, or to what degree, to what level of certainty do we need to agree? I tend to think what we need to have consensus about is how we, I guess, report on claims. It’s like the fundamentals of science. What was your method for making a claim about the ecological state and can it be replicated? Having good hygiene about that and not getting caught up on who’s right or wrong with the biogeophysical modeling and other things but just saying like, “What we need is tools for a really great scientific hygiene about claims and models and data collection,” so that they can be ledgerized, so that things can be replicated, so that what we can have a consensus about is the statistical significance that we’re operating in.
People would be able to disagree on nuances based on their specialization, their focus, their life experience, but can agree on this protocol layer. I think, in some ways, that’s the essence of what I’m attracted to in what the open climate initiative is inviting people into, which is the opportunity to be focused on that. How do we communicate and interoperate and coordinate without getting lost in the details of this argument? Because, boy, that seems like the climate movement has been arguing over these details for years, and less focused on this set of tools. It only becomes clear that we need a different set of tools — as you noted at the very beginning of this conversation — when you start to shift your paradigm.
Instead of competing about who’s right about the biogeophysical reality and how close we are, how many years we have, how many parts per million, if we’re cooperating together to optimize collective intelligence instead of competing who’s right, all of a sudden we actually increase our precision and accuracy in making claims as a group in a way. It’s a paradox.
Martin: Absolutely. Yes. You frame it as like having consensus on: what are the measurements and what are the methodologies applied for anything? That actually reminds me of how science works in the lab. When I was working at [unintelligible 00:23:33] Labs as an electro-microbiologist for things like that maybe 10 years ago, I had a lab notebook. I had to record all of my measurement s. I had to report my assumptions. At the end of a specific period, they would see what I [unintelligible 00:23:49] in the notebook. I needed a colleague to go through it and sign it. That notebook needed to stay within the lab. There was always this agreed protocol of being able to…. Because, out of that comes your scientific findings and your publications. It’s like, “Show me how you came to that answer.”
In some sense, we can do an analogy of that lab notebook, of good hygiene lab notebook, for how we come up with our statements about the state of the Earth. At the macro level, that’s been part of, let’s say, working group one of the IPCC. What’s the state of physical science of the climate? That is the collection of everyone working on this at a scientific level and then the consensus at the global scientific board. Then, what I think you guys also bring in consensus of that at the micro-level or let’s say you are looking at what’s the state of a specific part of land at the specific part of the world right now, and how can we track that over time so that if you keep that clear empirical evidence data from remote sensing and devices that follow physical parameters of input and output, which is what sensors do, and the assumptions and the methodologies well recorded, you can build on that. If there is some possibility of improvement later on, you could still go back to that entry and you can adjust it for this that you didn’t consider at that time and it will adjust itself.
Gregory: Yes, exactly. I think our theory of change in that is that…
Martin: There’s also consensus around what everyone said they’re going to do, and consensus around the state of how we’re accounting things. [dev?] accounting obviously is a big issue within the climate world and it just happens to be one of the key aspects that blockchain came into solve for digital currencies to emerge, which is a part of bitcoin’s first work is solving [dev?] accounting. That problem is not so much at the Earth level, but it’s definitely at the world level. You’re accounting it at the company. Let’s develop an open project. You’re accounting it at the region at which it’s done. You’re accounting at the country level and an individual level. That doesn’t help.
Gregory: Yes. It’s really interesting. I think what we’ve been talking about, in a nutshell, is some sort of epistemological layer of what we need as a civilization. How we generate knowledge is important, and building tools that grow our capacity to be clear about the “how” of knowledge generation and make that accessible is really important. I actually want to dig in a little bit more on that. Are you familiar with the work of Charles Eisenstein?
Gregory: How does it strike you when he says, in a nutshell, and I’ll paraphrase — quantifying everything and having a precise empirical approach to knowledge generation is as much of the problem as anything else is? The revolution has to be from our hearts and we have to learn to love each other and Earth again. I think he’s making some sort of claim that’s problematic or even impossible to generate that sense of love from like a “rational, empirical stance in things.” I’m just curious. What cord does that strike for you?
Martin: Yes. I think that’s extremely powerful and it’s also part of the next scientific revolution that we need to embark on. I don’t think that there’s anything better to help us get on board with it than how mother Earth is signaling back to us in terms of what’s happening. I think that, probably, Charles alludes to this in his book, but we come from a long history of reductionism. Through the last decades in how the economic and financial system evolved, we’re driven even more connected to that reductionism, to competition as a driver of economic involvement and innovation. That just fuels our illusion of separation. It’s really that illusion of separation that is getting us to where we at, is this first notion that we are separate from nature or we’re separate from planet Earth. That comes all the way back to our colonial period of having to take control of savages, take control of planet Earth. The research is there for us to take and we’re still on that paradigm in a sense.
Whilst it’s a delicate balance — because we were talking just now about the importance of having consensus around empirical data metrics — reinventing “the how” we do that needs to help us strengthen “the why” which is at the end of the day, we are part of a single system and we are exterminating ourselves from it. We need to really behave as a global civilization. We do need these global consensus tools. The part of what you described in that phrase is we need to be able to bring in the generation of knowledge from, not necessarily quantitative things but qualitative things, and the notion of love, which is part of, really means unity and the sense of unity and the sense of being part of the same thing is really what’s at stake here.
We need to understand there is no difference between us and the planetary system. We’re an extension of it. What we do to it, we do to ourselves. Our physical body is wired to self-protect itself. If you put fire to a part of your body, your body is going to react. It has the feedback mechanisms to protect itself. The planet as well but we’re not sensing because there’s a lot of filters in the process of when we do something to the planet that it sends the feedback back to us. There’s such a degree of latency that we don’t realize that we’re doing it to ourselves. We obviously now see it with impact with how it currently lead us. There’s fires in lower California. What a surprise? This happens almost every year and even more and more. When I used to live in Australia, this was the same thing. It’s part of the same feedback mechanism. It’s just the latency is longer, but we’re part of the same body. It’s really part of that consciousness of how deeply interconnected we are and how we’re not separated in some sense that we need to bring that mindset to our science, because science also has been able to tell us that things are not necessarily separate the way we see it at the quantum level. I think that that’s in essence what I’ve set out to try to bring in, a bit more of a…
Eisenstein talks about the spiritual side of money. I thought it was important to bring the spiritual mindset to science because spirit is a non-local self — that self that connects us all. We can see it that way. At least, we can frame it that way. That’s the emphasis on collaboration rather than competition in the knowledge generation and scientific development. The big part of that is that what gets us attaches to the paradigms of competition, the illusion of separation, is the strong attachment to our egos. What is also at stake is that we break down our severe attachment to our egos and it’s really feeding into our individual insecurities. The great thing about it is that we are all a part of it. You can probably see that at an individual level. Not a single day that goes by that I don’t see my ego do good things and bad things to my day to day and my personal evolution. I have my duty there, my homework there. Egos are not just at the individual, they are also at the institutional level.
I deal with this, as you can imagine, on a daily basis when I’m trying to operate a highly collaborative project from a really large and old institution like Yale — it’s older than the United States — but also with various large stakeholders. Institutional egos are very important. There’s a lot of attachment there and often get in the way of collaboration. I’m also happy to say that we, in the two years that I’ve been at this quest, found so many folks at these institutions that really understand that and really are trying to work on — how do we transcend that and how do we take the opportunity of these global existential challenges to help us make those shifts at the individual level and at the institutional level?
Gregory: It reminds me of a concept that I’m familiar from the work of Gurdjieff around The Fourth Way and Capital W’s work or that is to say that one develops and evolves oneself or selves as a human and the ego. Having a healthy relationship with ego whether that’s, in some schools of thought, a disillusion and in others it’s more of in its right place because it does a bunch of good things as you’re noting. But in right relationship we work on ourselves through working on these bigger systems, societal challenges. The two are interrelated.
I oftentimes hear people say, “You have to work on yourself first and then you’ll change the world.” I don’t remember where that meme comes from, but I think what I’m hearing from you, and what I tend to experience as true, is we have to work on both at the same time. We have to work on our individual self and our communities and we have to work on this sort of highest system level that we can conceptualize — how are we in service to that? It’s a transformative crucible. It’s not easy.
Martin: No, absolutely. I think the reason, the way I often describe it, is that we don’t have an easy way — when you think about it — of where the self stops and something else begins. I spent several years, while I was doing my doctoral work, on the role of the corporate law within climate change and the role that it has with the carbon majors and some of the problems with the current paradigms and locking effects of maximizing self-interest. Through all these years of working on that, it came back to part of my own conspiritual insights that really the problem is not maximizing self-interest, is who is the self that is acting. That is where consciousness becomes very elastic. Is it my physical body? Is it my immediate family? Is it the attachment that I have to my favorite band, my favorite football team, my country — things that we’re willing to die for. But then how do we extend that self toward not saying that we’re part of the planet?
If we work on ourselves, if we’re working on those macro things, we are automatically telling us that we are not that macro system. If we work on the big planetary problems, but not working on ourselves, we’re not, again, we’re forgetting that we’re late. We need to work on both because, at the most important level, there is no difference between both. I think that’s also what astronauts can tell when they come out in space and look back and they’re like, “Oh my god. We’re all just part of this little blue speck. We’re part of the same thing.” That’s the key that we need to work on a day to day. It’s understanding that I am part of that and that is part of me and it has to work in synch. It’s extremely hard but that’s also what we’re here to do.
Gregory: In a nutshell, this technological endeavor that you and I are both on and many others, it seems to me it has to do with… We’re building an autonomic nervous system or some sort of training wheels. I like to think maybe there’s a pre-existing, non-vestigial organ of perception that likely was cultural. I think it’s probably collective organ — not a sensory organ that “I” as an individual has but like a tribal kind of organ. Some of the meaning-making I have is, tribally or in groups, we can create a transcendent, ritualized connection with the whole that we’re nested within. I think that that’s a part of how society is formed in the past. There is some way in which I think despite of, or because of, or paradoxically unified with, that technology and science that, my perception is, that technology and that science — that you’re working on and I’m working on, that VERSES is working on, that Switch is working on and so many people around the world, people in the climate change coalition — is, in fact, striving to re-unify human perception, to myelinate the perception to improve the connection of perception so that it achieves… Like you’ve said, we can actually feel that fire and we can react in a short enough timeframe that we can attune our actions and our society to what’s real.
Martin: Yes. By connecting that, we could agree to set out these smart contracts that create this fast reaction in our systems. I often think about smart contracts as a possibility of saying… In the same way that our body, we have these smart contracts. If you put fire, it will react. It’s wired to do so. We did not wire certain things in our social system that can connect our actions so that they are always in the best interest of a healthy planet. We didn’t do that. It does start with very basic foundational layers of keeping track of records, keeping track of state so there is consensus there and we start building a lot of these. At the same time, the mechanism so that it’s not just a single entity, like a single system, but one that’s combined by other different systems just like the body is as well. That’s why we see the climate project as what we need to build as the platform of platforms. Everything that you’re working on or everything that already is in place with the current legacy climate accounting systems, we don’t need to replace them with something new. We need to bring in a layer that helps integrate them together so that they can speak the same language. We’re just building it so that it eventually we have the system that really integrates everything, because I think everyone agrees we need that.
Gregory: One more maybe provocative question here. If we’re dealing with a complex living system and we’re dealing with consciousness and we even have love on the table now, what prevents our approach from being overly mechanistic and creating an automated system that is dumb and destructive through its stupidity? Where does consciousness enter? Where does complexity in life enter into this?
Martin: Yes. I love that question and I think that’s the right question to ask. It’s also part of when we get together to work on these things, things that we need to bring to the table because we cannot do this with a techno-fix. We’re just going to create a system that uses IoT, AI, and blockchain, and smart contracts and then that’s it. No. We definitely cannot build a system that does not have self-healing potential that does not have the power to evolve. Often, we’ve created entities, our legal systems that have too much lock-in that don’t have the capacity to collapse ad recreate.
A good way of thinking through this is how complex adaptive systems all behave — collapse at certain levels of a complex adaptive system is actually part of its resilience at a macro level. Ourselves are constantly dying, and yet, us as a macroorganism are still in stability. We really need to bring in the capacity of nested complexity and nested systems that are susceptible to collapse, and they don’t have necessarily attachment, to say like, to form. That’s from a very theoretical standpoint. How would the system be designed? It should be designed how nature is designed and that’s often how nature works. Mostly, it’s just large nested complex adaptive systems that are constantly in a process of creation and destruction, expansion and collapse and traction.
As above so below, we need to think about how to design our healthy climate management system in that way. How to operationalize that? I think that is where we need to do a whole bunch of Collabothons around and I know we haven’t talked about that on the technician level. I like the idea of being able to have contracts that are not deterministic that purely say, “if this then action that,” that have the capacity to go back to humans and say, “What [inaudible 00:45:50] Where’s your heart telling you to go? Decentralized governance can help that. I’m going to take a side approach to this. We’re working on financial technology for securitized investments. Often, what we hear is from regulations like the security exchange commission, they’re not comfortable with the issue or of a bond or security. Once it’s released it has no control of it, because it’s just purely governed by smart contracts. I was like, ”Okay, then we need to make sure that within our contracts there’s possibility of saying, ‘Alright, the process has to stop here. It needs to tap into the humans and the parties involved so that they have some of the best governance mechanisms that we have which is sitting down and having a dialogue.’”
Gregory: Right, and then those people have a digital signature that says, “We deliberated and…
Martin: Exactly, yes. A part of that non-mechanical thing is part of the human dialogue, is how we communicate and how we communicate also in person, which is so different than anything else. Because, we don’t just communicate with words and text, particularly when we have feelings involved. It’s our feelings that are driving our decisions. That’s just one aspect at the technical level. I think that the second part is the outcome of it has to come from a place of love and collaboration, because if you don’t come from a mindset of that you’re probably going to create a machine that doesn’t have it. The most important thing is not to innovate on the technological level, not to innovate our climate accounting system. It’s just how we build it. It’s the “how” where we put our energy that needs to crystallize the right mindset and consciousness that is creating, that is enacting in that creation.
A couple of days ago I talked about this and at the end I said, “The problem about this system, the open climate system, is that we can’t build it because we definitely can’t build it within our humble lab here with our very motivated and brilliant students and partners, et cetera. We need to find a way for us all to build it together, which we would but throughout the year we were thinking, “How do we organize this type of event?” We’re seeing the power of collective masses with collective strikes, and the New York Climate Week was an example of that. People are getting contagious about the need of reacting. That is part of the neuronal system that we have that Earth is speaking to us and people are going out on the street and saying, “We’re feeling it.”
Our proposal on how to build it is through a Collabothon, which is what we call a combination of people hacking and building at something together but not through a mindset of competition. We do Hackathons all the time here at Yale and MIT. It’s always teams get together and they compete against each other. The winner takes all. Most of the code is lost [inaudible 00:49:26] he pays no attention to. It was just a great social event. It was just like playing a sport. With such a massive project and underpinning, we can bring in collaboration as the driver where the teams are just building a different piece of the puzzle. I think that since the Human Genome Project, we haven’t had this degree of the challenge ahead. In 2001, the Human Genome Project was also set up as a competition.
Martin: There was a private sprint toward sequencing it and there was a public effort on it. The private way was trying to speed, to get faster to it, to find any form of patent and commercial opportunity from being able to sequence it first. The driver there was probably not ideal. If we have to create our climate genome accounting system, we need to do it from a place of there is no room for… I mean, there is healthy competition within the system but not from a place of division, from a place of unity. I think that’s also part of where we can bring in love to these events, to these social gatherings, as part of a proposed vision. It’s a seed to put out. We’re launching the first instance now in November all the way to the UN Climate Negotiations meetings in December, as a seed for everyone else to keep watering it and taking it to different horizons.
Gregory: Yes, great. The next set of questions that I want to ask center around that, around the Collabothon and creating the right conditions for that. I want to hear more about Collabothon and then I want our listeners to hear more about it. I think it’s pretty exciting. As an entry point, I want to hear a little bit more about your thinking about how you create the conditions where the participants in a Collabothon are starting from the right place, starting from that place of connection with a larger whole, of service, of love, of asking hard questions. What does it look like to create those conditions to start out a big collaborative effort? How do you approach that?
Martin: I’ll take that as two steps. One’s division and one’s like, “Okay, how do we do that?” The vision is, like I said before, a type of event where people around the world are working together at different pieces of the puzzle of a macro system to be designed and built. It needs to be built by everyone because it needs to be owned by no one and by everyone at the same time. It’s just an integrated climate accounting system and climate management.
We, from the get-go, and doing the integrated system proposal and architecture, we derive different set of prompts. Prompts and — let’s say we can call them bounties around aspects of the software technological step to be developed — inviting participants, inviting hosts that are entities around the world and often universities or institutions that provide a physical space for people to have a go-to spot to work on. Then, prompt hosts or prompt owners. In this case, the prompt hosts are the ones that understand the knowledge of what needs to be built and from a climate, often a climate policy, climate knowledge, climate science standpoint and technological partners. They need to provide all the right support in terms of the background information, in terms of open-source code, in terms of data, to participants and then guide them throughout.
What we’re doing is inviting different partners to host instances of the Collabothon. We’re doing a one-weekend event here in New Haven. Our forestry and environment’s cool at Yale. We’re inviting folks obviously from the East Coast, people from Harvard, people from MIT, all of the universities here in New Haven, University of Connecticut, Southern Connecticut State University. We’ll have folks coming from Columbia Earth Institute as well. Then, you guys are in Great Barrington and you can come in directly. We’ll be spending a weekend here probably doing a version of a small design sprint to figure out what to be built, and then we have two weeks to continue working on it. It’s not really that we have two weeks — it’s an open-source project so after that we’ll continue working on it — but part of it is a bit of two series of sprints towards the UN Climate Change meetings in Chile. It’s also a way of bringing in collective work and collective proposition into these seminal moments that define a lot of the mechanisms that the world actors are going to play by. Probably, the vision is that this instance, this event running from November 15, 16 to December 6, let’s say, is a proof of concept of what this could be. Perhaps we can engage 80 people to have here on campus, maybe 60 around the world, maybe more. It really depends on how active we are at communicating this.
Next year, April Earth Day, we can get 15 thousand people and after that, 150 thousand people. Some of the prompts we have are extremely ambitious. It’s like a whole platform to simplify the issuance and monitoring of climate bonds for financing. Another prompt is to create automated carbon pricing mechanisms that look at the physical state of the planet to derive how much value should be placed to a cost of these externalities. Then, derive potential revenues into a collective, decentralized fund that has algorithmic decisions we need to deploy capital for best climate actions, things that we’re probably not going to build in November here at Yale and different nodes.
If you can think about how to engage 150 thousand people, with self-organization teams, we can build all of this in probably under two weeks. That’s the power of collective intelligence and collective will that we think is the key technology we need to use. It’s a technology that we have. We just have not been able to use it because most of our actions have been around competition and trying to take credits, which is part of what I said before. One of the biggest design challenges is how to make this not feel like it’s a Yale event and you’re coming here to help Yale University. No. It needs to be the opposite of that. It needs to be what everyone makes out of it. It also needs to be very applicable to the current, incumbent politics around climate, which is managed through the UN [unintelligible 01:57:50] process. It also needs to be able to act as an alternative system so that you don’t have to struggle to try to change the current system. You create a new system that makes the current one obsolete. That’s Buckminster Fuller’s words there that we need to put into action.
Actually talking about Buckminster Fuller, he often talked in some of his books around the concept of the World Game. We really need to bring in some game education. We have to think about how do we make this an enjoyable social gathering and world game to build a system that really helps us as a civilization. At the same time, we need to figure out how to bring — and this goes back to your question around Charles’ mentions — art in the picture, and expression, and human expression into it. How to make art as maybe a fuel that helps people gather together in the working, practical pieces of a collective puzzle. At the same time what general puzzle is has to be able to mutate throughout the process. That’s the vision. How to do it? In terms of the way you said it is how to get people to come in with the right mindset.
Gregory: Yes. How do you generate or, even more so, to re-ask it — how do you generate a field or an approach of a field like a morphogenetic field or a shared aim where people are collaborating and striving towards this greater good? How do you think about that and how are you thinking about that in the lead-up to Collabothon?
Martin: Yes. I can tell you how I’m thinking about it now but I’m also very aware that I’m a bit detached of making sure that we do this the right way the first time. It probably won’t. It needs to be constantly evolving.
Gregory: It’ll certainly evolve, for sure. Probably, that’s part of prior principle [crosstalk]
Martin: Exactly. We talked about this before when you said that you need to think in terms of a complex adaptive system that has the possibility of self-organization, evolvement, mutation, collapse and reconstruction. That needs to be there. The way I see this is to be able to communicate the state of our carbon budget which is a very clear way for everyone to understand the challenge at stake and understand the capacity that we have with all of the collective expertise to be able to have a difference. If everyone can own that same vision and everyone acts from their own set of purpose, then we will probably find the right starting pint. That is the part of the starting point is that everyone has to tap into their own specific purpose of why they connect. That’s part of everyone’s dharma, let’s say. What are we here to do?
The way I think about it is a strong effort around communication of the problem at stake, the opportunity that it generates, and the beauty of being able to work alongside fellow humans. It’s an amazing feeling to be out in the climate strike, feeling that everyone’s part of the same body trying to create a single yell of communication. It might also be the same feeling to be able to be on the spot working together and using our digital technological power, our collective knowledge and expertise so that we can further fuel. This is part of the feedback loop that it needs to have that we’re all in this together. The more that it can constantly remind us, I think, the better it is.
The truth is, to be perfectly honest, I run the lab with multiple projects. The Open Climate is one. The Collabothon is a huge endeavor. I do everything that we do with the help of our students. They are having exams. They have to go to class on Monday. I often realize how overwhelming these ideas are for them, and for myself, because the amount of resource that we have is always limited. I’m often thinking about all the details of running an event and sometimes forget about what’s really behind it. That’s also part of my construal work. A lot of my work involves a lot of mind and it needs to involve more body and spirit to it. That’s constant work that I do to try to balance that.
So far it felt a bit of like relax around, starting it the right way is by saying, “Well, the Open Innovation Lab can help kickstart the instance this year,” but this is not our event and we’re just stewards of it. This is also part of the key paradigm that we need to change. We need to emancipate ourselves from this notion of ownership to notion of stewardship. That applies to everything. I’ve explored a lot of this in the context of, like I said before, coil, oil and gas or carbon major who actually owns that credit card of millions of years of trapped photosynthesis, who owns the atmosphere of this planet. We need to understand ourselves as stewards of it. Perhaps, we could just by framing us as like, “We’re just stewards for this year and helping it get started.” I’m sure everyone will hopefully resound to that and the right stewards step up.
Then, next year, it can be taken over by other folks, or the collection of folks, not just a single entity but multiple ones — in the same way that we started to frame the Open Climate project as an Open Innovation Consortium — that will work on it for the first phases to incubate it, to usher all the right efforts in the right direction but then release it. That’s also part of the process that works in natural systems. We need to be able to bring in the seed, nurture it. By the end of 2020 or 2021, be able to release it as a new type of entity. I think that we also have a year and a half as a responsibility. The blockchain community has a very good position to think about this as — how do we truly have a global decentralized and autonomous system that’s not just designed to make money? It’s designed to govern, to be a mechanism for Earth system governance. We don’t really have a truly robust system for Earth system governance.
Gregory: Yes. I’m interested in your thinking about this and what are the roles of markets. Where are the potential profit centers that can drive adoption and investments in a decentralized way so that you don’t necessarily have to wait or ask for permission? It seems like there’s three pillars. One is: you have to identify the market case and the case for innovation and ownership. Two is: you need to be able to interoperate with and connect with as a new and independent system, the legacy system. Three is: you need to be able to unleash the collective intelligence of a vast collaborative network of actors, agents who know that they want to do it and have something to contribute. All three of those somehow have to come together in the next year and a half.
Martin: Yes. I like how you’re breaking down those pillars. I think that’s the right approach. Market is, I would say, it’s very important and it’s very important to think of… When I say as a system that’s not designed to maximize, to make money, it needs to be able to enable other folks and other apps and other entities, and other platforms to operate markets mechanisms. That’s part of the nature of open-source projects is they need to be enabling platforms. Often, I struggle with this when we talk to conventional, corporate culture that understands open source is just the epitome of value captured, because we’ve been trying to understand that the only proprietary software or proprietary knowledge is what we can derive funds and value from. No, this is an enabling platform where market mechanisms, profitable projects can be built on. In fact, the key thing that we need to show is that it’s in everyone’s economic interest as well. If you’re thinking only from an economic standpoint, this needs to make sense to you no matter what, but the system does not need to foster that type of thinking as the driver. It needs to come from a different place. You can start with that but it actually changes you in the process.
Gregory: It has to be backwards compatible.
Martin: Right, exactly. I’m not advocating for the only way we can do this is if we forget about the profit altogether. Again, it goes back to self-interest and who is the self. There is the possibility for the integrated system to actually open up to a global market where an organic — something that you guys do — organic agriculture in a village in Equator that’s doing [cocula?] sustainably can actually be part of a global market and actually affects. It helps the profitability of that project. That is enabled by the global platform.
Gregory: It only enables if there is an ability to account for the public good generated by that approach to forestry in that case. Yes.
Martin: Yes. That’s part of when I talked directly to the corporate world is seeing that vision as well as being able to understand it as part of the global climate trade mechanism as well.
Martin: Per Article six of the Paris Agreement — I don’t think we talked about much of this — is a key aspect that also informs a lot of our efforts is: how can parties — 186 [unintelligible 01:10:18] countries, [unintelligible 01:10:20] climate parties — help each other collaborate to meet their nationally determined contribution (Article 2 and 3) in a transparent way (Article 13)?
We can understand how to involve non-state actors into those state-based initiatives through the international transfer mitigation outcomes. That means if a private actor developed a sustainable project that has provable mitigation outcomes, in a region in Ecuador, and Ecuador agrees to foster maybe that action. That mitigation outcome can be traded to Paraguay that maybe needs that action for its NDC. To put it in more simple ways, a couple of years ago when I was doing my Ph.D., we were involved in creating a bilateral institution called the Energy Transition Hub and it connected Australia with Germany. It is currently acting as this bilateral initiative and its essence is — Germany has a long history of technology around low carbon tax and renewable energy but it doesn’t have a lot of natural resource. Australia has unlimited natural resource in terms of renewable energy [inaudible 01:11:45]
The logic there is: how can you make a country like Australia act toward mitigation outcomes and use German technology and create that degree of trade? That’s a good example of an international transfer mitigation outcome. Germany says, “We have the finance. We have technology. It’s just that within our jurisdiction, we don’t have the sun and the wind. Let’s go to Australia. Let’s build a concentrated solar thermal and winter [binders?] and then transfer those mitigation outcomes to us.” In the process — guess what? — you’ve got jobs in Australia. You’ve infrastructure in Australia. You’ve got a whole economic development happening in that country. Germany is exporting a lot of its know-how. That’s some example of how these things could happen, let alone as soon as we start thinking around evolution of the conventional clean development mechanisms that integrated more developed countries with less developed countries.
Because, in the same sense [inaudible 01:12:48] Brazil Amazon, it’s not owned by Brazil. It’s an asset for the world. It’s a world [unintelligible 01:12:56]
Obviously, Brazil is a [unintelligible 01:13:00] party. It has a big stake at this, naturally, an important role in the politics of the Article 6 and the next uptake. We need to make sure that’s it’s also in Brazil’s best economic interest to preserve that Amazon and is able to, if they agree, other countries who enounce that and use that for their accounting.
Gregory: I think that’s a key statement. We need to figure out how to align the interest of actors with ecological sustainability, ecosystem health. Without that, it’s going to be very difficult if there is always a perverse incentive between the economic outcome and ecological outcome that we’re seeking.
Martin: Yes. It’s understanding that intersection of both macroeconomics — that countries often… sometimes it’s the only language that they speak — and climate value and the Paris Agreement which is regulation and policy to their lands. That’s been a part of the inspiration of also the work because Article 6 is the one most important article that hasn’t been fleshed out. There is expectation that’s going to be a key part of this next climate negotiation instance in Chile. Most of what I get from other folks, the feeling is that the mechanisms is not going to be designed and defined this instance. Because, at the same time, next year is the first stocktake year, which means that within the Paris Agreement what’s backed in is that every five years all actors have to report their track and increase their emission of their nationally determined climate contribution. That is a mechanism itself that needs to be tested for the first time. Hopefully, it doesn’t take away from the effort of what needs to be done, which is also defining Article 6. Because, the thing is, if we do that, we’re able to design a mechanism for countries again in their standard way of thinking to see the great opportunity, economic opportunity at stake.
I’m from Argentina. Argentina is just like Australia. It has unlimited renewable energy potential. We have some of the areas of the world with the most amount of sun, the most amount of wind, and an amazing amount of gravity through the Andes, and a whole green solar panel which is the Pampas in all the area. We’ve now been clouded by the fact that we also have non-conventional gas. That’s been a very bad, let’s say, distraction because we need to think about how do we become… I see countries as renewable energy superpowers when I think in traditional coil, oil and gas terms. The point that makes countries like Argentina, Brazil, Australia, being the [medalist?] of the clean-tech revolution, is because they just have a lot of the natural resource.
At the same time, bringing in the concept of “from ownership to stewardship” — saying like, “Because of that, you need to be able to help foster that and understand that, in every way you can participate in that, so people come in and bring finance, develop the projects and the mitigation outcomes can be traded” — that’s part of that global picture as well.
Gregory: This is getting up past the time we’ve got on our calendar. If you’re willing, I have one last question. I’ve always been struck by your ability to articulate the numbers of all of this, that atmospheric carbon imperative in a nutshell in the numbers. I’ve seen you present that a couple of times. How much we need to reduce emissions, how much we need to drawdown. I know usually it’s nice to have a graphic to go with this but… I’d love it if you don’t mind just giving our listeners a quick breakdown like, “Hey everybody. Here’s our budget. This is in broad strokes. Here’s the carbon budget over the next 50 years.” What are we looking at here? How much are we overdrawn with our credit cards?
Martin: Yes. Let me state and at some sense credit why carbon budged has also been very a useful narrative because it’s also a story for me. When I was doing my Ph.D., the director of the college where I was is one of the lead authors in the carbon budget calculation. A lot of the main authors today are also good friends of mine. I’m thinking Malte Meinshausen, [unintelligible 01:18:33] They are the scientists that are behind of being able to calculate. The way the budget is calculated is: first we understand the physical science of radiative forcing and how much greenhouse gas has a direct effect on average temperature. We look at our global historical emissions after the industrial revolution and the effect of that and propogenic emission into average temperature rise around 0.98 degrees of average temperature rise since the industrial era. It’s another group of people that are the climate scientists, the climate system scientists that derive the calculation that says: past 1.5 degrees because of feedback loop, because of its effect on the poles, its effect of the multiple different things. We’re already crossing a tipping point. “Oh my god, you’re Mate?”
Gregory: I’d give you the first drink but…
Martin: I don’t think listeners can see this, but being an Argentinean that drinks Mate the traditional way, looking at Gregory drinking it from a real gourd I almost have a tear coming down my…
The calculation of the budget is defined by saying, “Okay, we’re pumping into the atmosphere collectively around 40 gigatonnes — it’s a bit over that now — of CO2 equivalencies.” That’s CO2 and methane and other nature-based gases. They are extremely powerful as well. That’s what anthropogenic means. It’s not part of the natural cycle as well. Then, we have to calculate the emission trajectory that is consistent with the 1.5-degree target. From 40, the emission trajectory collectively is basically taking us to zero emissions, zero net emissions by 2050 and not just that. From there, it goes negative towards 2100. At the same time, the carbon budget is derived by the area that is under the line of our current global emissions and the trajectory that’s consistent with 1.5. That number currently looks at — I just pulled up the MCC carbon budget calculator which makes this very easy — the CO2 budget left is 345 gigatonnes of CO2.
Gregory: We have that much to emit basically.
Martin: Yes. After that, we busted the 1.5-degree target.
Gregory: We’re doing 40 gigatonnes a year currently.
Martin: [inaudible] 345 gigatonnes.
Gregory: We have 345 left and we’re doing 40 a year currently and we’re still increasing. Correct? We’re still increasing it 10% a year or something.
Martin: Yes, we’re increasing but the point is that 2020 needs to be the historic peak emission year. That means that us, our kids, and next generations need to look back to the year 2020 and remember it as the year that never again… There’s been that much greenhouse gasses pumped in a single year. 2021, we need to go down.
Gregory: I get really excited because that means that there’s never been a better time to be… there will never be more atmospheric carbon than there is in 2020 which means that you will never be able to be more efficient in sequestering it by a photosynthesis than 2020, which means that if you’re trying to make an economic play to use natural processes to bring carbon out of the atmosphere and into robust healthy agroecosystems, now is the time folks. Now is the time. It will never get better.
Martin: Right, that’s a good point. We said 345 gigatonnes if we’re looking at 1.5-degree scenario. The 2-degree scenario, it looks more like 1,000 gigatonnes. It’s a huge difference which is why the Paris Agreement was so important to say to commit to [afferents?] below 1.5 degrees. The reason why that is, is because 1.5-degree increase already edges into the well-being of most of the developing countries that are mostly exposed by this. A lot of the well-developed industrial countries can probably deal with the 2-degree world but not countries like Tuvalu. Their highest peak is one meter above ocean level. If we don’t stop it in eight years, we bust it out of our budget which is super scary.
It also reminds us. My experience getting into all of this was when I was a college student and I was studying astrobiology, how life evolves in our planet and other planets. It just helped me see the planet as an organism of 4.5 billion years and how microdynamics at a microorganism level affects macrodynamics at the atmospheric level. Since then I realized, because of the numbers that we pumped into the system, it was our generation that was going to have to live this which also means this is the most exciting time to be alive. It’s right now and it’s us that we have to take a stand and say, “I think there’s a limit about what we can do to our planet. It’s the best planet in the solar system. There’s no doubt about that. Mars sucks.”
We might as well bite the bullet and make this one work. It’s beautiful to see that we’re [unintelligible 01:25:18] to it and there’s nothing more inspirational to help us do our own personal transformation because that’s what we’ve talked about in the last couple of hours is that that planetary and world system transformation needs to go alongside our individual transformation or our spiritual transformation or our psychological transformation. I think there’s this huge blessing in disguise where our planet and our natural mother is sending back the opportunity for us to bring in, probably the most important tool of resilience which is to behave as a cohesive planetary civilization.
Gregory: Yes, otherwise known as “grow the fuck up.”
Martin: Right, exactly. Yes. You are playing on a playground that you just can’t sustain, so grow up. That’s part of what we’re also hearing you do. It’s our purpose. How do we align our purpose in this life with how we relate to the fact that we’ve started with globalization in our markets and economy but also the digital world can help us have a more direct connection with the globalization of the mind and of our spirit in that sense. That’s basically where numbers can help us think. This is not something we have much leeway on. This is something that almost every day we need to think about this or feel it and find ways of aligning it with what it means to our purpose here in this life.
Gregory: Yes, that’s a really powerful wake-up call. It’s a really powerful forcing function and initiation moment for humanity and each of us as individuals. Martin, I’m super grateful for your time. I don’t want to eat into the rest of your Saturday. I know how precious weekends are for body and spirit refreshing. I’m really grateful that you’ve taken the time to chat. It’s been a fantastic conversation. I’m really excited about the Collabothon coming up, excited to be working by your side to make the world a better place.
Martin: Thank you so much. I’m very glad that we had this conversation that gave us the opportunity to really think around how holistic our mindset needs to be and why do we need to bring in this to everything we do, and the possibility that we… For the next year we have all these instances to be able to put into action. It’s great. This can be very overwhelming, this whole problem. I know for a lot of different generations and people, they just find it so overwhelming. They don’t even know where to start. [unintelligible 01:28:22] just blocking. Climate change is real. I can’t do anything. I’m just going to worry about my car, my house, and my kids’ education. When you start connecting with allies and realizing that we’re not alone, eventually, we need to work all together, then there’s a huge boost of confidence and optimism.
Gregory: That’s right. Together we can do this. Alone will fall and together will stand.
Martin: Yes. My mother-in-law actually talks about the fact that optimism in that can be the direction of saying like, “We can do this” but is also outrage that can the fuel for us to do it, because there is a degree of outrage that we need to have about the fact that we put ourselves in our situation. We’re also putting this to be narratives of all next generations.
Gregory: Yes, and I think you know that Greta and the Sunrise movement and some of the other youth movements — Extinction Rebellion — are all speaking about that and igniting that, which is very exciting. Because it’s going to take that outrage and that awareness but it’s also going to take just some precise, detailed, complex, subtle cooperative work where you have to be able to sit down and have a calm conversation and draw a roadmap and dig into that.
Gregory: It’s interesting. I think you summed it up well. There’s never been more exciting time to have been born. I’m just leaving this conversation with a lot of gratitude and I’m pretty fired up. I’m like, “Fuck, yeah.” This is what it’s all about. We’ve got eight years to do this. Let’s make it happen. I want to show this current conservative natural climate solution numbers. We can take 30% of that, a 30% chunk out of the annual emissions, or 30% of the way — you can think about it in different ways — 30% of the way towards that gigaton or one trillion tons, that one trillion ton challenge that we have. I think we can do more about that. That’s what I’m fired up about. I think that you get amazing dynamic land stewards and beautiful agroecosystems that are diverse. You can just use photosynthesis to just pump carbon right into the soil. That freezes up so much leeway, so much energy for that.
Martin: Yes. We need that because net-zero to 2050 is not the end of the game. It needs to be negative all the way to 2100, and negative is not an easy thing to have [crosstalk] become net negative drawdowns. A couple of days ago, I had different ideas. You see it every time you look at an eco-city conference. All the skyscrapers that they show are covered with the green stuff. We always put that there but when you actually talk with [inaudible 01:31:50] The biggest issue is how do we finance that, because it’s not within the ballgame of the real estate developers. It’s not within the ballgame of [municipality?] We’re having a bit of a breakthrough with some of the ideas around that, because we need to turn our cities into forests and various amazing air quality improvements direct and fast that our plants do.
Gregory: Quality of life. I was just reading about impacts on crime and violence correlated to air pollution. There’s health and there’s all these externalized social costs — billions of dollars worth of costs.
Martin: Huge area of insurance opportunity and public expenditure opportunity, a lot of savings everywhere, because we now have air quality sensors that are cheap and everyone can have that. There are probably ways in which we’ve going to find a way of how to finance urban green infrastructure. Until now, it’s been really hard because it does have operation and maintenance costs associated to it. We need to link it to all the benefits of it. That just goes to say is and I think that… You mentioned Greta. Part of the message that she was able to get across is also part of my work, which is we’ve introduced the metabolism of exogenous combustion. That’s what we are doing. The way that we can make this planet healthy is photosynthesis. We really need to switch back into behaving like trees collectively. [crosstalk] Yes, exactly.
Gregory: Recently, one of my friends and a supporter of our project and all-around amazing guy Jae Kwon, who is a founder of Cosmos — I think I tagged you on his Twitter — he asked Twitter, “Hey, what are the best ideas for essentially reversing climate chaos?” People were throwing ideas and I chimed in there. There was a bunch of crazy stuff — geoengineering, giant mirrors to reflect the sun, all of this insane stuff. I’m like, “Okay, come on folks.” One of the things that struck me was that there was a comment — and it might have been Jae Kwon — with the techno-fix idea, which is: we need a power source strong enough and we need a catalytic process. Then, we can convert atmospheric carbon into sequestered stable carbon. I was like, “Energy source, sun, catalytic process, photosynthesis.” It’s really a structural, socioeconomic change we need. We don’t need some crazy new technology.
Martin: Right. I think that’s part of the humility that we need to always have in the technology space is that we’re never going to be better at this than the 4.5 billion-year-old organism. A lot of the key technology is already in place which makes this planet behave like a Gaia organism. That’s it. The best we can do is be inspired by it and emulate it and do a lot of biomimicry and understand how the natural system works because we’re part of it, rather than trying to think that we can do a better job.
Gregory: It’s about improving our socioeconomic capacity to be part of the system. It’s technology in service to that instead of technology in service to fixing a reductionist problem. How do we keep ourselves as technologists from getting stuck into the mechanical reductionist trap? There’s some framing there. That’s a really important thing, I think. I hope listeners are pulling that out as one of the themes of this conversation which is: what is the technology serving? What are we concentrating our innovation on? Are we trying to fix atmospheric carbon levels as a singular problem where we’re going to build a big machine and suck the carbon back out of the atmosphere? Maybe that’s a part of it. I don’t know if it is or it isn’t, but really, the question is: how do we harmonize our human, social and economic relationships to have the emergent quality of our economy be drawdown essentially? What does that look like? It’s a nature of our humanity to be re-sequestering carbon just as it was for 250 years or so, but it was the nature of our human relations that we were putting carbon in the atmosphere. [crosstalk] nature of things. If you were an extraterrestrial, if you were to zoom to Earth and you were just watching the 250-year timeframe, you might be like, “Oh, that’s the purpose of humanity, to create a greenhouse?”
Martin: Right. No, I really think this is part of a nice globally designed purpose for us and we’re just here to start playing the game and put in our full self, full self into it.
Gregory: I hope so. Thanks again for chatting and I look forward to being in touch. I guess we’ll be in touch next week about some of the details about the upcoming collaboration.
Martin: Yes, we have an exciting roadmap ahead.
Gregory: You want to leave listeners with any links where they can tune in if they get excited about this? Where can they plug in?
Martin: Yes, absolutely. The umbrella of our work is on the Open Innovation Lab website. It’s openlab.yale.edu. There’s links to different projects that we have there and at the academy, Open Solar with the partnership with MIT Lab as well, Open Climate and the Collabathon. The site will launch in five days but you can access it at collabathon.openclimate.earth. All the rules and all the processes and guidelines for it are there in registration forms. Then, if anything that I said resounded at a personal level, my website is martinwainstein.com. The stock’s a bit low but I added things that I’ve done in the past and things today in terms of art and other parts of my research. I think that everything back there will lead to other links that might be exciting.
Gregory: Fantastic. Thank you so much.
Martin: Thanks, Gregory. Have a great weekend and look forward to our next steps conspiring together for the transformation.
Gregory: I’m honored and I’m grateful. Cheers.