“The good news is the opportunities to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in soils have a lot of side benefits.  Making the soil more resilient in the event of warming, increasing moisture in the soil, reducing pollution from farms into water systems. So let’s go for it. It’s crazy not to, not to do this!”
~Aldyen Donnelly, Co-Founder and Director of Carbon Economics at Nori.

Aldyen Donnelly is a co-founder and the Director of Carbon Economics at Nori, a company whose goal is to “create a new way for anyone in the world to pay to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” She has 30 years of experience in environmental and carbon markets and developed the world’s first major forward emission reduction credit purchase agreement to finance carbon sequestration in agricultural soils.

Carbon Sequestration and Soil Carbon

In this episode we discuss the massive potential for storing carbon in the soil, what farmers can do to store more carbon in their fields and how buying Nori carbon removal tons can help farmers make the investments required to do that.

Carbon Offsets and Carbon Markets

We also talk about some of the problems that carbon offsets have had up to now, what we’ve learned from those experiments and how the Nori Carbon Removal Marketplace is addressing some of the past issues with streamlined software, more transparency and better verification.


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Podcast Transcript

Today we’ll be speaking with Aldyen Donnelly, co-founder and director of carbon economics at Nori, a company whose goal is to create a new way for anyone in the world to pay to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

David: Hi Aldyen. Thanks for joining me today.

Aldyen: I’m glad to be here. Thank you.

David: I’m really excited to talk to you about carbon offsets and everything that Nori is doing because you hear every day about carbon offsets now.

Keaton: Before my Dad starts geeking out on carbon offsets I want to explain what they are, because I wasn’t sure. Suppose you generate a lot of CO2 because you fly a lot and you feel guilty about that. Maybe you have to keep flying for work. You can offset your CO2 by paying someone else to install solar panels that will reduce fossil fuel use and reduce CO2 emissions or you could pay someone to plant trees and as the trees grow they will pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. There are a lot of different types of offsets but those are a couple of common examples. People or companies or even governments might buy carbon offsets to OFFSET the carbon that they produce.

David: Countries are talking about offsetting their carbon.  Huge companies are talking about offsetting their carbon, and  a lot of times they’re talking about planting trees and different ways that they can offset their emissions.

But I just wonder, how much carbon can we actually offset?

Aldyen: There are quite a number of really interesting opportunities to cost effectively draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and pull that carbon back down into the earth. They aren’t unlimited and they will not cover 100% of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, but if we are sincere in our objective to hold global warming at two or less degrees, by the end of the century, we’re going to have to invest heavily in carbon removal  and retention in the soils and root systems, particularly over the next 10 to 20, 30 years. Because our commitments and our goals to reduce our actual emissions are not on track.

We’re not going to meet our objectives. That’s just arithmetic.

David: Okay, so what, what sort of numbers are we talking about here?

Aldyen: Well, the 50 companies, the 50 largest emitters in the world, and the customers who use the energy products they sell, discharge about 31 and ½ billion tons of CO2 each year. If we are reasonable, and not overly optimistic, we could offset  25 billion of those tons just by getting those farmers who grow our food and fiber for our clothing to adopt what we call regenerative or sustainable production practices. And the great news is that when farmers adopt those new practices, they’re making the soil more resilient and therefore protecting it as food producing territory in the event of global warming. 

David: Yeah, that’s a nice side benefit. So we can offset a lot of our ongoing emissions. Is that what you’re saying? For a certain amount of time.

Aldyen: Yes, and a certain amount of time is important. Proceeding to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it in soil and root systems is not sort of something that means we shouldn’t be making efforts to reduce our actual emissions.    We’re behind schedule. We’re not on track. We have to do both now. Now the good news is the opportunities to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in soils have a lot of side benefits. Making the soil more resilient in the event of warming, increasing moisture in the soil, reducing pollution from farms into water systems.

So let’s go for it. It’s crazy not to do this.

David: Yeah. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the different types of carbon offsets or the different methods of sequestering carbon. I think mostly people think about trees and you’re talking mostly about putting carbon into soil. Maybe part of that is related to trees as well, but, give us an idea of what are the best options and, and what are some of the worst options.

Aldyen: Well, planting trees where they don’t exist and rebuilding forests that were destroyed by pests or fires are really good projects to invest in. And we don’t have a methodology for forestry projects yet in Nori, but we will be adding one. We started with croplands because that’s where the greatest additional benefits are but planting trees is a really good idea. Now, there are a number of different types of forestry based offset credits for sale in traditional registries out there. And more often than not, you’re paying to preserve a forest. And sometimes the carbon accounting for those projects is really good, and a lot of times it’s questionable. So my advice is, there are lots of opportunities to plant trees. People interested in forestry as a strategy should be focusing on planting trees a little more than preserving trees. We should be working with our governments and landowners to preserve forests, but that side of the market is a bit iffy.

David: Okay. And then what are some of the technologies for putting carbon back into the soil?

Aldyen: If you think of how farms look when you drive by them on the road you’ll sometimes see, in the, in the early winter. And before the, before this spring planting starts a lot of of crop land that’s just bare soil. You can see that it’s been plowed and it’s there and the, and the soil is exposed to the air. 

Keaton: Tilling farmland is a common way to clear the land from the previous season and prepare it for planting. You probably know that tilling, loosens and breaks up soil and plows under the remaining vegetation from last year. But it may surprise you to learn that tilling exposes microbes and organic carbon to air and sunlight and they quickly decompose, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. No till or reduced tilling helps preserve the carbon and microbes that make the soil fertile.

Aldyen: Some crops tend to draw a whole bunch of nitrogen out of the soil and leave carbon in the soil. Other crops do the opposite. So if you do crop A, if you plant crop A this year and crop B next year, you can be producing a lot of crops without depleting over time, the nitrogen and carbon content in the soil, and when you deplete that content in the soil. You’re essentially releasing that carbon and nitrogen to the atmosphere. So when we shift from growing the same crop, like corn on the same field every year and instead grow corn one year and soy one year and that form of wheat say a third year. Then just by the nature of the crop rotation, you’re protecting the nutrients in the soil and drawing more out of the atmosphere than would otherwise happen for the same amount of crop being produced every year.

David: Is there a big pushback when you go tell a farmer that they don’t need to till their soil anymore? What sort of reaction do you get?

Aldyen: There is a push back and it’s totally reasonable because that’s how we’ve been farming for about 300 years. Multiple crop rotations and not doing that kind of tillage was how we farmed for centuries before that. So the whole concept of keeping the soil healthy these ways is not new. We just lost it for about 300 years.

The pushback is reasonable because shifting to practices where essentially the soil is covered most of the year as opposed to uncovered a good chunk of the year is expensive.  To transition from that practice of heavy tillage to what we call regenerative or sustainable agriculture takes a pretty big investment and it does generate a payback, but it can be a 7 to 12 year payback and I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any farmer who can afford a payback that’s that slow. So push back is reasonable and practical and one of the key reasons to build the carbon removal market, we’re building is to generate a new revenue stream for the farmers to help them get through that difficult transition period.

It’s reasonable. We’re delivering an ecosystem service, which is drawing carbon out of the atmosphere. It’s a value to us as a society, and that additional revenue really makes a difference between whether or not they’re going to proceed to adopt those new practices.

Now the reason you till is because that’s how you control weeds. So to move away from those practices and to avoid having to buy  lots of chemicals to control weeds. You have to adopt other practices because when you start to do the right thing, a whole bunch of new problems arise, the most important one of which is weeds. When farmers are trying to deal with weeds and not use more pesticides they do something we call cover cropping, .

Keaton: Cover crops are usually grown in the off-season in between cash crops. They’re grown primarily for the benefit of the soil. They help suppress weeds, minimize soil erosion and build soil fertility and soil carbon. They make sure the field is in good shape for the next cash crop.

Aldyen: So when you avoid tillage or you reduce tillage, you still have to come up with a different strategy for dealing with weeds. So that’s where life gets complicated for the farmer. It gets complicated in lots of ways, but that’s the biggest way.

David: Yeah. So that totally changes everything that he’s been doing

Aldyen: Yes. And you know, it’s counterintuitive and it’s not as big a challenge today as it was even five years ago. But one of the biggest barriers for farmers who want to shift to these more regenerative practices is you know food distributors would reasonably always prefer to just go buy the same crop from the same supplier every year. That’s easiest. And so  as we move to these more sustainable food production practices then the distribution system for food gets more complicated because the same farmers could well be producing different crops every year. That’s a complication for distribution for sure.

Now, it’s less of a problem today than it was even five years ago, as I said, and it’s going to be less of a problem in five years. But, that whole how distribution works is probably in my experience, one of the bigger barriers for farmers who want to adopt these less extractive practices.

David: Yeah, that’s a problem. I hadn’t even thought about that. So they have to find totally different markets that they haven’t been using at all.

Aldyen: Or distributors have to work with multiple farmers and balance the combination of crops that are coming off season after season. It’s a two sided challenge and it’s a big one and we should respect that a lot of people have to change how they think about things to make it work.

David: In the U S what percentage of crop land is in regenerative agriculture right now?

Aldyen: There are lots of different ways of shifting practices and there’s a transition. And if you use sort of the most stringent definition that people might use, it’s as low as 5% and if you’re more generous, it’s maybe 15%. So there’s a lot of opportunity to shift practices while increasing productivity and food production in the United States.

By comparison, when I first started working on this problem in the 1990s in Canada, about, , 10% of the food produced in Saskatchewan was produced using regenerative practices. And today they’re at about 55%. So we can look to examples in other countries of how fast a movement can happen and the opportunity is pretty good. If only half of the cropland in the U S that could be converted to regenerative practices is converted to regenerative practices over the next 10 to 20 years, U.S. food and fiber producers could offset basically pretty close to 100% of U.S. electricity sector emissions.

Keaton: Soil has two types of carbon. The first is inorganic carbon which is locked up in rocks and minerals and doesn’t move through the carbon cycle. The other type is organic carbon which is free to be used by plants and microbes and CAN move through the carbon cycle.

Soil organic carbon (or SOC) is the carbon that remains in the soil after partial decomposition of organic matter, basically any material produced by living organisms like  plants, animals and microbes. It constitutes a key element of the global carbon cycle. Here’s a quick recap of how the carbon cycle actually works:

Carbon is in the atmosphere as CO2. Plants use it to build their cells. Animals eat plants. Plants and animals die. Microbes break down decaying organic matter. Some of it ends up in the soil or is carried by rivers to the oceans.  And some of it goes back into the atmosphere as CO2. It’s all one big loop.

Anyways, Soil in some areas can have as much as 12 to 18% soil organic carbon. In contrast, in dry and hot regions like the Sahara Desert, plant growth is naturally scarce and only very little carbon enters the soil. So these areas can have less than 0.6% SOC

Due to intensive farming practices, soil organic carbon in the USA can be in the low single digits leaving a lot of room to store more carbon in the soil and improve the agricultural productivity of the land at the same time.

David: So it’s good to know that there’s a lot of potential for both forest related carbon offsets and soil related carbon offsets. But at the same time there’s a lot of negative press around them. You know, people say that they don’t work, that some of them are a scam, and so it’s kind of natural to be skeptical about it. Can you talk about how that came to be? What are some of the things that have gone wrong in the past that we need to kind of protect ourselves from going forward.

Aldyen: We’re trying to, in the Nori market to make sure that the methods that are used to estimate how much carbon has been drawn down and stored in our projects are methods that are completely transparent, peer reviewed, and in the public domain. So in, in a lot of the existing registries, and I don’t want to sound overly critical, but with all of the parties involved, making best efforts, a lot of the methods for estimating how much carbon is being stored and issuing credits reflect those estimates, come out of models that for a lot of people feel like black boxes. And so even when everybody starts with the best of intentions, when the estimation method, the tracing method is not all that transparent then you’re going to have a tendency to attract some questionable people to a market like that. So we’re going for full transparency, which makes it a less attractive market to those who aren’t maybe really doing the real thing.

That’s the first thing. This isn’t answering your question but I’d like to point out that as I said the 50 companies, the 50 largest greenhouse gas corporate emitters and their clients discharge about 31 and 1/2 billion tons a year, each and every year. While all of the offset markets that have been created to date worldwide since 2002 have issued and offered for sale, a total of less than 4 and 1/2 billion offset credits. So 100% of the existing offset markets have only ever offered for sale a total supply of credits equal to less than 15% of one year’s emissions of the top 50 companies.

I guess what I’m trying to say that the existing offset markets have, in some cases somewhat checkered histories and other cases, better histories, but it’s still a very small experiment compared to the potential for a real market. And we think that the experiments in offset markets that have been executed to date have been very useful learning exercises.

But it’s still very small in the grand scheme of things, so we shouldn’t necessarily take all of our guidance about how things will work from such a small experiment. Does that make sense?

David: Yeah, yeah, that does make sense. And I guess it’s encouraging in a way because it sort of tells you there  is no point in getting hung up on things that went wrong with our attempts to offset carbon in the past because we were just getting started basically. Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Aldyen: Yeah. That’s my message. Just, you know don’t get caught into a bind of thinking that tiny experiment is the only way of doing things. That tiny experiments and very useful. It’s taught us a lot. Now let’s get it right.

David: Okay. Good. I feel better about that.

 All right. Well so on the topic of getting it right. Tell me about Nori. How did Nori come to be? And what are you guys doing?

Aldyen: Nori is currently 11 people. We just hired an agronomist, Rebecca.. We’re really happy about that. And we’ve got a very sort of diverse background which makes it really fun to work at Nori. I have 30 years of experience in environmental and carbon markets.

We’re building a blockchain based market and our CEO was a software system designer, who before he decided to start this up worked with Deloitte and we’ve got a team of really experienced and high tech software engineers and more traditional engineers with experience in different parts of the carbon marketplace. So we combine the ability to build a software platform with experience in carbon markets in a unique way I think. 

David: That’s awesome. I think I know the answer to this, but why is the software expertise so important?

Aldyen: You can’t directly go to those existing registries and buy three offset credits. Their platforms are complicated and for you to get access to those offset credits, if you’re comfortable that they’re real, you have to buy through a broker. 

Keaton: And typically brokers will take 30 to 60% of the amount of money you as a buyer pay,  to provide the service of giving you access to those markets. Which means the farmer who is actually working to store the carbon might be getting less than half of the money.

Aldyen: It was important to us to build a market that individuals could efficiently directly access. We wanted to make sure individuals did not have to go to brokers, and the key reason we wanted to make sure they didn’t have to go through brokers was, we want the farmers to get a bigger share of the amount, you the person who wants to offset your footprint pays because we’ve got these amazing software engineers.

We have pulled that off.

Keaton: Nori is still in the pilot phase but they’re already selling carbon removal retention credits, which they call Nori carbon removal tons or NRTs for short. This concept can be confusing because it seems so abstract but it’s actually pretty simple. Say a farmer stops tilling and starts using cover crops and crop rotation. The amount of carbon in their soil will go up by a certain percentage because they’re adding more organic matter and less of it is being released into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon they have stored can be calculated and someone (which could be you) can then pay them for storing that carbon. 

The going rate for NRTs is about $16 dollars and 50 cents per ton. Nori keeps a dollar fifty of that and the farmer has to pay the cost of having a third party auditor verify that the carbon has been stored in the soil. That costs 25 to 50 cents per ton. So when you buy an NRT from Nori for $16.50 the farmer is keeping a little over $14. That is possible because Nori’s software system streamlines the process of verifying and purchasing the credits and that keeps the costs of running the marketplace low.  

David: And you’re using blockchain to track all of the credits, is that right?

Aldyen: Yes, but our system is really a hybrid system. So all of the credits and the location of the projects, who’s created the credits and who’s bought the credits will be tracked on the blockchain. So it’ll be a transparent market.

And that’s important because we also want what we call true price discovery in our market, which is also not a characteristic of any of the other markets. But our system is really a hybrid system. So in software you think of the ledger where all of the accounts are as being centralized or distributed, where blockchain is sort of the buzzword for a ledger that’s widely distributed.

We are offering both and the reason is our position is that any data a farmer shares with us is the farmers’ private data. We can use it only for the sole purpose of estimating how much carbon they’re drawing down and retaining in their soil. And we are to the extent possible, guaranteeing that their data will be kept private and not used for other purposes.

So the farmer data that’s supplied to us is going to be retained on a central ledger that is not connected to the blockchain, so that we can keep that privacy commitment to the best of our ability.

David: It sounds like you have done a lot to streamline and reduce the costs of each transaction so that people are really paying for carbon removal instead of just for the overhead of the big system. So that sounds like a fantastic start.

Aldyen: It is a start and you got that word right, because yes, we have, and we also have to admit, we’ve still got a long way to go. So we don’t describe our market as fully launched yet. We say we’re in the pilot phase, so buyers are buying NRTs over our platform.

But we’re very, very grateful to the farmers who are working with us now because in the pilot phase. The farmers who’ve come in first are really helping us get it right and make improvements. Sowe’re very grateful for everybody who’s working with us now. We’re glad they’re getting revenues out of working with us, but we’re still learning a lot from them. And  we’re really excited, not just about what we’ve been able to streamline to date, but how much room there is to do more and better over time. We’re really excited about that.

Keaton: Nori has sold about 8,000 NRTs during their pilot phase and they’re hoping to ramp up fast.

Aldyen: So our goal is to be in a position to sell, if not have sold a million NRTs by the end of this calendar year. I’m very nervous saying that out loud because it’s our goal and it’s going to be hard to reach, but we’re pretty focused on it for now. And at 14 bucks a ton net if that’s what it stays that’s a lot of new revenue for some farmers who are pretty happy about that.

David: Yeah. And they need it. That’s fantastic. So you’ll be able to sell credits from pretty much any type of technology eventually, right? Because you’re working with these third party certification organizations, so you can expand to whatever technology comes out in the future.

Aldyen: Yes. And our goal is for our market to be a dedicated carbon removal and retention market. So we’re not going to do emission reductions or emission offsets, not because we’re opposed to them. We just think carbon removal and retention needs to have its own discrete marketplace. But in that context, any kind of project that does remove CO2 from the atmosphere and retain and store the carbon in a natural or a manmade environment is a project we want to understand and be able to convert into a project that is registrable on our marketplace eventually.

David: So Aldyen, how did you end up being right up in the middle of carbon removal and building a marketplace for that? 

Aldyen: My background was in health economics and epidemiology and early in my career, I’m really old, so in the late seventies and eighties, most of my work was with a big consulting firm that most people know as KPMG in Canada. And my focus was on how the introduction of new technologies and processes would improve health care and health systems would improve diagnostic and therapeutic outcomes. And I have to admit, not through, any sort of conscious plan, over time I shifted out of the healthcare system into, what in those days we used to call the high tech sector where I was typically working for either new technology innovators or ventures, helping them try to figure out how to commercialize their product or quite traditional industrial clients who are trying to cope with and anticipate the impact of new technologies on their traditional business space. And by the mid to late eighties. I just found myself working on where the challenges that were being addressed by new technology were almost all environmental and pollution. So I have to admit, I didn’t sort of make a conscious decision to be environmentalist. My interesting projects just took me there and I’m really grateful for that.

By 1989, 1990 I was pretty focused on new technology strategies for pollution control and had become focused on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. We didn’t use the term global warming or climate change in those days.

Much of my life, I’ve been a sailboat racer, spent my time on the water. And if you were on the water all the time you can see changes that are kind of startling. So I looked into the science and while, as I said, we didn’t talk about global warming or climate change in those days, the science was pretty clear that if we were increasing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere it was going to be changing the acidity or the balance in the ocean. So I decided to, to the extent that I could, if I could focus on projects that were going to reduce that risk, that’s where I wanted to spend my time. Quite frankly, I didn’t get into the question of whether the models that said the globe is going to warm are accurate or not. I thought the destruction that I was seeing in the ocean was enough reason to work on this. So that’s why I started to work on this.

David: What were some of the things that you saw?

Aldyen: In one season I watched every starfish on the coast disintegrate into dust.

David: Because of a temperature change or a pH change?

Aldyen: We still don’t really know. Back in the 60s, the uncertainty associated with the theory that secondary smoke caused lung cancer, was pretty much comparable to the uncertainty that is associated with the theory that the destruction of that wildlife is associated with carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and ocean acidification. That’s a high level of uncertainty, but it was enough, enough to, for me, it was enough to go. When you see that kind of. Destruction of nature, unexplained you just want to work on solutions that will reduce that risk.

David: Right. And of course now there’s not much uncertainty at all.

Aldyen: I would argue that the science that suggests increasing atmospheric carbon concentration leads to increasing acidification in the ocean is pretty solid. I don’t know anybody who debates that theory. I think that ocean acidification is enough reason for us to take this issue seriously, even if you don’t believe in the global warming models. I do, but I don’t think you have to.

David: Yeah. There are actually lots and lots of reasons to take action on this. And you mentioned when, when you’re talking about putting more carbon into the soil, it makes it more fertile and it’ll make it easier for us to feed people.

Aldyen: The World Association of Soil Scientists and the Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that the soil organic carbon stock in our croplands and managed grasslands, grazing lands worldwide today is half of what it was 300 years ago. And that limits the productivity of the soil. 

Even if the globe isn’t warming we are expecting another billion people to live on this planet in the next 30 years. We need those croplands and grazing lands to get back to their historical rate of productivity to support the population growth even if it turns out the theory of global warming doesn’t work out, it’s crazy to not do that. It’s crazy!

David: It is. It’s crazy to spend money trying to get people to doubt that there’s a problem. That’s really crazy.

Aldyen: Well, a number of countries, including mine worldwide have signed the Paris Accord and the countries have made a commitment to cut their national global emissions down on average to about 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 and we have to do that net as at a minimum to hold warming at two degrees by the end of the century, and everybody’s walking around and talking as if the commitments to the Paris goal are sincere and serious. But I’ve already said in this interview a couple of times that there are 50 companies that are discharging 31.5 billion tons a year when we include the emissions their customers create, and that’s 57% of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions.

And if all of those companies execute the greenest of green plans published by any of those companies, their combined emissions will increase by at least 5% by 2030 and 28 of those companies are owned by state governments, including Norway. You cannot read the annual reports and financial plans of those companies and take anybody, any national leader who says they are going to achieve their Paris commitments seriously. You can’t. The arithmetic doesn’t work. 

And I want to be clear here. If you’re in the oil and gas business and the governments of Norway, Saudi Arabia, China are wholly-owned oil companies and are still spending 50 to 60% of their almost $10 billion a year capital spending budget on fossil fuel exploration and development, why would any oil company decide I’m going to be the first to stop doing that when nobody else is. I can’t hold it against them that they’re doing what they’re doing because unfortunately we’ve created an environment where the last guy who is still producing oil is going to become the rich one.

We need to shift to a policy and negotiating context where the guy who gets rich is the first guy out. And until we get there, I can’t hold it against the oil companies that they’re doing what they’re doing. I just can’t.

David: Yeah. Well, it’s up to government to sort of set the rules and level the playing field so that people that don’t do the right thing don’t profit from it. But if the governments are also selling oil and other fossil fuels, then…

Aldyen: Yeah. I, like I said, there are 50 companies that account for 57% of all of the anthropogenic emissions. Twenty eight of those companies are over 90% owned and completely controlled by governments. And of the 22 companies that are deemed to be privately held or publicly traded, governments still essentially have operating control of eight of them.

So of the 50 top companies you’ve got 36 that are owned and controlled by governments, and those governments have all signed off on the financial statements and capital spending plans where more than 50% of the money they’re spending this year is to find and develop more fossil fuel extraction opportunities.

So again if governments on the fossil fuel companies and governments are still saying you can spend 50% of your capital to develop more fossil fuels, then we better come to terms with that. While we’re working that out why don’t we pay our farmers for drawing down the significant amount of carbon they can draw down while they’re becoming more productive and profitable food and fiber producers.

David: I think that’s a great idea. So, you know, you have a fairly unique career. There are probably not a whole lot of people doing what you’re doing. What did you imagine you were going to be doing when you were growing up?

Aldyen: I grew up in a big Catholic family. I imagined I was going to have a million kids.

David: You told me that your dad had a kind of interesting career as well.

Aldyen: This is going to sound bizarre, but in the fifties and sixties the city of New York, quite brilliantly figured out that they would put a limit on how much area commercial buildings could cover. This was a limit on development that was to help the cities manage traffic better.

When New York decided that every block had a floor space ratio limit, it meant that while some blocks already had buildings that added up to the whole floor space limit. There are other blocks that had a whole bunch of undeveloped, still developable floor space ratio. So my dad and a buddy looked at it when New York did that and said, you know what? This makes so much sense. A whole bunch of other cities around North America and the world are going to adopt this bylaw. So my father, for a number of years, ran around and knocked on little old hotel building front doors and asked to meet the owner and asked if he could strata title their air space. And of course, usually the building owner thought this man was crazy and he was going to write them a check. So yes, the answer was yes.

So I’m bizarrely descended from one of the first two people in the world who were trading air space back in the 60s so thinking about the atmosphere as having a limited capacity to hold carbon and trading the right to use up that capacity was probably kind of natural for me.

That’s probably a big part of my story.

David: Like the family business. Yeah, that’s pretty interesting. Well it’s been great talking to you Aldyen. You’ve got some so much information that I just find it fascinating. You answered a lot of my questions about carbon offsets. You see so many articles about them in the press, and I always end up being a little confused about whether they’re a good thing or a bad thing.

What would you want to say to students or to anybody really, that that wants to kind of get to work and fight climate change? What advice would you have for them?

Aldyen: We’re going to successfully fight climate change a whole bunch of different ways. And so this is going to sound sort of hokey, but first of all decide what you love to do and no matter what you love to do, you can put it into a solution set for this problem. So if you like writing software, then you write software that helps people trace and document changes in carbon stocks. 

If you like building hardware or building machines, I have strong opinions about what the future’s going to look like, and I’m wrong 90% of the time, so don’t take this seriously but you know, I see a future in which we’re drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere and we’re turning it into a solid, a mineral, and it’s feeding into 3D printers. And, come on somebody out there invent that thing. Let’s go. We can do this. This is not the biggest technical challenge that mankind has ever faced. It’s just not. So let’s just all get to it.

Keaton: If you want to learn more about Nori you can check them out at nori.com. They also have two excellent podcasts: one is called Reversing Climate Change, featuring in-depth interviews with some really impressive guests, the other is Carbon Removal Newsroom which is a short form podcast packed with the information you need in short 20 minute episodes. You can find these on Nori.com or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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