I am Yishan Wong, founder and CEO of Terraformation. I was previously CEO of Reddit. I’m here to talk about whatever you want. Ask Me Anything!
Aloha Reddit. Yishan here, and I’m here to talk climate change and Terraformation, but you can ask me about anything else, like:
- Terraformation, and how we can solve climate change with mass-scale native forest restoration
- living and working in Hawaiʻi
- working in the tech industry
- advice on career, life, or romance
- old Reddit stuff, if you insist
- Proof: https://imgur.com/a/2bhePQi
Terraformation is raising $5M in a crowdfunding round on Republic.co. We’re doing it because we want regular people to be able to invest in startups too. The recent SEC crowdfunding rules now allow private companies to raise up to $5M from non-accredited investors, so we’re making it possible to invest in Terraformation at the same valuation as our recent Series A. Here is a longer blog post explaining more details.
I also happen to be running a Solarpunk Art Contest, with awards totaling $18,500 for the ten best pieces of original solarpunk art. We need a new and optimistic vision of our world’s future, and to help bring that about, we need not just science and technology and better politics, we also need art and music and film and even advertising that paints the picture for us of what our future can be, if only we are willing to work together and build it.
Seriously though, I’m here to talk about how massive reforestation (or more accurately, native forest restoration) is an affordable and immediately-scalable solution to climate change, and we should be pursuing it with all due haste.
Recent declines in the price of solar mean that green desalination can produce the necessary water to irrigate previously unusable land, hugely expanding the amount of land available for reforestation, enough to offset all or most human emissions.
I even crashed Bill Gates AMA awhile ago here to tell him about it.
 don’t follow my advice unless you are ok ending up like me; use at your own risk
UPDATE: sorry about the slow rate of answering! I'm doing this during my workday, but I promise I'm going to get to every question!
UPDATE 2: for answering questions about Terraformation as a business, I should add the following disclaimer since we're in the process of fundraising:
Certain statements herein may contain forward-looking statements relating to the Company. These statements are not guarantees of future performance and undue reliance should not be placed on them. Although any forward-looking statements contained in this discussion are based upon what management of the Company believes are reasonable assumptions, there can be no assurance that forward-looking statements will prove to be accurate, as actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. The Company undertakes no obligation to update forward-looking statements if circumstances or management’s estimates or opinions should change except as required by applicable securities laws. The reader is cautioned not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements.
Or really, any social media refusing to.
(OP, I'll answer your question here, since "or really, any social media refusing to" is a valid elaboration; plz upvote parent accordingly)
I'll say this: more so than any other social media giant, Reddit is probably best-positioned to maintain reasonable levels of discussion without having to ban COVID misinformation.
Reddit has a couple key features going for it that no other site (still!) has:
- a skeptical userbase
While neither is a complete solution and both are flawed, one of the most useful emergent behaviors is "user sees an appealing/provocative headline, clicks on the comments to see if someone is debunking it."
It doesn't happen all the time, and it's not perfectly reliable, but it happens a lot of the time: there'll be some kind of spurious headline/comment, and a well-supported and well-reasoned rebuttal or debunking is upvoted as the top comment.
The ratio of readers to voters to commenters is roughly 100:10:1. So you can have one misinformed headline/comment, and one good rebuttal and 9 stupid comments, and there's a good chance the reasonable rebuttal gets voted to the top, and the hundreds of passive readers see THAT. Reddit is generally the best place on the internet to Find The Best Argument For/Against <Whatever>.
There's a much larger discussion about how it's actually way harder to systematically identify and ban misinformation at a large scale than most people assume that I won't get into, but if there were any site that could structurally function without doing it, it would be Reddit.
Why is the search function on reddit so sub-par after all the years it's been around?
🔥 🔥 🔥
Ehhh, I wasn't trying to diss him. I'm just not the right person to ask!
I used the search function just yesterday and it seemed pretty good to me.
I don't think you get enough credit for turning around reddit and getting it to where it is today; you made so many changes to the culture, the team, the process, and more. How does it feel to start a company from the beginning and be able to build and shape a new culture? What are you trying to do differently? And why climate change?
Running Reddit was actually a very stressful and difficult job. I was a CEO for the first time, and staff at Reddit are very public and visible. It was a little like a public company, except without the size and staff to help manage and buffer the enormous amounts of incoming flak.
After I left, I spent a lot of time second-guessing the decisions I'd made, and it ended up being a real mind-fuck because a lot of them ended up with, ".... and if I'd done X differently, maybe I'd still be in the job. Wait, I don't want to still be in the job. So does that I mean I made the correct decision? It doesn't feel like it...." It didn't lead anywhere good, so I resolved not to think about it any more - to consciously STOP myself from thinking about Reddit any time the thought came up - and set about catching up on video games I'd missed out on playing while I was working.
However, before I wiped it from my mind, my wife pointed out that even though it had been a very traumatic and negative experience, I'd probably learned some lessons, right? And I thought, yeah, I guess I have, so I wrote them all down in a textfile, put it away, and then stopped thinking about Reddit for years.
Fast forward to like 2019, after I'd done a bunch of math on this reforestation thing, and realized that there was a potentially actionable solution here, and possibly (taking into account all the factors like political will, scalabiity, timetables, etc) the best solution available to us, and it was clear that while I'd swore off ever being a CEO or running a company again, if I wanted to see this happen, I probably had to start a company to bring it about.
So, I did.
It turns out that, as negative as it was, the experience of being a CEO at Reddit was incredibly valuable. This time around, I was able to avoid numerous pitfalls (or even small mistakes that delay you) as I started and scaled Terraformation. We were able to launch, raise funding, and scale to something like 50-60 people in the span of a year, all during the pandemic - we were founded in Jan 2020.
Being able to make a hundred minor micro-decisions correctly has been invaluable. The problem of solving climate change (in time) is such an enormous strategic challenge that being able to just know what to do when it comes to minor structural and operational decisions (or at least limit the range of options considered) saves so much time and energy. It means we have been able to build a great team and scale our operations very quickly (which is good, because the big thing we're "selling" is literally scalability).
Plus - and I can only take half the credit here for the recruiting - people who want to work in climate tech are really nice and collaborative people. We have hired a team of really smart people who are also really collaborative and just... kind to each other. Even people in "competing" climate companies - everyone feels like an ally, we're all in this together, our solutions are complementary, and we want to support each other and raise each other up.
I'll definitely say this: if you're looking to work in a supportive and collaborative culture and all you know about the company is the industry sector, I'd look for a company working in climate change. The problem may be VERY HARD, but the people working on it are REALLY GREAT.
Mind sharing some of those lessons from your text file?
Here's some of them (some of them are broad, while others are very very specific lessons):
It's not about power, it's about grace. Use your power to create systems within which people work, to serve your goals, rather than make sudden or abrupt unilateral decisions.
if you don't tell your story, someone else will. Go out and keep on narrating your story in public so they quote it.
In making decisions, consider the point of view of all parties, including those who are not present. (http://tech.genius.com/B-horowitz-lecture-15-how-to-manage-annotated/)
Don't let any details slide or be assumed in negotiations over term sheets. What's written down is what gets executed by the lawyers, and if your leverage is up front before you agree, don't give it up until every single point is nailed down for sure.
People need a plan of record even if it's highly likely that it will change.
Limits of liability matter in determining the real risk of lawsuits, as they can cap the downside.
creating product and getting distribution are the most important things. Stability and organizational correctness are just means to an end.
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
repetition of messages is also necessary for smart people
as a CEO, you cannot develop and mentor managers as you can in other positions, because you have neither the time nor the domain expertise, c.f. [redacted]
The culture of an organization is shaped by the worst behavior a leader is willing to tolerate.
How did you get to the point of wanting to start Terraformation after Reddit, and what did it take in terms of money, lifestyle changes etc. to make it happen?
I'm guessing everything you buy, wear, and use are from eco-sustainable brands. What are your thoughts on businesses like Tentree and their efforts to reforest?
Are there other companies/ services that you personally support and why?
They say that everyone who works in climate has a "moment."
It's a personal moment where something happens that spurs you into action, into redirecting your life into solving climate change, whether that contribution will ultimately be big or small.
In my case, I was sitting on the beach here in Hawaiʻi, and it was HOT. I mean, it's Hawaiʻi, it's supposed to be hot. But it was really really HOT. I talked to the locals who'd been around a while, and they said, "No, this isn't normal. It's never been this hot before, I live up in the mountains where it should be cool, and last night it was 88 degrees and I couldn't sleep at all. Something is wrong."
That was my moment.
I thought, "Ok, this climate change thing has GOTTA STOP."
I didn't come at it from an environmental angle. I came at it from an engineer's angle: my house is too hot, I need to cool it down.
That's when I started to seriously evaluate large-scale solutions. It turns out that when you do that, you realize there's a big difference between a small solution (drive an electric car) and true planetary scale solutions (how do you electrify all transportation and generate that electricity in a zero-emissions way), and there are a lot of other factors to consider. After examining potential solutions from all sorts of angles (see link), it became pretty obvious that what was missing was a massive, worldwide campaign of native forest restoration on the scale of billions of acres.
In terms of money needed: I made some good money working at Facebook, and I actually sank millions of it into building (what is currently) the world's largest fully off-grid 100% solar-powered desalination facility on the Big Island. We did that to prove out a key thesis in the "mass forest restoration" which is "is there enough land to do it?" With solar desalination (as I pointed out to Bill Gates), we can affordably irrigate enough otherwise-unusable desert or desertified land and regreen it to restore the amount of new forest that we need.
I have been lucky that I've made good money working in tech, and I'm spending most of it on solving climate change because hey, what else am I supposed to do it with? Build rockets?
To fund Terraformation itself, we initially raised money from angel investors.
Surprisingly, I don't make an effort to specifically buy/wear/use things from eco-sustainable brands. I just try to avoid patronizing egregiously damaging actors, which I think works well from an 80/20 perspective, and then I've focused my life on what I think is the highest possible ROI of time/money => carbon drawdown, which is planting trees, restoring forests, and finding ways to accelerate both of those (and help others accelerate).
Finally, there are two products I'd definitely like to <s>shill</s> call out support for:
The first is the EONE Bradley watch, named after former naval officer Bradley Snyder, who became blind defusing bombs in Afghanistan. The hands on this watch are represented by two ball bearings in a circular track controlled by internal magnets. This means that blind people can read this watch by touch.
Why do I wear it? Because sometimes you’re in a work meeting and you need to end it on time, because you don’t want to be late and rude to the next person you’re meeting with. But if you check the clock a lot, that’s rude to the person you’re meeting with. In fact, most of time, you end up having to check the clock a LOT as the meeting nears its end, which can appear incredibly rude. It’s not that you’re anxious for the meeting to be over, you just don’t want to end up accidentally being rude to the next person. What’s a polite and over-scheduled tech manager to do?
With the EONE Bradley, you can just discreetly touch your wrist and know how much time you have left and “magically” end the meeting on time, all while maintaining eye contact and being polite to all involved. Also very convenient if you’re in fact blind, or become blinded in the course of the meeting.
The second one is Clif Bloks Cherry Caffeine Chews.
I don’t like coffee or tea, and I used to drink a lot of Coke. But that was too much sugar. I also hate diet soda and sugar substitutes (they all taste weird and gross to me). So if you’re like me and need caffeine but have a bizarre combination of taste preferences that excludes both coffee, tea, and diet soda, these are your solution.
I’ve apparently been ordering these since 2012. These chews still do have sugar in them, but much less sugar per milligram of delivered caffeine compared to soda, so they comprise a great low(er)-sugar caffeine delivery mechanism. I’ve actually eaten so many of these that I’ve become adept at detecting minute flavor variations that result from what I can only assume are manufacturing variances, ingredient substitutions, and possibly even minor spoilage from sitting around too long (so far as I can tell, old ones that sit around can develop woody or slightly spicy undertones like wine does). Definitely a culinary adventure for the refined palate and caffeine enthusiast!
Is terraformation profitable? Could this be easily presented to people who care more about their pockets than they do about the environment?
Terraformation is not currently profitable, and we don't intend for it to be in the near future.
The way I view profitability is that if you're generating profits, you're taking money out of the system. I'm attempting to maximize the amount of money being put into growing more forests, which maximizes carbon removed from the air, which is the fastest and most direct way to solve climate change. Hence, until we do that, I wouldn't aim for Terraformation to be profitable. It might be break-even, but we'd aim to re-invest any excess profits into more trees, more forests.
People sometimes ask why we're a for-profit company, rather than a non-profit.
The biggest reason is that when I was deciding how to create Terraformation, I realized that the scarcest resource in our case is time, and not money. Non-profits are often slow, and as an executive at a non-profit you have to spend most of your time fundraising. I can't do that - I have to spend most of my time getting trees into the ground. That's why Terraformation is a standard, Delaware C-Corp, because a vanilla corporation is the fastest vehicle for driving collective action: you can think of us as a non-non-profit.
All of our investors really just care about solving climate change. I didn't present them with a path to profitability, but I presented them with one possible hypothetical path to solving climate change (and that's what's being presented here in this crowdfunding investment too) and that's what they want us to do. Solving climate change is a hugely value-creating act, and I think if you focus on creating real value for the world, the business side will take care of itself.
because a vanilla corporation is the fastest vehicle for driving collective action
ok zuck. but also, maybe this is just a way for the owners of the business to move fastest, break things, and apologize later.
snark aside, have you looked into new alternatives around corporate structure, like purpose ventures, public benefit corps, and steward ownership? will you be doing anything to spread ownership and management of your company with stakeholders beyond just employees who stick around long enough?
Yeah, I also considered a B corporation, or co-op.
The reason I didn't is that I've also learned (as part of the "do the simplest thing possible") is that you want as few "new cute things" as possible when you're trying to do something hard.
So I picked the blandest, most common Delaware corporation model to reduce variables. An e.g. B-corp has its advantages, but it also comes with extra complexities, and because it's newer, not all of the consequences of its newness are completely known. Because we're aiming desperately for speed (and we can't go breaking things - so we have this extra requirement of SPEED BUT NO BREAKING SHIT), we need as many parts of the whole operation to be as proven, dull, reliable, and well-understood as possible. Because you can run fast with new tech if you're willing for it to break. But if you want to run fast without anything breaking, you need tried-and-true reliable components.
(When I was younger, I was really into these kinds of alternative methods of organization and management, but what I found is that yeah, you may realize some of their benefits, but just the fact that they are different and irregular has an operational cost that's much larger than anyone expects)
That said, one really really nice thing about forest restoration is that we don't have to e.g. buy a bunch of land and own all the operations ourselves. We're just trying to bring about the native forest restoration of roughly 3 billion acres. Much of that will be done by other people and organizations, and to the degree that we are only advising or enabling them (which may be the most efficient way for us to help accelerate them), we will not own or manage much of it.
The great thing about worldwide mass forest restoration is that most of it will be owned and managed by the people who live there and are involved with the forests.
This is in contrast to other methods of carbon capture, like large-scale DAC, where it's likely that it will have to be large companies who build and maintain the machines, but a local community in the Amazon can "build" and maintain a thousand acres of forest that sequesters thousands of tons of CO2 a year.
I'd rephrase the question: Is Terraformation meant to be profitable at all, or is it basically a non-profit in a corporate clothing? (Which is also cool, don't get me wrong.)
Here's one possible grand vision:
In about ten year's time, we are successful in our scaling, and have helped, enabled, or convinced the world to complete the initial outplanting of 3 billion new acres of forest, roughly a trillion trees.
Over the next 20 years, those trees mature. Each tree conservatively sequestering a ton or more of CO2, it's enough to draw down the current extant CO2 in the atmosphere that's been hanging around since 1750 (the beginning of the Industrial Revolution) - IPCC AR6 says there's about a trillion tons of extant CO2 in the air right now. At the same time, the world manages to reach net-zero in 2050.
At that point, the CO2 levels have dropped to pre-Industrial levels, and our economy is operating at net zero. Climate change is solved! (or mostly so)
Now, we're probably involved in some way with a lot of those forests, and they're now thriving ecosystems. Lots of local communities around those 3 billion acres have sprung up and become economically successful. Any of the forests on land we own or have some interest in have resulted in significant appreciation of the land value itself, since it was originally barren land no one wanted, as well as land surrounding it. Some of the forests produce food and medicine in the form of agroforestry, and even some of them are sustainable timber operations. Still others were enabled by our solar-desalination, which is only needed for the first 10-20 years before the microclimate changes and the forest brings rain - so now we have extra power and water production we can sell as a utility.
All in all, once the forests are established at scale, they become an incredibly valuable global resource - some of it in a direct way, and some in an indirect way. Because of our proximity to the whole operation and our relationships with everyone involved, it's a good bet that it'll be enormously profitable.
I think the thing that strikes me about your comment...is that if forestation were so profitable then why are countries ripping out trees to make money? I'm with you on the mission, but wouldn't this profitability be evident and seized with current forests?
if forestation were so profitable then why are countries ripping out trees to make money?
Here's the thing - increasingly, they're not! By certain metrics, global tree cover is has risen!
Over the past few decades, long-term-view governments and organizations have recognized that restoration of forests is a beneficial long-term policy. So it's actually moving in the right direction.
We hear a lot of negative news about forest fires and deforestation. So we do have a lot more work to do. And climate change is making certain forest habitats more marginal. But by and large, the mindset is shifting.
What we're trying to do at Terraformation is make it happen way faster.
Because at the current rate, humanity might very well complete a restoration of the world's forests in about 100 years. And in the meantime, climate change will get really bad, and we'll eventually figure out some other solution, we'll suffer a lot, but I do think humanity will muddle through.
But I'd much rather us restore all those forests faster, and solve climate change a lot earlier, and not have to go through all that pain.
3 billion acres is roughly the area of South America. You do realize that finding that much previously unplanted acreage is completely impossible, right?
Dare to dream
Yes, in this case a dream of a new, unplanted continent.
Like the Sahara desert
Yep - we are helping out with the Great Green Wall project in the Sahara, and the entire Australian continent has amazing possibility, especially since the darker-colored earth offsets albedo change effects there.
Thank you for doing this AMA, it has been really interesting to read and you've helped me glean some much needed hope for the future. I just have a couple of questions but I understand if you're all done answering questions for now.
Are you familiar with the work of Allan Savory (his TED talk)? He has a particular view on desertification that claims that reintroducing livestock in a way that mimics nature (the type of grazing found in nature prior to human intervention) has profound effects on reversing desertification. In your view, how does this approach compare to the benefits of true biodiversity brought upon by indigenous reforestation? Are indigenous species of animals bound to increase in population to pre-desertification levels naturally when native plants are reintroduced?
If you're not familiar with his work I strongly encourage you to watch his TED talk, and I'd be very interested in your thoughts.
Yes, I am!! His work is really interesting. I know it is controversial, but there are definitely nuances in what he's saying that make it potentially valid - if not everywhere, then certainly in some areas and circumstances.
So, it's hard to say whether they would return to pre-desertification levels because we don't know exactly what they were.
What we do know is that they definitely return very fast. As long as there are a few breeding pairs already there, as soon as their habitat and food sources are restored, it seems that they just explode.
At our pilot site in Hawaiʻi, it was a barren desert when we started. Even just 1-2 years in (and keep in mind - the trees are still small; it's just that native plants are starting to return), tons of birds have returned that we only saw in small numbers when we started. It's just an explosion of life.
It's hard to describe, but you can FEEL the Earth trying to restore itself. As soon as you remove bottlenecks like water availability and help some anchor species get established, it seems to come rushing back.
That was indeed the general consensus when I first started doing research into this, so I asked the question, "Is there any way we can find the land do it?"
It turns out there is. There's 4.7 billion acres of desert or desertified land - the least desirable and unused land on the planet, and the question becomes, "Is there a way to convert deserts into forest?"
There is - there have been a number of projects that have done so over the past few decades, e.g. in China, Jordan, Spain, UAE, and Israel. In all those cases, the rate-limiting factor is freshwater availability. We'd have to irrigate the forests for about 20 years until the vegetation changes the climate and induces its own rainfall.
We cannot rely on existing freshwater supplies, as they are all spoken for (food, agriculture, etc), so the only other source is desalination of seawater. This is energy-intensive, so our energy sources need to be low or zero-carbon — solar, for instance.
The recent cost improvements in solar have made it cheaper on a per-kwh basis than fossil fuels so for the first time, low-emissions solar can be used to power desalination on a large-scale basis. This is the missing piece of the puzzle: it provides us with the necessary freshwater to irrigate the amount of new forests we'd need to offset all or most of human emissions.
So, assuming you can plant trees in the desert, napkin calculating with figures from the linked article and assuming that drip irrigation of trees requires 4 m3/acre/day, this would need 60 000 new desalination plants and power installations delivering 2x12 TW/day (2x b/c night production is 0, otherwise assuming 100% efficiency). The solar panels would cover around 29 million acres (roughly 1.5x Tunisia, and 170x the current world yearly production of solar panels).
Desal plant cost ~$18 trillion, power plant cost ~$36 trillion. World GDP is ~$80 trillion. I like trees, but one percent of this goal would still be a moonshot project.
Your napkin calculations are on the same order of magnitude as mine, in fact. (My total was $60T via a different route; yours is $54T - so it's surprising that our figures are so similar)
Thank you for being one of the few people who is willing to actually do the math all the way to the end! To which I will reply:
So it turns out that you would typically try to amortize the cost of the hardware over time, so the true annual cash expenditure is considerably lower. There are two amortization schedules we might use.
One is if we want to think of it as "we want to plant all these trees in a decade," so we divide the cost up over 10 years.
The other is if we amortize it over the lifetime of the equipment, which is roughly 20 years for solar and desal.
Either way, we come up with an annual expenditure figure of either 3.4T or 6.8T. Since you're financing it, there are interest costs, but financing these days is kind of cheap, and you can likely cover it with the revenue streams that begin to issue out of the reforested land.
$80T is the 2017 GDP (if I recall), and so the ceiling on the annual cost is 8.5% of 2017 world GDP... which is still a shit-ton of money, but a feasible percentage of our total GDP to spend on fixing the world's largest problem and - I argue - still the lowest cost of any other comprehensive full-scale solution.
There are several factors that make this an absolute ceiling:
If you're building it over the course of the next 10 years, solar prices drop by 50% every 4-5 years (and the power cost is dominated by this), so your prices will strictly decline. It's likely that such a massive build-out will actually accelerate the drop in prices.
GDP will rise, so as a percentage of GDP it will go down.
The real trick is this: we don't have to irrigate all 3B acres. That's just the worst-case scenario where no one allows us to plant trees anywhere where there is natural rainfall. The real strategy is to spend the first 5 years planting the first billion acres on land where there is natural rainfall, and non-desal-irrigated forests cost 1/10th as much to plant, and then after 5 years the cost of solar has dropped 50%, and you complete the last 2B acres with solar-desal that's less expensive.
Roughly speaking, this would reduce the total cost (over 10 years) to around $26T - which is still a huge number, but it's definitely less.
Anyways, I really still appreciate this comment, and I'm sorry I don't have more time to discuss more but hopefully this paints a somewhat fuller picture!
I realise this is the grand vision but if we hit net zero by 2050 doesn’t that mean that climate change will take a while to ebb? Or even that it’s existing momentum will continue beyond then? So the natural disasters we have currently will increase in frequency and magnitude til 2050 and then stay at 2050 levels for a few years or decades?
I realise this is the grand vision but if we hit net zero by 2050 doesn’t that mean that climate change will take a while to ebb?
Yep, that scenario is exactly what Terraformation is intended to solve or ameliorate.
If it takes 30 years for the world to reach net zero, then 1) the world keeps warming until then and 2) upon reaching net zero, there will still be more than a trillion tonnes of extra CO2 in the air that will continue causing warming for a really long time.
Hence, we need to create a carbon sink that begins acting right now, and is of sufficient size to rapidly draw down that excess carbon when the world reaches net zero. Ideally, the aim is to simultaneously be working on removing this excess CO2 while the emissions reductions are being done, so that upon reaching net zero, we don't still have a bunch of CO2 in the atmosphere continuing to warm the planet - otherwise yes, it's exactly as you described: the natural disasters will continue even after 2050, potentially for decades.
Do you miss how amazing and involved AMA once was?
I do have to say it's a quieter and less boisterous than I remember AMAs being "in my day."
What do you wish someone had asked, but didn't?
There were surprisingly few memes and inside jokes.
Is Sandlewood ( 'iliahi in Hawaiian) being considered for Terraformation in Hawaii?
"After Kamehameha's death, his son Kamehameha II fell into debt with sandalwood traders. Having given away his own lands, he relied on the wood supplies of others, but he was unable to stop other chiefs from negotiating their own trade deals. By 1826, American traders were complaining about the debts owed by the king and chiefs and a general tax was imposed to pay off some of their collective debt. Traders played off the rivalry among chiefs to get the best price, ultimately accelerating the depletion of forests. The wood was sold by weight using a measure called a picul (133 1/3 pounds or about what a strong man could carry on his back). Traders made a profit of three to four dollars on each picul they bought in Hawai'i (at $7-$10) and then sold in Canton. As logging continued, wood quality degenerated and stands of sandalwood were harder to find. Natives set fire to areas to detect the trees by their sweet scent. While mature trees could withstand the fire, the flames wiped out new seedlings.By 1830, the trade in sandalwood had completely collapsed. Hawaiian forests were exhausted and sandalwood from India and other areas in the Pacific drove down the price in Canton and made the Hawaiian trade unprofitable. Although forests were ravaged, sandalwood trees still survive today, tucked away on less accessible mountain slopes.
That is the ultimate end goal for the region over in North Kohala where we are doing that pilot project!
The (thorough) destruction of the sandalwood forests on that coast is one of the greatest tragedies of that entire region. Literally I quote the paragraph you just did when I tell people about this.
It's a multi-step process though: sandalwood is hemiparasitic, which means it needs another organism to be planted on/near. So, we have to restore the first level koaiʻa forest (which is what we're doing) and then once that's established, begin replanting the sandalwoods.
One day, brother, the sandalwood forests will return.
How do you propose we solve Hawaiʻi's housing crisis for local families?
This year median home values in Oʻahu, Maui, and Kauaʻi counties have exceeded $1M. Increasing YoY 44% on Maui, 25% on Oʻahu. Statewide median household income is ~$83,000
I think a tax of 3-5% on second homes / vacation homes would increase the financial burden of maintaining a second home in the state and would hopefully lead to more availabilities on the market and suppress housing costs. This would also be a moderate revenue source for the state. Particularly on the $10M+ properties. Do you think this is feasible?
What other options do you think have merit?
Oh my god, THIS is the hard question.
Ok, so I've actually been looking into this.
While I would support the tax on second/vacation homes, I don't think it will solve the fundamental problems, which is that there just isn't enough housing and although second/vacation homes are splashy, there just aren't that many of them. And while the state/county could use that money to subsidize more building, there's still gap between putting money into something, and physically building it.
So I've talked to builders and asked, why aren't they building lower-cost homes? Why are you just building these expensive million-dollar homes? And the builder I talked to showed me plans for a housing complex he had designed that had "low-cost" homes, and they're still like $400-600k. No regular person can afford that. I asked why it's still expensive, and he said that the primary cost driver is materials. Wood is really expensive. It has to be shipped, and (if you were paying attention to commodity prices in 2020) the price of lumber tripled in 2020. It's since fallen, but remains a major expense. And it's made more expensive by the fact that it has to be shipped from the mainland or Asia.
He showed me his budgeting sheet for the entire "low-cost" housing complex he wanted to build, and there just wasn't any single thing that really stuck out as being extremely costly. Materials just cost a lot more, and labor is expensive (but if you think skilled tradespeople should be paid well, then of course it's expensive).
So on the materials side, the best thing I can think of is that Hawaiʻi needs to develop a great local building materials supply industry, especially timber.
Of course, that's really hard - it involves planting a lot of trees and cutting them down - and I'm literally trying to do the opposite here. There are other materials you can use, like cement and steel, but all of that also has to be imported. You can't make entire houses out of volcanic rock or anything.
MAYBE you could switch to bamboo-dominated structures (there are companies now that can process bamboo into buildings materials that work well), but growing a ton of bamboo means introducing a really invasive species to the island en masse. It would have to be done in an extremely controlled manner; any mistake and .... well, you already know how rampant the existing bamboo is.
Another limiting factor: utilities availability, especially water.
I know the Big Island (where I'm most familiar) is different from Oahu, but I know there's freshwater shortages on all the islands.
Near me, there's a bunch of land held by DHHL, where they would put - I think it was - 200+ homes, but have only built like 25. The reason is because they can't get utilities service out there. There's just no water.
The existing homes are fed with water that's brought over from a neighboring housing subdivision, which charges an arm and a leg for it: like $7 per thousands-gallons (TG). Normal municipal rates for water in the US is $1.50/TG.
Now, that IS a problem we can solve with solar-desalination. We can run pipes to the ocean or near-shore brackish wells, and desalinate the water using clean solar power, and provide water on an amortized basis cost of maybe $2-3/TG, which is reasonably affordable. These systems can be decentralized and run by the communities themselves - they don't have to be a big water utility. But it requires a lot of local political will to build out something like that.
Having said all that, I don't know if it's a great idea to build out a lot of single-family homes. I know that's what people always prefer, but ultimately that will lead to SoCal-like suburban sprawl, and the ʻaina is already really encroached on as it is. So I think the answer is actually dense urban multi-unit dwellings (lots of apartments).
Except, of course, that there are frequent earthquakes here, especially on Big Island.
One crazy idea is the repurposing of resorts - which are essentially high-density housing communities without being skyscrapers. They could be converted into actual permanent housing, and already have a lot of the infrastructure in place to provide services like food service, community, etc, although one big problem is that most units wouldn't have their own kitchen. That would require major retrofits. But, if you wanted a world where tourists went away, that's what you'd turn the resorts into: housing communities for locals.
Anyways, I don't have any great answers for this. I have been looking into the problem for sure, but it's definitely an issue where I don't have an answer like "Hey, if Hawaiʻi just did THIS, the problem would go away!" I'm sorry. :(
Wow that is a detailed, well thought out answer.
Reddit trying to throw curveballs at the ama master and watching him home runs
no curveballs here, just a local guy trying to get another perspective on one of the largest and most complex issues our community faces.
/u/yishan, I am impressed by the depth of your answers and the knowledge youʻve gained about Hawaiʻi in the time that youʻve been here. Thank you for your well thought out and serious response. This is not an issue that has a simple answer and personally I don't think the answer is continued urbanization, particularly due to the water constraints you deftly noted. That is why I am hoping there is a solution that leverages the homes we have now and keeps/makes them affordable for local families.
On a related note, Iʻve read up on your website and efforts with Terraformation and I donʻt see any mention of outreach / community involvement. As someone who grew up on the outer islands, they are very limited in the opportunities available to public school K-12 students, particularly for those interested in seeking higher education. I think you have a real opportunity to not only let big island students learn about what you are doing with Terraformation, but inspire them to enact positive change in our island communities and believe in themselves and their abilities, if you invite them over and let them participate in what you do. Getting to see a solar desalination setup in person (and the other efforts) would be far beyond what most Hawaiʻi public school students get to experience. We have maybe a few field trips throughout our K-12 experience. I honestly believe the simple act of sharing what you do with these students and getting them excited about the science would encourage them to pursue STEM degrees and return home with their ʻike (knowledge).
Thank you again for your response.
We would LOVE to do this!
The only reason we haven't been very active on this front right now is just because of the pandemic, so in-person tours are hard. I've done a couple things where I've talked to students in big zoom meetings, but I don't know how great the students found it (it had to be after work, which means you're making kids get on zoom in the evenings when they just want to play).
We have gotten a few pings from teachers and as soon as the pandemic gets better we totally want to do more outreach and especially tours, both for schools and general community!
Why not build from cheaper materials and have smaller units? Perhaps 3d printed structures that have relatively low labor involved in them?
Why is this downvoted to -1? It's a good suggestion.
3D printed homes are still really new - there's a whole supply chain and manufacturing re-work of the entire industry that's required. But, the improved economics do pencil out. Assuming you solve the utilities problem, it does potentially mean that homes could be manufactured elsewhere and shipped here and installed much more cheaply.
I talked to a guy who is working on a company to do this, and they worked out everything about it... sadly, their first target market isn't Hawaiʻi. :(
How does Terraformation take into account the economic motives behind deforestation? For example, you have illegal decimation of native forests in Indonesia for palm oil, massive wood black markets for paper, and slash-and-burn techniques destroying native forests in South America. Is Terraformation just planting trees or taking a broader view around making those new forests durable (or perhaps connecting harvesting to carbon-sequestering markets and applications)?
Also, it was asked elsewhere, but you recently did the biggest raise in Hawaii history (which was interestingly very muted in the news here), so I assume Terraformation is going to be making money. I know a startup is in search of a repeatable and scalable business model so maybe you haven't answered this yet, but what are your theories on what the business side will look like?
Yeah, we're not just a tree-planting organization. One of the biggest lessons of the past few decades is: you can't just plant a bunch of trees, especially huge monoculture plantations. We are grateful for this lesson - it is a result of many failed projects and much heartbreak.
There are a couple key elements to long-term durable forests. One of them is socio-economic, and the other is biological/technical:
First, forest restoration has to be done in close conjunction with local communities. The people who live on or near the land are the de facto owners (rulers!) of the forest. They will ultimately decide its fate. They will decide whether it thrives or dies.
Sometimes the communities are indigenous groups who have long experience with how to grow and sustain forests, and have just been held back by external forces. Other times they are people who don't have that knowledge and want to learn. Either way, what's essential is for the local communities to value and be the ones responsible for caring for the forest. Understanding that its survival and success is what creates a livelihood for them, whether in anchoring a more favorable microclimate and soil for local agriculture, providing a canopy for agroforestry, or something else of long-term value to them. So cooperation and co-authorship with local communities is one essential key.
Second, in order to be self-sustaining, forests need to be restored using species originally native to the region. This is something the world only really learned in the couple decades or so. The reason is because trees are the anchor species in any forest: other bacteria, insects, fungi, plants, grasses - all consume the byproducts of the tree and are supported by it. Native species can support 10x as many other species than non-native species, because they co-evolved with those species over millennia. Non-native species don't have those co-evolved symbiotic relationships.
A lot of people think the "you have to use native species" thing is an anti-colonialist or authenticity argumen. It's not. It's purely practical. Native tree species grow faster because the organisms in the soil and surrounding biome help support one another.
At one of our pilot sites in Hawaiʻi, where we re-introduced long-gone native species to a region that had been deforested and desertified. Once we were able to provide irrigation with the solar-desalinated water, the native trees really took off. We expected that even though we were providing water, it was a harsh desert landscape, dry and heavily windblown. But no, the trees are evolved to grow there, and many are thriving. There are a few that we planted only a year ago that are already up to my head in height.
Heh, yeah, Hawaiʻi doesn't care about your big money financings or any of that business-wall-street crap. You can raise the biggest startup financing round in state history and your neighbor doesn't care but his tree is producing a ton of mangoes this season so would you like some extra mangoes. I don't get asked "how my startup is going," I get asked "how is the tree-planting going," which is sort of how it should be.
On the business model side, we're in an interesting situation: the business model for "forests" or "restoration" is actually obvious and easy. We're not developing a new technology, we're taking something simple and scaling it (and hard part).
So in fact at any point right now, we could take what we have and almost instantly be profitable: we just lease some land and start growing almonds or coffee or some other valuable crop and boom, we'd have a business model. But then we'd have a business that was generating cashflow, and not solving climate change at scale.
Instead, what we're doing is restoring forests at the largest scale (and speed) possible, with the core idea that turning otherwise-low-value land (degraded, desertified, barren) into thriving forests is fundamentally an act of value creation (if I gave you a choice between an acre of the former or an acre of the latter, which one would you choose?). We can elect to "stop and get paid" at any time, but then we wouldn't be materially solving climate change.
Have you connected with any of the local communities who have done watershed restoration projects in Hawaii already? I know of one group on Maui that has already put in 10 years of work, and with amazing results. It might be good to be a force multiplier on their work with tried and true methods!
Yes! Though in our case mostly on the Big Island (e.g. Kohala Watershed Restoration).
Everyone is so busy, so it's hard to coordinate really tightly, but we support one another when we are able.
One really nice thing about mass forest restoration as a solution to climate change is that it doesn't take a lot of tight coordination, which incurs a lot of overview in most large projects. Everyone can work on it in fairly independent ways in a parallel, decentralized fashion. That's one of the big reasons why I think it's destined to be one of the primary - if not the primary - solutions to closing the gap on climate change (alongside drastic reductions in fossil emissions, obvs).
Also, personal question: how do you like living and working in Hawaii?
It's really nice! Hawaiʻi is awesome, and there is a restorative effect of the land that is magical (for lack of a better word) that I credit with enabling me to take on a huge task like climate change.
There are actually a ton of sustainability-focused projects and organizations here on the island I'm on, so there's a bunch of people working on climate and doing environmentally-focused work here! People really get it when I talk to them about the project.
- People are really nice. It makes me a nicer person. It's very different from Silicon Valley.
- It's expensive.
- There's a limited number of stores. I see other guys walking around in cargo shorts and I know they got them at the same Wal-Mart as I did. Or like, there's a specific set of rainbow-colored chopsticks sold at the local grocery store and when you eat at someone else's house they have the same set of chopsticks that you have at home.
If you want a lifestyle with less emphasis on consumerism (as a result of higher prices and therefore less material affordability, and a smaller range of product selection) and more emphasis on community and nature, this is a good place for you.
NOTE: if you come here, RESPECT THE LOCAL CULTURE AND THE LAND. If you don't, the island will reject you!
I'm curious if you think there is anything to the concept of carbon capture through technological means in additions to natural means like reforestation. Do you think tech-based carbon capture even a realistic possibility in the next decade (cause after that it might be way too late anyway...)?
I'm a technologist at heart, so I actually like solving problems with technology. I think in many cases technology can solve "logjams" - situations where society has reached a local maxima but if some key thing is made much faster or cheaper, then suddenly all sorts of new things are possible. As a result, I've spent most of my life working in the tech industry.
However, one surprising lesson I learned there is that developing and deploying tech at a large scale takes much longer than anyone thinks. Tech company marketing departments do a "big bang" reveal, as though the new tech product were developed in a day. It wasn't. It probably took like 10-20 years from the time the tech was proven in a lab before it reached its final, consumer-marketable state. And there's a tendency to develop tech for its own sake - because it's cool. It's easy to be distracted by clever solutions that are sometimes more complex than they need to be.
So my focus on natural carbon capture (like via reforestation) comes from hard-won experience that when you have a urgent problem, it's usually best to use the simplest, most proven, and immediately scalable thing.
That last point is important when it comes to climate and reforestation. If you want to solve a really big problem, you don't just need to solve one piece, you need to solve one piece and replicate your solution a billion times, and that part is a whole entire challenge on its own. You gain significant advantages if your core solution is simple, and immediately replicable.
Hence, the funniest and most unexpected outcome to this is that despite trees taking 20-30 years to mature, they end up being a superior large-scale solution to developing new tech, because new tech takes a lot longer to deploy at scale than most people think.
I wrote some more about this here: https://www.terraformation.com/blog/trees-are-a-faster-solution-to-climate-change-than-technology
Having said all that, I think tech-based carbon capture is still really useful. Getting the cost of that down means it can be deployed in concentrated fashion near point-of-origin of major emissions: like if you have a factory that's really emissions-heavy, you can deploy the tech right next to it. Tech-based carbon capture often has a small land footprint, so while forests are good for affordably drawing down carbon from the atmosphere at large, tech-based carbon capture can be super useful for highly-concentrated emissions sources.
How much did you make as Reddit ceo?
$150k/year + stock.
If the stock is worth anything, I'm going to plant a hell of a lot of trees with it.
You ever think about how the direction reddit has gone since your and Ellen Pao's leadership has been pretty miserable? How would you have handled more recent reddit fuckups, for lack of my wanting to use nicer terms?
What specific things about modern Reddit do you feel should be handled differently, and what would you change about them?
Not firing Victoria Taylor.
Not firing Victoria Taylor.
Approximately 90 species of eucalyptus have been introduced to Hawaii, where they have displaced some native species due to their higher maximum height, fast growth and lower water needs. Are you focusing on reforestation with natives in the locations you reforest or will you go with species that grow quicker to speed up the process? If using a faster growing species to combat carbon emisions faster have you considered the ramifications to the local ecosystems that they may cause? Would you consider the Australian desert as an area for your reforestation projects? Eucalyptus are fast growing and we have large portions of unusable desert space..
Yeah, oh man, there's so much Eucalyptus here [in Hawai'i].
We are focusing on reforestation with natives in the locations we reforest.
Fast-growing species seem good at first, but they don't build up a deep ecosystem around them (and all of that other life also sequesters carbon, and is the true deep carbon sink) and after about a decade or so, end up being brittle and prone to environmental perturbation. This was one of those bitter lessons learned by Eucalyptus plantations in many places.
That said... YES. We are talking to a guy in Australia about a potential large project in Western Australia. It would be a monumental undertaking, but we have to try, and .... every tree is native somewhere, and Eucalyptus is native to Australia, so it can be used there!
I'm doing exactly what you told me not to do (asking for an advice lol).
What can you say to a young man starting his career in the tech industry (one that doesn't have many ambitions but wants to keep going)?
To start off, I'm going to crib my own answer that I wrote awhile ago for Quora:
1) Consider time your most precious resource
When you're young, you probably have a lot of time (and probably not as much money). Nevertheless, time remains your most precious resource, and not (say) money or other physical things. This is difficult to believe when you're younger, but money is easy to obtain. Money can be borrowed, given, and stored. None of these things can be done with time. Time is expended at the same rate constantly for everyone; its rate of expenditure cannot be slowed or stopped and perhaps more importantly, it cannot be "banked" - i.e. stored for usage later. This means that you should always be trying to make good use of your time, and when you have an excess of another resource (e.g. money), you should seek to trade it for time. Additionally, the next fifteen years or so are uniquely productive years in your life - you will be at an age where you have achieved legal adulthood and a critical mass of education, while still retaining relatively high levels of energy and physical health, and likely few commitments. This makes the time doubly important, and it is draining away constantly whether or not you are making good use of it, so be sure to do so!
2) Build relationships with people
Relationships with quality people are one of the most important things in life, but their value only becomes apparent over the long term. This means you should begin building them now. This doesn't mean to go and schmooze, but rather you should try to refine your own people skills and quality of character so that when you meet high-quality people (come up with your own personal definition of this, and don't be too narrow about it), you can seek to be a good person to them, and allow a high-quality mutual relationship to form. This relationship will be different depending on who the person is, but the key idea is to make yourself someone that others will want a true and good human bond with; these enduring relationships will be the source of great wealth (literal and metaphorical) for the rest of your lives.
3) Don't work for a big organization
Whatever you do, don't work for a big organization, no matter how hard they recruit you or what rewards they offer (they will often have the resources to offer greater material rewards than a smaller organization). If you're "smart and could do anything," the last thing you should do is waste away your most productive and creative years in a job where your talents and output will be vastly limited by the inherent structure of a large organization. There is no security or benefit to working in a large corporation; they are filled with mediocre people who will merely frustrate and dull you, and your spirit and capabilities will pay the price for years to come. You can work for a startup or start your own business or just travel the world doing nothing productive, but don't work for a big company.
4) Beware of rules
There are plenty of rules in the world. When encountering one, think first about who made it and why, as often a rule is created in order to benefit the person or parties who came up with it, not others like you. Choose carefully which rules you follow, and consider the real, actual consequences of breaking or ignoring the rule. If you desire to do something great or bold, keep in mind not who will give you permission, but who will stop you. By this I don't mean that you should be a scofflaw, but you should make your own well-considered rules and adhere to them. Love, life, honor, and freedom are good guidelines to life; rules are only temporary and imperfect constructs.
5) Don't take things so seriously
Talented young people are often quite stupid in this way. Whatever dumb thing you are worried about, it is probably not that important. Ask yourself if you will really care about it in ten years time, and focus your attention on the small number of things where the answer is truly yes.
And finally one more:
If you have to choose between one or more paths, pick the one that is likely to result in the most new learning. Learning has a compounding, exponential effect over time, so you want to have learning-rich experiences as early as possible. In today's rapidly-changing and chaotic world (the next decade or so will see great upheaval), that's the most valuable thing you can accumulate now.
Your answer did wake me up to several things, as I am living almost everything that you described.
Thank you so much for your response and how inspiring it is.
Yeah! Keep on keepin' on!
Got any connections to get awkwardtheturtle removed from Reddit?
The admins have not intervened in the powermod issue since before the time I was Reddit CEO.
My advice (if you really want them removed) is to troll the hell out of them until they're so far on tilt that they end up violating a Reddit rule, and then the admins ban them. However, this is ultimately a destructive, negative-sum way to live.
My better advice is to just go plant some trees. You'll feel good.
What's the highest mountain peak you climbed? Was it worth it?
At first I was like, "I haven't climbed any mountains! I don't have an interesting answer to this question!"
Then I remembered that I have. I climbed Mt. Haleakalā on Maui a few years ago.
Here is a photo of me on the summit: https://imgur.com/a/1lFIQhI
Yes, it was worth it. Park entrance fees to Haleakalā National Park are $30 per private vehicle, and I think I definitely got my money's worth.
I climbed Mt. Haleakalā on Maui
Actually climbed? I know there's a road most of the way up.
If you did climb, how long of a hike is that and where do you start?
Oh yeah, you're right - I think I drove up most of the way, and then just climbed the last part where there's no road.
So amend that to "I 'climbed' Mt. Haleakalā."
What’s your calf routine? You got softballs stuffed in there?
This is the second time someone on Reddit has noticed my calfs (calves?) and remarked on them.
I just have these freakishly muscular calfs (calves? argh). They are not indicative of my muscularity anywhere else, unfortunately.
Now that you no longer work at Reddit, can you please tell us the upvote to karma ratio?
Presidents can't reveal state secrets after they leave office.
Hi Yishan, first congrats on the super exciting work at Terraformation! I’m inspired by your mission, and the caliber of the folks you’ve brought behind the project.
Could you tell us more about how you see the revenue generation potential for TF? Beyond carbon removal credits, who do you see paying for the ecosystem benefits of reforestation and through what kind of business model?
We've identified the following revenue generation possibilities for forest restoration and general afforestation projects. They include:
- Agroforestry (food and medicine)
- Sustainable timber
- Ecosystem services (reducing flood/other disaster value)
- Real estate appreciation of land + surrounding land
- Carbon removal credits
- Solar and freshwater generation utilities
The thing about forests though is that they are highly local. The combination of revenue possibilities is dictated by the local native species availability, and the local community and economy. So you don't know until you're looking at a specific project how it's going to play out specifically. In some cases the offtakers (people who pay) will be local, other times they can be further away.
If you need to look at this in a global macro way, you can think of it as the world's largest real estate play: we are taking land that's otherwise under/unvalued, and improving it by transforming it into thriving forest ecosystems. Each one will be unique, but it is almost guaranteed to be worth more than the land was before the transformation, and that's an enormous act of value creation. Abstractly, we're taking carbon that's in the air (harmful) and transforming it into carbon that's on the ground (useful), thus making that land more valuable.
What do you think about Quora? I loved it and your content there in its beginnings but stopped visiting after the quality started to drop.
Quora is good, but I don't post there very often any more.
Due to the low rainfall, is significant Terraformation of Kahoolawe realistic?
I don't know who you are (your username seems.... familiar?) but you are asking all the awesome questions.
Kahoʻolawe is the perfect place for native restoration! My Chief Forestry Officer would love to help do this.
But, it can only be done through a collaboration between the state/county authorities, cultural practitioners, and the local community. We can't just parachute things in. But the tech is now available, if the people want to use it.
Kahoʻolawe is ideally suited to a locally-situated solar-desalination facility on the island itself. It gets a lot of sun, and it's near the shore. This facility would produce the necessary freshwater needed to enable the restoration of anchor tree species, which would begin the natural process of regeneration. If the water is stored in large backup tanks, it would be resilient to intermittent solar as well as occasional breakage events.
The entire island area is only about 28,000 acres, which is actually a feasible size if there were an organization or coalition willing to undertake such a project. If the initial planting sites are selected carefully, it might form enough of a local cooling effect on the windward side to bring back natural rainfall to the island and accelerate the process of restoration.
Are you hiring?
I am looking for work, and would love to join a company with this kind of mission. I have no problem starting with an entry level position, with the opportunity to work my way up. I do live in Canada, so it would have to be remote. I can send you any information you need.
Our board member Olya Irzak had some great words for anyone who wants to work on the climate problem:
Lastly, we have emissions coming from every piece of the economy. It’s the same skill sets that make the economy run today that are needed to transition to net zero. The fear that you won’t be able to make an impact is false. There’s lots of open head count today for almost any skill set in the climate world.
When do you think reddit will have an IPO?
I'm not privy to inside Reddit strategic planning any more (and haven't been for something like 7 years), but here's the latest public news on that:
Reddit is seeking to hire investment bankers and lawyers for an initial public offering in New York, two people familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency.
Reddit was valued at $10bn in a private fundraising round last month. By the time the IPO would take place early next year, the online message board company is hoping it will be valued at more than $15bn, one of the sources said.
The sources cautioned that the timing and size of the IPO were subject to market conditions and asked not to be identified because the preparations are confidential. A Reddit spokesperson declined to comment.
Reddit’s move to hire advisers for its IPO has not been reported before, but there has been significant speculation in recent months on the company’s go-public plans, after years of staying private.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Steve Huffman, the CEO, said that the company was planning to go public but had not decided on the timing.
Have you looked into seaweed as a way to capture carbon?
I’ve read, “Coastal marine systems can absorb carbon at rates up to 50 times greater than forests on land” and so it might be another way to help reverse climate change faster?
Yeah, actually I did!
I think seaweed/kelp and that whole azolla thing is promising.
The only/primary reason I've focused on a terrestrial solution rather than the ocean-based ones (there are a lot of interesting ocean-based climate solutions) is that infrastructure and operations on the ocean cost WAY more than their land-based counterparts.
There's only one major industry (other than shipping and cruise lines) that has major stationary deep water operations, and that's the petroleum industry - and that's because it's so profitable that it can cover the immense cost difference.
I looked up the difference between the cost of a ocean-based oil rig vs a land-based one. What would you guess the difference to be? 2x? 3x?
My guess was 3x, because when you try to buy marine equipment (e.g. batteries on a boat), it costs about 3x the vanilla dry-land version because it has to be hardened against spray and saltwater.
Well, I found that ocean-based oil rigs cost 15 to 20x more than land-based ones. Yeah.
So, while I think a lot of the ocean-based climate solutions have a lot of technical promise, I just felt I should exhaust the land-based ones first, purely out of cost considerations. Saltwater and waves are horrible for man-made equipment.
(Our solar-desal facility is like 1000 meters from the ocean and it gets enough salty moisture that it increases maintenance costs non-trivially)
Thanks for the response! I’m wondering if you’ve also thought about making it possible to donate to Terraformation and for it to be part of initiatives like 1% For The Planet? That would be another way that the public and businesses could financially help your cause. I know I would donate 😉
P.S I am also living in Hawaii and loving it! 🤙
You can invest in Terraformation through our crowdfunding offering on Republic.
We also have a 501c3 you can donate to at Terraformation.org. That's a tax-deductible donation that is routed directly to tree-planting organizations without charging any administration overhead.
What's your opinion on the amount of censorship surrounding any debate regarding the developing science pertaining to COVID-19? Do you think that censorship, or misinformation presents a larger threat to our way of life?
I don't think it's a larger threat to our way of life, because social media has blown up large institutions' ability to control the conversation. It's total chaos now. The "attempted censorship" right now is far less effective than how the major media organizations effectively directed the conversation and defined the Overton window 20-30 years ago.
What we don't have is a new way of intelligently organizating our discourse collectively. We have not learned how to talk to one another in this new world.
I like /r/AmITheAsshole, but I'm going to have to put in a plug here for /r/solarpunk too.
I really love your honest commentary through your answers and appreciate the insight on your life in Hawaii. I was born & raised on Oahu, so this means a lot.
My question: I'm a product manager at a large scientific instrument company. The instruments are used in all aspects of science, so I'm happy about that. However, the organization as a whole trends older aged, is very slow moving, institutional, conservative, and resistant to change. As one of the youngest PMs, there are a lot of ideas I'd like to have implemented. I'd like to move fast and break things, but I always get stopped out on process or internal politics. Any advice on how to navigate an organization like this?
You just leave. There's no way to change it, and you're wasting your time and effort. It's much, much better to go to another organization and have the wind at your back for all the changes you want to do.
A word of clarification:
I was there when the phrase "move fast, break things" was coined. It was originally articulated to define the desired speed as being the speed at which things begin to break, i.e. you move faster and faster until things start to shake apart, and that's the speed you want to maintain: any faster, and things will break down; any slower, and your speed is suboptimal. So you're supposed to observe the starting-to-break point as an indicator of the maximum speed your organization can (and should try to) move at.
Over time, that kind of nuance was lost, and it became an industry-wide mantra that roughly meant "move fast, wreck things without regard," and has been criticized rightly as such.
What are the realistic cost estimates per plant, or per acre, from seed
to final planting, and then any needed watering and weeding?
The costs vary really widely due to conditions.
Very grossly, over 10-15 years, and at scale, it should cost about $1000-2000 per acre. Right now we are near $2000/acre because we are small-scale and spending extra to learn things. Large scale projects in China have ended up being $1000/acre.
Once you reach larger scales, you can divide the costs of nursery operations across a much larger number of plants, so the per-acre/per-plant cost goes way down.
Most of the cost is in the first year (like up to 50% of the cost) when you do the planting. Subsequent monitoring costs a lot less.
If you are doing it in an area with NO WATER, and need to irrigate entirely with solar-desal water, it will cost ten times that, i.e. roughly $1000 per year for about 15-20 years. However, that cost is dominated by the cost of solar, so in about 5 years the cost should be about half of that.
This is why, although we have shown that we can do it in a desert, we prefer not to: we want to reforest as many acres as possible that get natural rainfall first (because it costs 1/10th as much), and then move on to the desert/desertified dry lands - which cost a lot more, but are still economically feasible (i.e. just because you can afford something doesn't mean you shouldn't still buy the cheaper option if you can).
Mahalo Yishan for doing this. Aloha from Maui.
In Hawaii, How do native trees compare in carbon capture to many introduced trees that seem to grow rapidly and outcompete everything else. In Wet parts of the islands it’s a game of who’s the fastest… and the winners are often… “albezia” (falcataria moluccana. I know you know this one!), so why go for natives which in Hawaii are often slow growing small trees. Leucana (Haole Koa) was introduced for livestock but is a helluva competitor even in dry places. So why not just go with the fastest growers? Even cane grass could effectively capture carbon if it was smooshed down (crimp the stem and bent over) every year.
Also, given that Hawaii has massive amounts of land burn every year, how do we plant areas to prevent these carbon eruptions? Or are there other strategies? I imagine we need to focus on planting fire breaks.
In the past, Hawaii has been helicopter seeded with Java plum and other species, mass plantings of pines have taken place on the western mountain side of Kauai and slopes of haleakala, large bamboo plantings have been made on maui in the wake of waterworks by East Maui Irrigation. What do you make of helicopter seeding or even drone seeding of trees? Even the great zen master of farming, masanobu Fukuoka engaged in aerial seeding campaigns using his seedballing method. Seedballing is something that could be scaled with distribution of simple machines. They could be dispersed by hand or by air. Is this a viable technique in your eyes?
Most importantly are you open for tours on your project on big island? I would love to see what you all are up to over there. I know perspectives across the islands are so often determined by our microclimates. I’ve spent most of my time in Hawaii on north shores with wet conditions where permaculture is a bonanza of diverse plantings: but I know in the many dry parts of the archipelago it’s a whole different ballgame. Sorry for the ramble but I’m passionate about this topic and love our islands. Aloha!
The rapid invasive species ultimately create brittle ecosystems and reduce biodiversity. While they can temporarily outcompete everything else, they're more vulnerable to environmental perturbation because it's essentially a monoculture: if a single disease or insect or change in the climate is bad for them, they all die out at once. Since they're invasive, they don't have all the same co-evolved relationships with other species that the natives have, and so don't support an ecosystem, which ultimately stores more carbon. If we are to do this at planetary scale, we need sufficiently stable and self-sustaining ecosystems (so that we don't have to actively monitor them forever, which costs human time and money), which is only achievable in the long term with native species ecosystems. So it's kind of a long game.
One local example is on the Big Island, where an invasive species of grass was introduced because it was good for cattle grazing. Now there's an insect found that is wiping out that grass, and no one knows what to do about it. The cattle ranchers are definitely freaked out, but the rapid die-off of that grass will likely re-release the stored CO2 into the atmosphere, instead of in a full diverse ecosystem, where other species would rapidly re-absorb it while they are growing.
In many cases, invasives in dry areas are also not fire-adapted. Certain species native to hot and dry areas are fire-adapted - they need occasional low-level burns to germinate their seeds or otherwise move their life cycle along. This makes the native ecosystem naturally resistant (or symbiotic with) occasional fires, which an invasive overrun will disrupt. This is actually one of the reasons why California and the US West Coast is having wildfires that are much worse than they otherwise would be (though it is not the dominant reason).
But yeah, you have to focus specifically on fire management: you plant fire breaks, plant fire-adapted local native species, and (frankly) you bring fire extinguishers with you when you're working so you don't accidentally set a fire. Bringing more irrigation also increases the overall "water density" of the area, making things less resistant to catching fire (e.g. you can have a fire pop up, but if it doesn't spread easily, it dies off).
Helicopter and drone seeding are perfectly viable things to do. There is one area though where it's less appropriate, which is when you have limited seed supplies: aerial seeding has a lower germination/survival rate (doesn't seem to be higher than 50%, and can be as low as 10%; usually the target is 20%) than germinating by hand in a nursery and manual planting (can be as high as 80-90%).
Sometimes, native species have died off and there are relatively few founder individuals, so your seed supplies become the limiting factor. When that's the case, you have to maximize seed -> survival rates, and so you have to optimize for that instead of speed of area coverage. So it's not that aerial seeding is not viable, it's just that there are multiple variables involved: if you have a huge surplus of seeds and your native species are not particularly rare, aerial seeding is a great strategy. When seeds are the limiting factor, you have to maximize the changes of survival of each seed.
Finally: yes, we're open to tours. Contact us on our website! And I agree, we are really very affected by our microclimates but I love learning about all the little differences across the neighbor islands!
What is your favorite sandwich?
I like a toasted onion or garlic bagel, with roast beef, swiss cheese, fresh sliced tomato, maybe a little bit of onion (?), mayonaise, and dijon mustard.
I have a gluten sensitivity though, and bagels have a lot of gluten, so I can't eat this often, as it makes me face break out. But man, my mouth watered just describing that sandwich.
What are you doing to atone for your time running this hellhole?
Trying to fix the climate.
How is Terraformation different from its competition? Do you use manual labor to plant trees, or is it automated?
Well, we don't really have competition. The space of "make more forests" is just so huge. We view everyone else who is doing something similar as allies and/or collaborators.
We use a combination of manual labor and automation. Our tech people closely observe and work with our forestry people to identify areas where they can build a piece of technology to make the process faster or cheaper.
The funniest thing I learned is that - from a starting point of 100% manual forestry, no machines - the most valuable piece of automation in terms of human time/energy saved is.... a truck.
If you do a real time-motion analysis on the full set of actions involved in planting a tree, it turns out that the majority of time and energy spent is used in walking from one place to another. It makes sense - trees are spread out over a lot of land, so if you're planting a thousand trees, you're covering a lot of ground, and you're carrying all your tools and materials. If it's hot out, it's even more energy-costly.
Because tree survival rates directly impact every downstream metric - there's no point in planting a million trees if 80% of them are dead next year - you want the actual act of planting (germination, transferring seedlings into the ground) to be done carefully by human hands, so you want to reserve human energy and dexterity for that.
And so a truck can be thought of as a piece of automation that replaces human legs, and it's the first and biggest piece of low-hanging fruit when it comes to automating tree-planting.
Having said that, a couple ways we are different from other organizations in our space:
We are really focused on restoration of biodiverse native forests. This is important because unless you restore the ecosystem with native species, it won't be self-sustaining. We can't manually maintain these forests forever, what we want are forests that will grow and take care of themselves. We want to spend the money up front to do it right, and minimize long-term maintenance costs, yielding (among many other ecosystem benefits) a durable carbon sink for future generations that does not require them to keep spending money on it.
We have a lot of tech capability, but we don't think of ourselves as a tech organization. We are a Forestry-led organization, where we employ technology in the service of forest restoration goals. I think this has been a subtle way in which the world may have become over-rotated lately - a focus on tech for technology's sake, rather than remembering that technology is a tool used to serve human aims. And so in this case, solving climate change through restoring forests is that aim.
hi yishan! curious about your approach to working on climate. did you start out being like "i'm going to work on something to do with climate" and then try to find a good project? did you do a survey of what's out there to identify a high-leverage point? did you just kind of jump into terraformation because it seemed fun/promising?
if you surveyed the climate landscape, i'm curious what other ideas you wish other entrepreneurs were pursuing. what else seems promising?
lots of questions -- sorry not sorry!
It was kind of like that. I just thought, "Ok, I have to solve climate change. How do we solve this?"
And I thought about how it was a huge problem, and then I thought about how I'm supposed to compare big solutions against other big solutions and then eventually settled on massive forest restoration as the most economical and feasible one.
Around the same time, i was already building the solar-desalination thing, but not intentionally as part of the climate project; I was just trying to produce water to regreen this patch of desert. It was only later that a connection appeared between the two.
I actually didn't jump into Terraformation because it seemed fun. It seemed very not-fun. I had been a CEO before, and it was not an enjoyable job. The job was so hard that it burned out me, my wife, and my assistant. So I wasn't eager to get back into it, and it took a lot of convincing.
Other climate areas that I think are promising:
- decarbonization of anything (grid, cement)
- battery technology
- desalination efficiency tech
- what Pachama is doing
- what Crowther Labs / Restor is doing
- what SilviaTerra is doing
- what Asner Lab is doing
- what Project Vesta is doing (olivine weathering)
- hydrogen might be around the corner
- amazingly, fusion might be around the corner
- probably a lot that I'm forgetting; I've been doing this AMA for 8 hours now...
For the $5 million Terraformation crowdfunding, how much (or what percentage) of that is for Administrative Expenses?
Here's what Republic is charging us: https://republic.co/help/what-fees-does-republic-charge
Hi Yishan! I’ve actually really been looking forward to you doing an AMA since reading about Terraformation.
What do you believe is the biggest mistake Reddit is making/has made (either while you were CEO or since), and how are you using your knowledge of this mistake to guide you in your business?
Conversely, what do you think Reddit is doing/has done right and how are you using it to guide your business?
You touch on this topic, but don’t go into any detail on the specifics. I’d love to hear some if you’re able to divulge!
There are two things:
In making decisions, consider the point of view of all parties, including those who are not present. This was illustrated for me in this blog post by Ben Horowitz, where he says "When you're making a critical decision, you have to understand how it's going to be interpreted from all points of view. Not just your point of view and not just the person you're talking to but the people who aren't in the room, everybody else. In other words, you have to be able, when making critical decisions, to see the decision through the eyes of the company as a whole. You have to add up every employee's view and then incorporate that into your own view. Otherwise your management decisions are going to have weird side effects and potentially dangerous consequences. It's a hard thing to do because at the point when you are making a decision, you're often under a great deal of pressure."
Use your power to create systems within which people work, to serve your goals, rather than make sudden or abrupt unilateral decisions.
In the first one - well, that quote and the blog post elaborate on it really well. It's not something I knew to do when I was running Reddit. Obviously, thinking about other peoples' points of view is something one naturally does, but I didn't have it as a conscious practice of deliberately considering everyone's point of view, always, and it's essential to do that. Because exactly what Horowitz describes will result if you don't: weird side effects and potentially dangerous consequences. So now I make a special effort to always do that.
In the second one, it's more about how to employ power correctly. As the CEO, you have a lot of power. People have to do what you say. But, the way to exercise that power is not to give orders or instructions, it's to institutionalize it into systems. You say, ok, from now on, the way to do things like X is to make sure A and B heuristics are followed. Evaluating Y means making sure that C and D are maintained. When you have power, you set the rules (...there's a larger point here about how society functions and whose interest the rules and laws serve...), and that's how you effectively guide an organization. When people know the rules, they can employ their own talents and makes plans to advance your aims. When they don't, they're just following whatever random order comes down the pike, so you don't get the benefit of their independent thinking (or you repeatedly thwart it, which is a waste).
One of the reasons the second one was such a lesson for me is that I'm kind of a rebellious guy. I don't like rules and systems. And so (it took an exec coach to point this out to me), I was reluctant to impose them on others. But that's not most people want or need. Sometimes they get into a situation and they are looking for structure and direction, within which they can exercise their creativity and initiative, so it's part a leader's role to create and define that.
Thank you for taking the time for this. I recommend being quick on the alt-tab key to switch between Reddit and work. That way you can avoid being caught by your boss.
How do you feel about the State of Hawaii's response to Covid? Do you feel the government has done a good job of preventing deaths at too high of a cost for the local economy?
Also, would an off-shore solar array, with wind power, deep sea aqua-culture, hotel, gambling, legalized recreational drugs, legalized prostitution, and fully automatic firearm shooting range, be anything you'd consider investing in? I've heard rumors that Elon Musk is already thinking of starting up a "Elontopia" venture such as this*.
*Disclaimer: This is a complete lie.
Thank you for taking the time for this. I recommend being quick on the alt-tab key to switch between Reddit and work. That way you can avoid being caught by your boss.
I feel that the state did a great job the first time around, and is now doing a bizarrely bad job this second time around with Delta.
I feel like "Vegas but even more Vegas, because more vice" isn't the kind of thing that would trend towards any sort of "-topia," unless you're saying "dystopia."
I always felt seasteading targeted the wrong market. You shouldn't be targeting illegal vices (or at least marketing it that way), just target oceanfront property with weed and LSD to rich people. We already know rich people buy yachts, this is basically just a cheaper yacht.
Hi Yishan; thank you for taking the time to do this AMA.
In your response to another question, you talk about your watershed moment—the moment which spurred you to direct your energy towards finding a solution to climate change. I'd like to ask you more about the time between that moment and present day, and your experience in the transition from engineer/CEO to where you are now.
In another comment, you mention doing a "bunch of math on this reforestation thing" in the build-up to the founding of Terraformation. Could you elaborate on the kind of research you did and your research process?
More generally, how difficult was it to enter the green sector coming from your past work experience in ostensibly unrelated fields? How did you learn to "read the literature" on climate change? This is related to my next question:
I did my Bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics, and am about to graduate with a Master's degree in mathematics. Which is to say, I have a fair amount of formal/theoretical training, and not so much hands-on. At the same time, I am deeply concerned about the threat that climate change poses. Do you have any suggestions for climate-focused careers in which I could leverage my skillset, and pathways leading to such careers starting from where I currently am?
1) Yeah, I just read a lot of research papers. Popular science reporting on climate change is incredibly unreliable and vacuous. Assuming it's not denialism, it's either doom-and-gloom reporting, or highlighting some piecemeal solution without regard for its cost-effectiveness or scalability (i.e. reporters are often math-illiterate). Neither of those types of reporting is useful if you're looking for actual knowledge to help solve the problem. I read a lot of research papers - a good place to start is the IPCC AR6 (it was AR5 when I was doing it) to get an overview of what the present situation is. Then you read other papers on proposed solutions, the effectiveness of the solutions, what we know about them, etc.
By the way, a plug for Sci-Hub: I could not have done this without Sci-Hub. That woman deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.
2) People think scientific papers are opaque: they're not. If you encounter something you don't understand, take some notes and then look it up and read about it until you understand it. Don't be afraid to spend the time looking up (literally) a dozen new concepts until you understand them so that you can understand one key sentence in a paper: you can totally do it, and the things you learn will compound.
If you were able to learn about the field you're currently in, you have the mental capacity to learn about another field. I just kept reading things and cross-checking them against other research in climate and a lot of adjacent relevant areas (e.g. energy, plants, water). I would say that it is not difficult per se, but that it takes time. You just have to be willing to read things you don't understand, consciously articulate what you don't understand about it, and then try to figure out that thing.
A good way to do that is to take active "thinking" notes. I have a lot of notes that say, "X, Y, and oh wait, I don't understand why Y is like this. I thought it should be Y2, based on the earlier X2. What's the deal with that?" and then "Now I'm looking up more about Y and Y2.... " etc.
By writing down your thought process, you're doing what a friend of mine described as "thinking in first gear." It's slower, but you can climb much steeper hills.
Looking back, I would say that between 2017 and 2019, I essentially put myself through a Master's degree worth of reading papers and doing calculations until I felt like I understood enough to advance a thesis.
3) Work On Climate and Climate Base are two great places to start.
Have you caught a sword fish before?
I haven't, but the big swordfish on the wall behind me was caught by. my wife on a deep-sea fishing expedition.
Hi Yishan, huge admirer of your work. Thank you for doing this AMA.
My question is, how do you maintain hope in a world that seems to be getting worse and worse by the day?
I do environmental work and at times it can get me a bit down to see so much loss and destruction of our environment. Many days it feels like my contributions are meaningless.
I maintain hope by remembering that every single awesome thing in this world that was ever built was built by humans, and no matter how bad things get, human always figure out a way and bounce back. It's not just about what you can do, or what I can do, but what people together can do.
I wrote a thing awhile ago for people who want to help out, but kind of feel that their single effort is not enough, and how to get on a track to where it will make a difference: https://www.terraformation.com/blog/what-can-i-do-to-help
I don't know if it'll help, but I hope it does. Don't give up, we are all working together.
And maybe like, the ideas in here will make you feel better, and remember what the future can be: https://medium.com/@yishan/solarpunk-art-contest-2021-da9474c9722e
Could seawater be piped to death valley to use the natural heat of the area to desalinate water?
It could be, but there's little reason to pipe it that far just to get that much natural heat. Plus, the water would quickly reduce the temperature of the area.
I love that you are doing this and I hope that you can get maybe more people on board! Is there anything I can do from Arizona? Are you doing anything in this area? Are there jobs available? I'll have to look more into this.
We don't yet have active operations in Arizona but you can be the seed!
What is a realistic time interval between germinating a seed, to growing
a seedling (or whatever it is called) in a greenhouse or nursery, to
planting at the final site?
Is planting manual, or by machine?
Between 1 to 9 months, depending on species and conditions at the planting site (if there are high winds, you want to wait longer, until the seedling is "woody"). In our operations, we have observed roughly 3 to 7 months.
Ideally, you want the planting to be done manually. The act of taking the seedling out of the little container, and then putting it into the ground can have a big effect on the plant's eventual survival rate. Doing it roughly can shock the plant, and it may be the difference between a 50% survival rate and achieving a 80-90% survival rate (which is really high). If you're doing things at scale, achieving a high survival rate has a material impact on your long-term efficiency. Especially if your bottleneck is native seed availability, you can't afford to "waste" them by having low survival rates.
What we try to do is a sort of "cyber" strategy: use tools/machines for the things best done by tools, and human hands for the things best done by human hands. We drill holes using large mechanical augurs. Our irrigation is automatic. We transport things with trucks/UTVs to minimize walking, in order to preserve human energy and attention for the delicate process of transferring the seedlings into the ground.
Thank you for asking :)
How do you think of the job Reddit management has been doing since you've been gone? Going to read about your project now, looks interesting.
The kingdom is peaceful and prosperous. Ads are somewhat more plentiful, but I also see that infrastructure quality has improved. Perhaps one has been paid for by the other.
Hi ! Sorry for a lot of questions but this is something I have an interest in, here are a few questions.
While reforestation is important, how do we convince farmers, landowners and governments to switch from more profitable activities such as animal raising and crop growing and switch to forestry growing on their land? Is it also worth planting more trees in cities and creating more “green spaces”?
How would you ensure reforestation would be beneficial to a local ecosystem, ie ensure that native wildlife and fauna aren't affected? Would a project replant local shrubs, bushes and flowers?
What is your opinion on genetic modification of plants and trees to act as more effective carbon uptakers stores?
Thanks for your time.
Hello! Thank you for many questions! I will answer them in turn:
We can't always convince everyone who is currently using their land in some profitable way to convert it to restoring forests. In fact, our plan explicitly assumes that we can't.
We've calculated that there is enough otherwise-useless or undesirable land that in the worst-case scenario, we can convert that land (mostly desert or degraded regions) into thriving native forests if we can affordably produce enough freshwater without impinging on existing freshwater supplies. That became possible around 2018, when solar prices dropped to a point where solar-powered desalination became economically feasible. So now we can produce freshwater from ocean or brackish (or even wastewater or ag runoff) sources to irrigate otherwise economically undesirable land and grow the necessary acreage of forests to offset all or most human emissions.
Happily, it's turning out that a LOT of people who currently own land do want to reforest it, so the trend happens to be in our favor. That always helps, because it's usually cheaper to reforest land that already gets enough natural rainfall.
So the summary answer on that is: we don't try too hard to convince people. If they want to participate, that's great! If not, we can do it using land that no one else wants. For example, one of our pilot projects in Hawaiʻi is located on the most remote corner of the entire island. When we asked a local kupuna to come bless the land before construction, he remarked, "Wow, I didn't know any humans lived out here." That area has been a marginal desert populated mostly with shrub grasses and occasional invasive kiawe trees for two centuries since it was deforested (it used to be a thick sandalwood forest) and not useful for much of anything.
I think it's worth planting trees in cities for sure. One concern is that the tree planting policies in cities are not always very well-informed or well-executed, so they need to be done well.
A friend of mine, Bram Gunther, helped oversee the successful planting of trees in NYC, and now works with a group called Plan It Wild that essentially helps convert residential or commercial landscapes into sustainable native habitats. (This is kind of a plug, but eh, I think they're doing great work so I want people to know)
Conversely, the tree management policies in San Francisco haven't been that great, and have made a number of mistakes. But then, San Francisco has a bunch of problems.
Yes yes! It is exactly the right strategy to replant local shrubs, bushes, flowers, and other native plants! One rather nice thing we've found is that sometimes we don't even have to - if we plant the correct combination of native tree species, those trees help support and encourage the return of these other native plants (and then fauna)! At our pilot projects, it starts out mostly empty, but once we return water and native anchor species to the region, we see other native plants begin to reappear, and animal species returning. All those species have co-evolved those producer/consumer relationships over thousands of generations, so it doesn't take much to tip the balance back to natural regeneration.
One of the most delightful and encouraging things I've learned in the process of doing this is that the Earth is trying to help us, and we just need to make our efforts in the right place and time to nudge things along.
I'm cautious about GM plants/trees in the same way I'm cautious about new technology: it can be good, but until it is, it'll probably have bugs - and that's even before you begin to scale.
I don't have an inherent suspicion or "villainy" towards GM foods. I know people regard GM organisms with great suspicion, but I don't. It's just another way of modifying organisms for our needs, and we've been modifying organisms for thousands of years through selective breeding and husbandry. For example, everyone has seen this image of a modern cultivated banana vs an original wild banana. Most plants and animals that have a place in the human world have been modified far from what they originally evolved as.
So I think about it in the following way: we already have thousands of varieties of trees, all adapted over millennia to their respective regions. Do we need to engineer more, or can we just select among the species we have? We can get pretty close using species we have, and the margin of additional carbon capture that we'd get from a plant/tree that grows faster or takes up more carbon could be well within the margin you'd get using optimal planting/soil/management practices that maximize overall survival rates.
I have friends who are working on GM trees. I think they are caught in a difficult place. People regard them with so much suspicion that they are forced to create sterile organisms that can only be propagated through controlled lab procedures, because people are afraid the plants (trees) could breed in the wild ("escape") and overtake the environment. Of course, there's some validity to that fear, but as a result you're losing one of the greatest advantages of tree-planting as a carbon capture strategy: trees are self-replicating!
The whole point of a planetary-scale solution is that you need a mechanism that yields exponential growth, which means growth that scales proportionally to the size of the existing deployed units! So it's a tough bind they're in.
Fantastic ama, love these in depth answers.
Since you've left, San Francisco's Friends of the Urban Forest has really taken off. They've been around decades of course, but the city reached am agreement with them and now new trees that fit the various microclimates are popping up all over. I hope they make your radar and make SF shoot ahead in thoughtful urban land use.
Whoa, that's great news to hear!!
Love your dream cloak , electro threads ?
It's from an Etsy store called "Truth Sanctuary" that doesn't seem to be operating any more.
The seller was a guy named Alex (possibly AlexT Scion) of Chromatika Clothing.
Let me know if you track him down.
Why are you choosing to locate and deploy capital in Hawaii instead of investing in Hawaiians and Hawaiian owned businesses that are tackling this problem?
We are doing BOTH! (That's sort of where we're deploying the capital to)
Why sell snake oil?
It is apparently a natural anti-inflammatory, skin moisturizer, and emollient.
What do you think of Reddit refusing to ban users who propagate COVID misinformation?
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