Last year, Stripe shared on their blog their commitment “to pay, at any available price, for the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and its sequestration in secure, long-term storage.”
Their reasoning was straightforward. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions will not be enough to resolve our climate crisis. We almost certainly need to remove carbon dioxide that is already in our atmosphere. The technology to do so is in a classic early stage conundrum. Because it’s so new, it’s both not good enough and too expensive to be viable. However, those who buy early help fund improvements to the technology, which drives the price down, which leads to more customers and investments. Wash, rinse, repeat. All the while, carbon is being removed from the atmosphere.
This is the promise all early stage technology makes. The question is, who’s going to buy early? For carbon removal, Stripe raised its hand, committing to spending at least $1 million a year. Their hope was that other companies would follow suit.
I thought this was awesome, but I wasn’t blown away by the dollar amount. A million dollars isn’t nothing, but Stripe is worth $36 billion.
So I was disappointed to read in this week’s The Atlantic that a million dollars turned out to be a big deal. The article quotes Stripe’s Ryan Orbuch, who said, “We got a positive response from the carbon-removal community, because the field is so starved for capital that a million dollars will raise eyebrows.”
I find this infuriating… and sadly, not surprising. With an estimated $500 billion a year being invested in climate change by companies, governments, and philanthropic foundations, how is it that a million dollars shook up a market that is so clearly necessary right now? My guess is it boils down to two things: Lack of leadership and lack of strategic action. The need to wait for others to make an obvious idea okay before being willing to jump in themselves is very, very strong in most people.
While I find this very sad, Stripe deserves even stronger kudos for recognizing this and doing something about it.