Ecological regeneration in the anthropocene
Bay Area Gathering, Climate Sangha, and LandOS essay
Beloved Earthshot community,
I’ll be offline supporting the moon dance in northern california this week, so Patrick and the rest of the team will be hosting the weekly welcome call. The moon dance is an invitation into four nights of ceremonial consciousness, silence, and prayer; for me it’s a bridge between the systemic technical work we do at Earthshot and the immanence of a ceremonial life integrated in nature. This bridge may be the defining theme of the organization, the core of why we feel that Earthshot is pioneering a novel way of making scalable impact rooted in ecological consciousness.
Weekly Call RSVP Here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/earthshot-labs-weekly-all-hands-call-tickets-163732717967
I think of this weekly gathering like a climate sangha, a place to connect with deep allies in the journey of right relationship with nature at planetary scale. You’ll also have the opportunity to join Earthshot project teams, or receive support for your own projects.
Bay Area Gathering: For people in the SF Bay Area, I’ll be hosting a hike and sunset potluck at Mt. Tam/Muir Woods on July 28; reply to email@example.com if you want to receive an invitation.
Below is a longer overview on our motivation and product thesis for LandOS. Let us know if you want to collaborate on it!
Have a beautiful week,
Troy and the Earthshot team
Ecological regeneration in the anthropocene
Driving through the Shasta foothills today was a stark confrontation with the reality of fire and perpetual drought. Shasta Lake, actually the largest reservoir in California, is nearly empty of water, barren dry slopes leading down to a puddle of water with frustrated houseboats cramped together. Dry black trunks lined the road. In previous years, these same trees would have recovered in a year’s time, the fire nourishing the soil with carbon and maintaining a rich microbiology and water retention. Now, however, the trees were hit by a lack of water and record temperatures that prevented regrowth, soil evaporating into the air.
It is unconscionable that humans continue to degrade landscapes at a planetary scale. We are in a phase when human activity impacts every aspect of earth’s surface ecology, and the decisions we have made at the scale of policy, economic incentives, and individual landowner decisions have not brought balance.
We have never before had the capacity to remotely monitor Earth’s ecosystems with useful precision. Now, with satellite imagery, LiDAR, machine learning, and massive computing power, we have the ability to simulate the globe at an unprecedented level of detail, and understand the implications of our decisions.
It’s not that I’m intrinsically a fan of abstracting nature into pixels, tokens, and money; the issue is that we already systematically monetize nature into resources, and we’re doing it badly. Satellite imagery cannot replicate the intimacy of indigenous relatedness with the beingness of a specific place, but it can help us design systems in alignment with the love of nature.
Why are we building LandOS, anyway? And what makes it different from the plethora of agtech and land management tools already available?
LandOS is a platform for ecological restoration in the anthropocene.
I remember the first time I used Google Earth. It was a grown-up version of the globe I had as a child, and I spent hours zooming around to different places and experiencing the joy of connecting with the beauty of the planet.
LandOS is like that, but better. Sim planet for real life, for real decisions by landowners, policymakers, and investors.
Fundamentally, our ‘competitive advantage’ is soulfulness. By creating an organization that honors the comprehensive emotional, relational, and spiritual nature of people, the most brilliant people in the world who are deeply committed to ecological regeneration can find a long-term home for their talent and sense of purpose. Every GIS or agtech tool we’ve used so far feels dry, utilitarian; they don’t touch the emotional richness and inspiration that can catalyze a social movement for ecological restoration at scale. It will be in a thousand tiny decisions in the development cycle of LandOS that soulfulness emerges into a product in service of life.
System design for the future
Here’s an overview of how we think the critical links in the web of future ecological technologies will work together.
Access and Financing
We’ll dive into each category in greater detail over the coming months; for now, we’ll present the logical overview of how we see LandOS as the backbone for each link in the web of technology for ecological regeneration.
Measurement: If we can create an accurate digital twin of major global ecosystems including water, soil, forests, and biodiversity, we unlock numerous opportunities to incentivize regeneration intervention. Understanding CO2 sequestration in soil and forests enables an efficient global carbon market, and is the most direct way to measure and get paid for climate impact. Healthy water cycles are the foundation of ecological restoration including reforestation, regenerative agriculture, and intensive ungulate grazing. Biodiversity is an acknowledgement of the value of non-human nature for its own sake, and is a key indicator for ecological resilience. We believe measurement tools should be open-source: a globally coherent agreement on how to measure ecosystems builds trust in any resulting carbon credits and aligns multinational policy, and peer-reviewed iterations will create a more accurate models over the long term. The Earthshot open-source community is a nexus for institutional and academic collaboration; check out our research overview here.
Simulation: In order for a landowner, policymaker, or investor to have confidence in making an intervention, they must understand the ecological and financial implications and risks over time. LandOS will give every landowner on earth the ability to see what will happen on their land based on different interventions, as well as provide detailed recommendations for the best strategies including water restoration, reforestation and forestry best practices, and agricultural practices. This must be a visceral experience; to see an augmented-reality image of a mature forest overlaid on a degraded landscape can touch a level of imagination as compelling as the financial case for carbon sequestration.
Carbon Credits: Carbon credits must be transparently verified at every point in the creation cycle: site observations, remote data source, machine learning model for interpolating across a parcel, and credit transactions. Each point also includes uncertainty: measurement uncertainty, algorithm uncertainty, verification bias, or risk factors causing impermanence or leakage. If we can accurately-enough understand uncertainty at each data point, we can aggregate it into a well-understood credit security. Prime (high verification cost, high accuracy) and sub-prime (low verification cost, high uncertainty) carbon credits are both incredibly valuable to incentivize ecological action at scale. The LandOS carbon verification platform will generate a credit tagged with meta-data at each point that can be stored on a blockchain-based ledger or conventional credit registry.
Access and Financing: We believe everyone on earth should have free access to the information and tools to optimize their land. Carbon markets are currently accessible only by developers able to navigate through the complex project development process and pay upwards of $300,000 for professional consultants. We believe every land steward on earth should be rewarded for the positive climate impact of their land, which means onboarding friction must be as low as possible. This requires Carbon-as-a-Service, where landowners pay nothing for market access, and where interventions including reforestation, water restoration, and conversion to regenerative organic agriculture is a free and low-risk proposition. Solar has exploded in popularity because financing has eliminated up-front costs; the same will happen with carbon.
Operations: On-the-ground projects are complex, and most investment advisors have let us know that we probably shouldn’t do project development. However, to remain armchair scientists risks developing tools that sound good, but don’t actually create the incentive structures that take into real consideration the social and cultural fabric of specific people, create multi-generational wealth, or the perverse incentives that lead to monoculture plantations rather than gorgeous diverse ecosystems. Plus, the climate crisis is a physical problem that requires physical solutions; yes, reforestation and agroforestry will be hard to scale, and yes, we’re going to do it anyway. This means tens or hundreds of thousands of people working on reforestation, stacked agroforestry, and earthen low-tech water restoration. Our new open-source reforestation playbook is a synthesis of decades of work from different organizations, empowered by modern technology and the cultural will to bring nature back into balance.
To help create the future of ecological technology, join the slack channel or send us a note to schedule a call.