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Episode 215: A Fiery Debate with Jamie Alexander, Director at Drawdown Labs
Today’s guest is Jamie Alexander, Founding Director at Drawdown Labs.
Drawdown Labs serves as Project Drawdown’s private sector testing ground for accelerating the scaling of climate solutions quickly, safely, and equitably. In her role, Jamie leverages the organization's world-class research and analysis to experiment with collaborative ways to address climate change at unprecedented scale, and offers the world a more expansive vision for private sector climate leadership.
Jamie has been a very active member of the MCJ community, including contributing to our Community Voices newsletter and serving on the Advisory Board at Climate Changemakers. Prior to joining Project Drawdown, Jamie worked in corporate partnerships at Ceres, Inc.
This discussion brings a new energy to the MCJ podcast as the conversation not only covers Jamie’s climate journey, but also highlights some of the double standards that manifest among people working in climate change, some of the infighting that occurs, some of the tensions, and the chicken and egg scenarios. At the end of the day, a little hearty debate is a good way to ignite progress.
Jason Jacobs: I really left this conversation feeling, one, that Jamie and I are extremely mission-aligned, but two, some of these things, they're just not obvious, there is no easy answer. There's something called nuance, which doesn't necessarily manifest well on someplace like Twitter in 140 or 200 characters, but in a long form discussion like this can actually get teased out quite nicely. At any rate, great discussion, and I hope you enjoy it. Jamie, welcome to the show.
Jamie Alexander: Thanks for having me, Jason, great to be with you.
Jason Jacobs: Great to have you, and as we talked about a little before recording, you've been all over the place in terms of being an active member of the MCJ community, and you wrote a Community Voices piece, and you're, of course involved with Climate Changemakers, as is my partner Cody. You've just been everywhere yet somehow we've not crossed [inaudible] before, so such an honor to finally meet you, and to have you on the show.
Jamie Alexander: The honor is mine, Jason. I've been a fan of yours for a long time, and this feels like a long overdue conversation.
Jason Jacobs: I agree. Well, jumping right into it, what is Drawdown Labs?
Jamie Alexander: Great opening question. So Drawdown Labs is, it's sort of the experimentation hub, I would say, of broader Project Drawdown. Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that really exists in order to research, aggregate, and then communicate to the world what the biggest solutions to the climate crisis are. We've been doing that for several years now. We've published our New York Times bestselling book Drawdown back in 2017, but we really didn't see a huge amount of climate solutions scaling in the world much more quickly after we published that book. We think there was a change in awareness, there was a lot of conversation about it, but we really wanted to, after we published that book, look at how could we use that data to help inform some of the biggest actors, and biggest movers in society, and get off the sidelines and move beyond just being a research organization into an organization that actually takes action.
Jamie Alexander: Drawdown Labs was launched with that purpose, to go from the nouns, what are the solutions to climate change, into the verbs, like how do we scale them in the world quickly, safely and equitably. My program ... Our theory of change is that the big actors in society that can move things quickly enough are corporations, investors, and philanthropies, because we need to change corporate behavior, we need to get capital to climate solutions in strategic ways, and philanthropies and private capital are huge leverage points there. Drawdown Labs works with those three audiences to use their resources, and clout influence that they have at the policy level, at the investment level, at the corporate behavior level, at the employee level, to try to just get climate solutions deployed, scaling in the world as fast as humanly possible.
Jason Jacobs: I researched a bit on your background before getting to Drawdown Labs, and it seems like you've done some incredibly interesting work that didn't have to do with climate. So, maybe talk a bit about your personal journey, and also when climate started showing up on the radar, both as an issue that you care about, but also an issue that you're actually applying in your professional pursuits.
Jamie Alexander: Thanks for making that observation. I started my career thinking that I wanted to work in health, global health was my passion. I studied behavior change, communication, and public health, and ended up working in the federal government, doing foreign aid work, educating people around using malaria bed nets, or taking their HIV AIDS medication, or working on public health issues. As part of that work, I lived in a lot of different parts of the world, but Bangladesh was my first post in 2009, and it was there that I ... I was there working in rural clinics on malaria, but the place is flooding more and more every year. In the short time that I lived there, which was less than two years, it was just so clear to me that Bangladeshi people knew that climate change was a huge issue, that the glacier up above them was melting, and flooding them worse and worse every year.
Jamie Alexander: That all these other things that we were working on, malaria, AIDS, food insecurity, these things all had ... Climate change in that place was a foundational issue, and if we didn't address that, all these other things that we care about so deeply, our gains there are not going to be able to be sustainable unless we address climate change, and for a place like Bangladesh, that is an existential problem. I was there when there was a big factory collapse actually, where a lot of US companies who had outsourced the production of their clothes. Nike was manufacturing goods in this factory that ended up collapsing, it was called the Rana Plaza, and it killed about a thousand Bangladeshi people. So I had this experience of working with ... seeing the effects of climate change as a foundational root issue, seeing the corporate influence, especially US companies, influence in a place like Bangladesh, and the social responsibility that that companies have, and that's sort of where I decided to make my pivot toward looking at how business can be a force for good, and at the same time pivoting to want to focus specifically on climate change.
Jamie Alexander: The reason that I love your community so much, is that it was not an easy or straightforward transition to move from public health into climate change, even though they're so interrelated, and I felt like I had a decent amount of work experience, it was very ... I had to work for free for a year, and volunteer for a year, and luckily I was able to do that and make ends meet. It's become my passion that we should not have to compete, we should not have to ... it shouldn't be hard to work on climate change, we need everyone. We need everyone's skill sets. This should be like something that everyone is welcomed into, and I think that's what you're doing with this community.
Jason Jacobs: When you first realized and felt compelled to turn your attention to working on climate, where did you start? Did you start by learning? Did you start by doing? You mentioned volunteering, it'd be interesting just to understand what that first step or two looked like, and then how things evolved from there.
Jamie Alexander: I started within the context of the job I had at the time, and that was working overseas. So wherever I was, whether that was in Bangladesh or Tanzania, or South Africa, I tried to use the current work I was doing to learn more about climate change, and to learn more about how it intersected with climate change. I just kept on uncovering that everywhere I looked it was related to climate change, and local people knew it, and local people knew their solutions, and their challenges, and it didn't seem like anyone was really listening.
Jamie Alexander: So I started by just trying to kind of do investigative journalism, I guess, as part of that, as part of my job at the time, and then when it was clear that I ... At the time, I think I kind of decided to move away from the federal government, and wanted to really work full-time on climate change, and so I kind of took what I learned, and went to work for a very small nonprofit for a little while. That's actually an amazing cultural revitalization nonprofit that works with indigenous groups in California called the Cultural Conservancy. I worked with them for a while, and did land revitalization, cultural revitalization, indigenous land management practices, and learned a lot from that experience. Then after my work was finished with them that's when I really took some time off to learn specifically about climate change, volunteer for a while, and then moved into a very specific, specifically climate change-focused role.
Jason Jacobs: You talked about how one of the things you love about our community is that it shouldn't be so hard to transition into climate, why do you think it is, that it's so difficult? What is it that makes it so difficult to transition?
Jamie Alexander: I think that's where ... I think we started out when sustainability became a job function. It started out like any other one does, where you needed to have ... we thought that you needed certain credentials. I think it started as like, "What are the biggest issues in terms of climate change?" You need to understand renewable energy, or you need to understand policy, or you need to understand these very, very wonky, important, but really wonky topics. So I think it started out with it being sort of a discipline, like accounting or law, or medicine, where you needed to have a certain discipline or a certain awareness, or education level, or network to be able to get a job. I think that the reason that we did that, I think, as a community, is because we saw climate change as an issue, as one isolated issue.
Jamie Alexander: I think the change that we've made in awareness as a world, is now we know that it's not an issue, it underpins literally everything, everything that we know and love rests upon our stable planet. I think the shift now that we've made is like, "Oh, well, if everything depends upon it, and everything is interrelated with it, then therefore everyone must." Every part of society needs to be transformed, so there must be a role for everyone, but I think we started off thinking of it like as an issue, and that's why it was so hard to get jobs because there were so few of them, and there were so few people qualified for it. Thank God, I think now the floodgates have been burst wide open, and people are finding their ways to contribute to it from wherever we are, which is really what the world needs.
Jason Jacobs: When you were first starting to transition, you mentioned that you were drawn to corporations and their ability to bring about outsize change. I'd love to understand a little more what it was that led you to corporations, and what type of role you saw them, or see them having in the process. I distinguish between the two in case your views have changed from when you first came in to today.
Jamie Alexander: Very insightful question. I definitely think my views have changed since I came into this work, and that's probably because the climate crisis has accelerated so much, and we've seen such little ... we haven't met the crisis at the level we need to yet. But I think, I had that experience of living in Bangladesh and seeing corporate influence over in a place like Dhaka, Bangladesh, a factory collapsed and killed a thousand people, outsourced labor. I saw this is really an issue, these companies that we think of as just brand names, have these ripple effects in places of the world, and very real impacts on people's lives. I guess, at the same time, seeing the gravity and the urgency, and the expansiveness of the climate crisis, and realizing we need to figure out some big, big ways to take action. Like it or not, in our current economic system, large corporations are huge and influential actors.
Jamie Alexander: I think I said earlier, leverage the power of business, like leveraging a brand, the power of business to do good. I kind of feel like it's actually how can we exploit the resources, and influence and clout of businesses, and use the tentacles that they have in every aspect of society, use it for positive climate ends. I guess, that's sort of how I see things. I think we need to just take and exploit the biggest, and most systemic underpinning systems in the world, and use them to accelerate climate action. But I guess, I mean, I do think in my heart of hearts, I probably, this question keeps me up at night, "Are capitalism and climate change compatible? Can we live on a finite planet with a focus on quarterly returns?" Those are questions I don't have the answer to, but I think the more I work on this issue, the more I'm convinced that we don't have time to completely dismantle our economic system, and therefore we need to use the big entities with influence, try to use them to accelerate change.
Jason Jacobs: You mentioned that your views have changed quite a bit since you entered the field, what are some of the biggest ways that your views have changed? What's different now from when you came in, of note?
Jamie Alexander: One of the biggest ones I would say is that I came into this thinking we need to make the business case for companies in why they should take action on climate change, show that it's good for their bottom line, or show that it's good for the business. I don't think that's necessarily been super successful, and I guess what goes along with that is, I guess I thought executives within companies, they're going to make the right decision eventually if we change their minds, if we get the right data and the right information in front of them, they'll change their minds, and they'll make good decisions for a livable future. I don't necessarily think that that is the way that we're going to make change.
Jamie Alexander: I've been trying that angle, making the business case to executives inside companies for a very long time, and I haven't seen the kind of change, or the kind of bold, courageous decision-making that I think is necessary. So, I've come to believe that it's actually employees within the business who are not tied to shareholders, who are not tied to have to show quarterly returns, who have a moral, a clarity on the climate issue, and who can push from the inside, who can support the company from the inside, who can hold them accountable, to me, that's the major, major pivot that I've made in my approach to all of this and my philosophy.
Jason Jacobs: So could you say bottoms up versus top down?
Jamie Alexander: Yeah, that's a good way to say it, grassroots versus grass tops.
Jason Jacobs: You talked about how you thought that presenting a business case, and showing how it would benefit them to move in this direction would be persuasive, and was not, why do you think that was? Do you think it's that the business case itself wasn't compelling or was it something else?
Jamie Alexander: The business case, it makes itself, I think the problem is that the business case is made over a longer term than executives are able to make decisions on. You could make a business case for, "Oh, you'll see the return on investment if you make this decision around renewable energy in all of your factories or something, you'll see," we could show them, "You'll see a return on investment in 10 years." I'm just making this up, but the inability to make decisions on a longer term time horizon is the problem, in my opinion.
Jamie Alexander: You could tell them like, "Your supply chain, your factory in Bangladesh is going to be underwater in 15 years according to these climate models," but that isn't reason enough, that doesn't do much for their investors. I think that's the problem, is that the time horizons, even though they're so short with climate change, they're not short enough to meet a focus on quarter, a relentless focus on quarterly returns. I think that, to me, that's the issue, is being able to show in the time horizons that capitalism operates under, which is like quarters. It's hard to show climate impact over quarters.
Jason Jacobs: It sounds like, if I'm hearing right, that when you had that revelation, that maybe pushing on this at the executive level, given the longer time horizons just wasn't going to compel action when executives are trapped in the quarter by quarter framework, that you made the decision to pivot and focus more bottoms up on employees. Do you have a sense of what it would take to get executives to act more boldly, either at the personal level or systemically to change? If so, it'd be great to understand what that is, and also how viable it would be to bring that about? Since I can only assume that either you don't have that sense, or that you have that sense and it just wasn't viable given that you've, sounds like shifted gears to focusing on employees.
Jamie Alexander: Yeah, I think there's two things. One, I think the business case is important, but it's only a part of the puzzle. I actually worked with a climate psychologist back when I was sort of trying to crack this nut about five years ago, and really had close access to executives, was really trying to get more companies to set science-based targets, emissions reductions targets-
Jason Jacobs: Dr. Lertzman came on the show, I don't know if that's who you worked with.
Jamie Alexander: It is Dr. Lertzman. Yes.
Jason Jacobs: Well, that's how small the climate landscape is, that it's like you say climate psychologist and then we just know the same one.
Jamie Alexander: Oh, that one?
Jason Jacobs: Yeah.
Jamie Alexander: That one, yeah. Yes, she's been a mentor of mine for a long time. I went to her and I was like, "I have this access to decision-makers and I just can't get through, like I don't know ... It feels so obvious to me, you're alive in the world, you live in California, you're seeing the wildfires, you're feeling the wildfire smoke in your lungs. You have children, you're," on and on, and I was like, " and I'm making the business case right in front of you, and I'm giving you this on a silver platter what you should do, and they're not doing it." She said to me, "Just try this for one month. Just try this one strategy. Every meeting that you have with a high-level business person over the next month, start the conversation with this is so freaking hard. This is the hardest topic there is to work on. This is all the marbles." Start the conversation at a level acknowledging the gravity of what we were there to talk about, acknowledging that it was complex and emotional, and really, really serious.
Jamie Alexander: Her hypothesis was starting not from, "We're here to talk about line items in your budget, and how to transition to renewable energy in your data centers," but starting from more of an emotional standpoint, and I did that. Actually, the very first meeting I did that with was an executive at Uber, and he and I cried together in his office. He has kids, and we ended up having an incredible relationship work together on their emissions reductions targets, and he led that pro ... He was just an incredible ally for that, and I credit Renée with really helping us break through, "This isn't just about the business case. This is not just about the bottom line." This is about life and connecting with people, I think, in a human way, is a big part of the story too, and we oftentimes, I think throw that aside when we go to work.
Jamie Alexander: So anyway, so that's just an anecdote about, I think, we do need to make the business case, but it's not the only thing there is to make because we're all also human beings, and live on this amazing planet together, I think bringing that into it is also important.
Jason Jacobs: In your work at Drawdown Labs, maybe talk a bit about how you're engaging there. You mentioned corporations, you mentioned philanthropy, and you mentioned investment, how are you engaging across, and how are you engaging with corporations, specifically given what we just discussed?
Jamie Alexander: Our kind of hypothesis when I launched Drawdown Labs was the question I was trying to answer, the question that I still grapple with is, "Will change happen within the business category? Will change happen by small, like climate tech startups that leapfrog these big, big incumbents in their sectors, and just show the rest of the world what true climate leadership looks like? Is that how change will happen the fastest, by startups that have climate in their DNA? Or will it happen by these big multinational corporations that pivot quickly?" I think, for me, the jury is still out, but I think both obviously are necessary. We launched Drawdown Labs with both large corporations, like General Mills, and Netflix, and Google, and LinkedIn, and some smaller kind of climate tech-focused companies, so companies like Impossible Foods or Lime Bikes, who really exist in order to scale a climate solution.
Jamie Alexander: So we work with both, and we really look at, "What are all the ways that companies can influence climate change for the better?" That goes way beyond just emissions, that looks at emissions, but also how are they using their clout politically to pass climate policy? How are they using their investments and their employees' 401(k)s? How are they shifting those away from investing in fossil fuels? How are they looking at pushing their insurance companies and asset managers? How are they looking at transforming their business models from one that's focused on, whatever it's focused on, to one that is actually focused on scaling climate solutions? We look at what are more, I won't say all because I think there's more that we haven't identified yet, but what are some new ways we can identify that businesses can help accelerate climate action in the world, and then we work with our partners to help exemplify that.
Jamie Alexander: So, examples of that are Netflix using their storytelling superpower to scale climate-related messaging in the world. Or Google greening the electrical grid, their 24/7 carbon-free energy commitment, where they're committed to greening the electrical grid everywhere, they operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or it's like LinkedIn, helping them identify green jobs on their platform, if someone wants to get a job doing something climate-related, helping them ... LinkedIn now has a taxonomy, they're using their platform to help accelerate climate jobs. We work with our partners on things like that, getting our business partners to advocate for climate policy, helping them look at shifting their investments, the cash they have on hand, and their investments, their finances, and then with investors, we really ... I think there's a big need in the investment community to better understand where the gaps are.
Jamie Alexander: There's a lot of interest on the part of investors in financing climate solutions, but there's not a whole lot of scientific guidance, I would say, around what climate solutions are most in need of financing. Is there a sequencing? Should we finance the low-hanging fruit first? As our executive director, John Foley, says matching the dollars to the gigatons, trying to figure out, "How do we get capital to the right climate solutions on the right time horizons?" That's what we're doing now with our investor partners and philanthropic partners. We haven't really started, just to answer your second question, we haven't started looking at the interplay between them. I did that a bit in my last role at Ceres, looking at how investors can help push companies faster, but we haven't started looking at that yet. We just launched our investment work stream a few months ago, so we're very early days on that front.
Jason Jacobs: I mean, you at Drawdown know better than most that we ... If we don't know all of what we need to do, we know most of what we need to do from a science and technology standpoint, yet as we discussed earlier in this discussion, we're moving way slower than we should to hit the targets we need to, in the timeframes that we need to. I believe I've heard several folks from Drawdown say it's not a technology problem. One, did I hear that right? If it isn't a technology problem, what kind of problem is it? Why aren't we moving faster, and is there any hope that we will?
Jamie Alexander: I would say it's not a technology problem, we do, as you said, we have the solutions in hand today, not in a laboratory, not in an incubator somewhere, but scale already in the world today, happening in the world. Those solutions are sufficient to limit warming to 1.5 C, we just need to get financing in place to scale them, and policy in place to scale them. It's not a technology problem, but technology would help all of it scale faster. We don't necessarily need ... We need technology to help when we eventually will have to rely on carbon capture, and direct air capture. We will eventually need to remove carbon, but that shouldn't be our focus right now. Our focus should be on stopping the bleeding, reducing and avoiding the emissions that are going into the air every second of every day. We need to stop the bleeding there, and simultaneously invest in improving the ways that we can, in the future, get carbon out of the atmosphere. So we'll need to do both, but it's not a technology problem, although technology can help these existing solutions scale faster.
Jamie Alexander: So why they're not scaling fast enough, I think there's a ... that's a huge question. It's a policy problem. It's a problem of financing. It's a problem of collective action on a massive scale that ... I sometimes fear that we've shifted. The climate movement started being super focused on individual action, like recycling and changing light bulbs, and then it was like ... then it felt like the whole movement shifted to say, "No, no, no, individual action is not where we should focus, you shouldn't feel guilty. We need to focus only on systems change," which is great, but we also still do need individual action, that is ultimately an important part of the puzzle. I think I worry that we're so focused now on systems change that we're sort of absolving ourselves of doing what needs to be done in our own lives, and with the leverage that we each have.
Jamie Alexander: I guess, again, coming back to why I think employees are so important, is that I've come to feel that our existing leaders are not up to the task of getting what needs to be done. We saw that in Congress this past year with Build Back Better, where one or two human beings can completely sideline a massive federal climate policy package, that would've been really instrumental in getting investments to climate solutions through the Build Back Better Act. That was a handful of human beings who were able to single-handedly sideline that package of climate investments. I think part of what makes me so passionate about employee power, is that I think we need a wider distribution of power, of people who can make decisions, who can influence decision-making, who see the issue clearly, and that's to me, when employees who see the issue more clearly can help move their companies faster, that's where I have optimism about that movement is really building a lot right now.
Jason Jacobs: It seems that some long time climate people and organizations, and I would certainly put Drawdown in this camp, philosophically almost feel like, "Here's the things that matter, and then all these other things are noise and shining lights in places, and taking our eyes off the ball and distracting, and so more isn't necessarily better. We need to do less, but put more wood behind the things we do." I have a follow-up, but I'm just going to stop. Do you agree so far? Any disagreement that that's the Drawdown perspective?
Jamie Alexander: The Drawdown perspective is yes, and, we've identified-
Jason Jacobs: Is that true? Is that true? Because I already heard you say that we shouldn't do carbon removal today, like five minutes ago.
Jamie Alexander: Oh, I didn't say we shouldn't do carbon removal, I said we should invest in research around it, but our focus should be on reducing and avoiding emissions, and that's looking at our buildings, our agri ... that's not just looking at fossil fuels, it's looking at buildings, agriculture, transportation, energy efficiency, that's looking across natural climate solutions, but I didn't say we should not be investing in it. I said that tends to be the bright, shiny object of big tech companies lately, and we need to also look at reducing and avoiding emissions today, instead of relying on a far off concept, that so far has not proven to remove carbon dioxide at nearly the levels it needs to, despite massive amounts of investment.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, I don't want to quibble on wording, but, I hear the words, yes, and, but when there's announcements, for example, on a new pool of capital that's focused on carbon removal, or different things that are focused on carbon removal, what I don't hear from Drawdown, if I'm honest is, yes, and. What I hear is, "Why is it going towards that when it should be going towards this?" That's why I'm pushing on this is, is just to make sure I understand because it seems that I hear the words yes, and, but the actions, and the body language of the organization are smaller and more concentrated.
Jamie Alexander: No, I totally disagree. I think what you hear, at least from me, what you hear is, "That's great big corporation, but you need to reign in your own emissions today." When we see massive investments in sort of like, "We're doing amazing investing in this technology," it's like that cannot be a substitute for reducing your emissions today, it just can't. We cannot continue churning emissions into the atmosphere and say, "But it's okay because we're making these big investments in this technology of the future." No, we don't have time for that, we need to reduce or avoid, and that may mean leaving business on the table, and that's something that these big corporations can't, have not at all begun to wrestle with. It's having their cake and eating it too is what it's like, is my perspective about it.
Jason Jacobs: I'm glad this is coming up because this hits on a, I mean, it's a tension that I don't have the answer to. I wrestle with it, but I think it's important to talk about and to understand, and that's that on the one hand it's like I get the worry of, "Hey, if we have this shiny object carbon removal, then we're investing there. Therefore, we're getting to "net zero" or working towards it, and so we can stop doing the hard work to reduce our emissions, and therefore, we don't want to let them take their eye off the ball. We want them to do the hard work to reduce our emissions." Yes, totally agree.
Jason Jacobs: The flip side though, is that we are not reducing our emissions nearly fast enough, and we have not, and may not crack the code to do so. In the meantime, we need some backup plans, and that's going to take serious capital and serious time, especially given, as critics, almost gleefully point out, that the costs are not nearly competitive today that they can't remove carbon at the scale we need to. It's like, "Yeah, so we better get started earlier because it sure seems like we're going to need it." I definitely don't want this whole discussion to be about carbon removal versus emission reduction because they both do matter, but I do think it brings up an important tension, which is, "This is not instead of that, and so don't talk about that because it takes away from this," but at the same time, this is not working. Ideally we would do this, but it's not working, so what do we do about that?
Jamie Alexander: Yeah, you're absolutely right, and you're raising a critical tension. There's actually a book called The Wizard and The Prophet by Charles, I think it's Charles Mann, that actually it really ... and this was years ago, but it really interestingly lays out what I think is the tension here, which is like the wizards are like, "Technology will save us," and the prophets are like, "No, we have to stop doing stuff, and reduce the human consump ... blah, blah, blah." Anyway, I feel that tension, I live that tension. I work with big tech companies every day of my life, and I personally feel like we need to just stop at some point, stop reducing, but I totally hear you.
Jamie Alexander: We absolutely need to have ... The IPCC report, our own data, shows that we need carbon removal. We need it, but we don't include it as a solution because in our framework of whether we include what we include as a climate solution, right now we have 80 something, it needs to remove a certain amount from the atmosphere. It needs to be economically viable. It needs to show a certain amount of return on investment, it doesn't, so carbon removal doesn't. We include it as a coming attraction. It's not included because it doesn't yet meet our criteria, but we acknowledge that it's needed. I worry that the more crutches big companies have to rely on to not get to the actually addressing the fundamental problem, the more crutches they have the less likely they are to actually address it. First, it's like, "Oh, we could just-
Jason Jacobs: That goes against yes, and. Just to be clear, that goes against yes, and.
Jamie Alexander: No, no, no, no, it doesn't. They could say, "We can plant trees, so therefore we can keep emitting at the same levels we've been, because we're just net zero now because we're planting trees that are in 30 years going to start absorbing carbon dioxide," but they have a limit, and then they're going to burn up in wildfire. It's yes and, but a lot of companies are relying on the carbon removal, and not doing the work of the other side of the equation, which is reduce your emissions today, even if that means leaving business on the table. I worry about that being a crutch, and keeping it from forcing us to do the hard work of actually figuring out how to do this in a way that doesn't send emissions into the atmosphere.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I just get skeptical of the people that say yes, and, and then don't celebrate when there's carbon removal news, and I can turn it around, I'm skeptical of consumer behavior change. It's like Jimmy Carter wear your sweater, and it just give people a crutch like, "I wear my sweater so I don't have to leave my cushy tech job and focus on climate full-time, because I wear my sweater. I drive an EV right, or my carbon footprint, I offset all my flying." It's like, "Well, yeah, but," and it's like, "Well, if enough people do it then it puts pressure on the system," but are enough people really going to do it?
Jason Jacobs: Basically, it's the same debate over again, but pointed at a very different thing, and the answer is, "Yes, we should focus on it." I have a hard time believing it's going to be viable the same way that a lot of people seem to have a hard time believing that carbon removal is going to be viable, but yes, we should focus on it, so yes, and. Am I personally going to focus it? Probably not that much, and in terms of where we put our investment capital or things like that, but I'm glad to see it focused on. I feel like with carbon removal, for some reason, the people that say yes, and aren't actually glad to see it focused on, they call it a distraction, which is the antithesis of yes, and, and I'm just trying to reconcile those two things.
Jamie Alexander: Yeah, I think you can say yes, and-
Jason Jacobs: It sounds ... It's hypocritical.
Jamie Alexander: It's not. It's not hypocritical to say, "You, very company, that is investing in direct air capture, this is what you're going to celebrate this year instead of actually just stopping the thing that you're doing that's contributing to the problem." It's like how does that make any rational sense to be saying, "I'm just going to continue doing what I'm doing that's horrible for the atmosphere, and I know it is, but I'm investing in some technology that someday is hopefully going to help solve this problem." No, just address the fucking issue [inaudible].
Jason Jacobs: So then don't say yes, and, it's not yes, and, that technology's in the way, it's a crutch, and crutches are detrimental.
Jamie Alexander: There's a sequencing here though. It is possible to chew gum and walk at the same time, is it not?
Jason Jacobs: That's my point. So we're saying the same thing, so then it should be celebrated, then it should be celebrated.
Jamie Alexander: But these companies ... Did these companies do anything to advocate on behalf of Build Back Better this past year? A lot of them no, they were scared.
Jason Jacobs: Some of your members didn't. Some of your members didn't.
Jamie Alexander: Exactly, and you know that I was like the first and loudest person, and most critical of them, and almost lost my job because of it. I am not afraid to call my companies out when they don't step up, and I'm not afraid to call companies out when they invest in direct air capture, and continue to be hypocritical and make the problem worse, and not step up on climate policy, when that climate policy would create massive amounts of investment in renewable energy, and the things that are going to help them meet their targets. It's the companies that are being hypocritical, I'm calling it out. I don't see how saying yes, and, and being more excited about reduction or avoidance is hypocritical.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. So, I'm going to try this a different way, so put carbon removal aside. We can say we have everything that we need, and we can say that things that aren't the things that we already have are a distraction, I know that's not what you're saying. You're saying yes, and, but at the same time, if the things we need aren't getting adopted, the things we have, I mean, aren't getting adopted, then whether they would work if they were adopted broadly, or not, if they don't get adopted broadly they aren't what we need, and-
Jamie Alexander: So you're giving up, so you're saying, "Forget about these solutions, we're just going to suck everything out of the air sometime."
Jason Jacobs: Oh, no, I'm in the yes, and camp. I'm in the yes, and camp, but here's my philosophy. My philosophy is that the overall portfolio of spending in action that's going towards addressing climate, and re-architecting our global economy is so small relative to what it needs to be, that any additional dollar or any additional resource that goes into it is a win, and should be celebrated. We should focus much more on unlocking orders of [inaudible] more resource, than we should on critiquing the resource that comes in. It's a real allergy for me when resource comes in, and inevitably the peanut gallery chimes in and says, "Well, I guess that's good, but it'd be better if it were devoted to that thing over there." That happens inevitably, no matter what it is. When the largest donation came in to fund a climate school at one of the top universities it's like, "Oh, so the rich white kids are going to get," it's like, "Oh, my God." It's like, "This is an undebatably positive thing, just stop."
Jamie Alexander: You're preaching to the choir on that one. I feel like I can advocate for emissions reductions and avoidance now, without being the peanut gallery who's ranting and raving about the Doerr School. I think you are uncovering a super important tension, and we all feel it, and we all end up, especially on social media, end up like quibbling with each other about how change is going to happen the fastest. I don't think, I mean, yes, it's completely unhelpful, but I think in my mind, you're putting Project Drawdown in that camp, where what we're trying to do is provide scientific grounding. We're trying to say, "This is not just about fossil fuels, people. This is also about how we move around the world. This is also about how we heat our homes. This is also about efficiency. This is also about food. This is also about our health."
Jamie Alexander: We try to say, "Yes, we need electric vehicles, but we also need regenerative agriculture, and we also need silvopasture, and we also need indigenous land tenure." When I say yes, and, I mean we're not just down with fossil fuels, we're like, "This is a much bigger issue than fossil fuels," which is how a lot of people frame it. I guess, we completely acknowledge that carbon removal is important, is an important solution, but it's not going to be the climate savior. So we can be happy about it, we can pat our companies on the back that were part of that announcement, which several of them were, and we can also say to them, "But you need to move much faster on reduction and avoidance at the same time, or this is hypocritical." We can do both of those things at the same time. We can put pressure on them to reduce emissions faster today, and be glad that they're investing in the technology that we're going to need tomorrow. To me, that's what I mean by yes and, and I think we're pretty solidly on that side of things.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I don't mean to make this Project Drawdown specific. I think what's happening in this episode, honestly, is that there's just been some kind of pent up frustration that I've been feeling in general. You can't even say the Climate Movement because it's everything. There's so many different segments that fundamentally disagree with each other, so it's not like there's one unified movement. But I think what gets me, is that some people, and entities that have been working on it for a long time, are so authoritative about preaching exactly what needs to be done in the right way and the wrong way, when they have not been getting it done. It's not that I'm a newcomer that comes in and think, "I have the answers," I don't.
Jason Jacobs: I know how much I don't know, but the insiders that haven't been delivering it, I'm not saying because it's their fault, timing matters, and consumer perception. There's so many factor, and symptoms becoming more visible now, there's so many factors that are outside of their control, it's not about blame, but it's that, "How can you be so authoritative about what you know works when it hasn't been working, when new people are coming with different approaches and you can say so confidently that's the wrong approach, when your approach hasn't been working?" That's the piece, I think, that just, and I'm sure it bothers them as much that the new people come in and speaks so authoritatively, like I do sometimes. I try to catch myself, honestly, because I don't know, but what I do know is, and this is just back to a core philosophical belief, and a worldview, is that more shots on goal is better. More experimentation is better. More controversial experiments is better, we're going to learn so much. We should just be trying different things. We should be putting different skill sets out. We should check our preconceived notions at the door, and I feel like that's a really hard ... you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Jamie Alexander: You are so right. I really could not agree more with what you're saying. I really, I mean, I feel that tension. I feel a similar agitation when people get so attached to their one approach and everything else is wrong, and I completely agree with you. I really honestly do. I think we need more of all of it, and that's going to lead to more learning.
Jason Jacobs: So then let's talk about that. We've talked about how maybe the people in power aren't the people that are going to take us there. We've talked about even if you look at the incumbent corporations, like you said you wrestle with whether they can take us there, whether capitalism, in general, can take us there, what does that mean about the Legacy Climate Community?
Jamie Alexander: The Legacy Climate Community-
Jason Jacobs: The Climate Community that's been working on this problem for decades, the organizations that are so steeped in their ways, are they the ones ... they shit on the incumbents all day long, and say, "The incumbents are toast and we need a new set." Why isn't the same thing true in climate?
Jamie Alexander: Interesting. I think of it as, now, a sort of the incumbents as the moderate flank now, and then this radical flank that's coming in, and the way these flanks works is you have, and I think of ... I came from the organization Ceres, which is an incredible organization that does nonprofit works with companies and investors.
Jason Jacobs: Mindy came on the show, and Barney Schauble came on the show, and Alicia Seiger came on the show.
Jamie Alexander: Amazing, huge fans of all of them. Mindy is like the baddest ass person in the universe, in my opinion, so Alicia, so is ... I mean, they all are. But I came from Ceres, and establishing Drawdown Labs was like, I sort of felt like the way that we publicly hold our companies accountable, Ceres has to play a real, I mean, they play a super, super important and deep role in the ecosystem. They work deeply, deeply with, as you know, inside and have maximum amounts of trust by these companies and investors that they work with, and policy makers. We, Drawdown Labs, are taking a different approach, where I'm not afraid to call out our company partners when they don't step up. I'm not afraid to talk to the press about ways that I am, or I'm not disappointed in the leadership being displayed by my company partners. That's something that Ceres can't do because they work deeply in the system, they need the trust and credibility of their partners.
Jamie Alexander: I see myself a little bit as like a flank that's trying to give cover, to help companies maybe feel a little bit agitated or threatened by what we're doing, and so therefore maybe they'll work more, they'll go and do more advocacy, or move faster with Ceres. I see it as like a moderate flank, and a radical flank, and we need the radical flank on the fringe to help accelerate, maybe ruffle a few feathers, try to move things faster, so that way it'll slowly move the whole ecosystem forward to sort of my theory of change. I guess, I don't think of it as like incu ... I mean, Ceres is a huge incumbent, but they're also really agile, and really having deep, deep work in the system. I don't know if that answers your question, if that's what you were getting at.
Jason Jacobs: Well, in that example, if you're playing the role of the more radical that's going to hold the company's feet to the fire, why would the companies work with you then? What's in it for them?
Jamie Alexander: Well, so what is in it for them? I mean, if I hold them accountable to the press ... in the press, which I did last year in a pretty public way-
Jason Jacobs: I saw.
Jamie Alexander: It would look really bad if they decided to leave my coalition.
Jason Jacobs: But why do they come in the first place knowing that Drawdown Labs has that reputation and that history, wouldn't that make new members reticent to sign on because once they're in then they're trapped?
Jamie Alexander: We're about to announce five new major corporate partners in the next month, who came to me right after that piece was released, this investigative, I don't know to what to call it, like a expose, I guess, who came to me and said, "We want that kind of accountability and transparency, sign us up." So we're bringing five new, three companies in the tech sector, and two in other sectors who were like, "We need this. This is the kind of transparency and accountability we need, so sign us up." We lost a partner because of it, and that sucks, but I get it. It caused some issues internally for some people, and I get that, but I think we do need ... Look, there's zero teeth in this space, there's so few things we have to hold for any accountability like,, "What do we have to hold company's feet to the fire? What metrics do we even have in place to measure progress here?" We're very limited in how much accountability there is in this space, and when I say this space, I mean companies in climate progress.
Jamie Alexander: So, I think we need to take it where we can find it, and so if that's looking at how climate policy, and whether companies are advocating on behalf of climate policy or not, I'll take it. I'll take that accountability where I can find it. I think there was an appreciation by a lot of people that, "Look, that's a very murky, sort of obscure space where no one knows how it all works inside the company," how these conversations worked, and I think shining a light there is helpful, in my opinion, even if it ruffles a few feathers.
Jason Jacobs: I don't know if I can ask you this question, given that you do have a bunch of big corporate clients, but when you envision the future of capitalism, well, since we don't have time to tear down the system, as you said, so we'll try to change what we've got. If you look at, call it the Fortune 100, or Global 2000, or whatever, what percentage of the companies that are in there now will be in there in our future state, when we're in harmony with the planet and with each other, if we get there?
Jamie Alexander: Great question. If I'm being completely honest, in a not necessarily realistic, but honest, as to what I think needs to happen, we need to take a hard look at what kinds of companies should exist in a world that we need to build. Do we have the ability to have these massive retail chains that just sell crap in the world? Of course, fossil fuel companies need to transform or stop existing, but what kinds of companies should exist? Should it be only companies that are scaling climate solutions? Or a health or well be ... some sort of human right or human ... something, like an essential need of humanity or a climate solution, are those the only kinds of companies that will be able to exist in the world? I don't know, but nobody's doing the hard work of thinking about that. Right now, you could have a business focused on anything, to make money producing anything at all in the world that you want. Well, I don't think we have the carbon budget for that anymore.
Jamie Alexander: We have so many like companies that need to reduce their emissions yet we ... I don't know if I'm making this point well, but I think nobody's looking at the kinds of companies that should exist in the world, the kinds of business models that we can afford to have in the world. I think a lot of them are going to exist because they pivot to focus on climate solutions full stop. That's my opinion. How many of those in the Fortune 100 are going to do that? I don't know. You see big autos who transition there, who say, "Phasing out internal combustion engines, we're going to be a 100% EV by 2040 or 2030." That's what that looks like. It's like saying, "The future is not in my business model of the past so we're pivoting to the business model of the future." How many companies are going to do that? I don't know, but I think that's the way forward.