Climate & Clean Energy
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INI x 776: Fellowship of the Climate

Published on
August 15, 2022
Show notes

“What can I do?” This is the question I get most often. 

It’s the question that early on pivoted our newsletter and then this podcast towards measurable action steps that help you feel better and drive systemic change.

I don’t have anywhere near all the answers to basically anything, so I usually answer people with “What CAN you do?”…to stall for time, but also to open up the conversation.

Because the answer to what CAN you do is usually best found at the intersection of your interests or passions or skills, and the eleventy billion problems and opportunities we have before us.

And so, almost a hundred and fifty published conversations later and ten times as many offline, some of my favorites remain talking to young people about their lived experiences and how they’re directing it towards a problem and solution, towards a radically better world, however ambitious and however much I am a moron and don’t understand the basic science behind it.

But on the other hand, somebody’s gotta support these folks. And so those of us with privilege, with a mic or a checkbook or both have to – at the very least – step up and ask a slightly different version of that question, which is:

“How can I help?”

My guests today are Lissie Garvin and Laura Stieghorst.

Lissie is the Foundation and Fellowship Director at the new 776 Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the venture capital firm with the same name, both founded by Alexis Ohanian.

Lissie helped run Reddit, was chief of staff at Initialized Capital, working alongside Alexis.

Laura Stieghorst is one of the first 776 Fellows. She is the co-founder and CEO at BASICO2, where they are working to understand how we can safely rebalance ocean chemistry using natural mechanisms to remove CO2 from the ocean and restore coral reefs. No biggie, right?

Combined, these two humans are a shining example of humanity’s young people, our most affected, our most ambitious, doing hard things. Because we have to, because they want to, because, in the end, some of these things might be possible, and might change the world.

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Transcript

Quinn:

What can I do? That is the question I get most often. It's the question that, early on, pivoted our newsletter and then this podcast towards action and measurable action steps that help you feel better and drive systemic change. And our approach was further enhanced when I talked with an early guest, Bina Venkataraman, and read her incredible book where she posited, "How can I be a better ancestor?" Man, that one centered me. It centered this work, my family life. And I want to be clear here. I don't have anywhere near all the answers to basically anything. Just ask my kids. So I usually answer people with, "What can you do?" To stall for time but also to open up the conversation. You wouldn't believe what it comes out.

Quinn:

Wherever we are, whoever they are, it works because the answer to what can you do is usually found at the intersection of your interests, your passions, however you came by them, your professional or artistic skills, or both, and the eleventy billion problems and opportunities we have before us from climate to COVID, to public health, from AI ethics to agriculture, from capitalism to cancer. And so, almost 150 published conversations later, and 10 times as many offline, some of my favorite remain talking to young people about their lived experiences and how they're directing those experiences towards a problem and solution, towards a radically better world, however ambitious, and however much I am a moron and don't understand the basic science behind what they're working on. They're very patient with me.

Quinn:

But on the other hand, someone's got to support these folks. The folks most affected by COVID and climate are typically the historically marginalized folks around the world. And so those of us with privilege, with a mic, or a checkbook, or both have to, at the very least, step up, and stand out, and ask a slightly different version of that question, which is, how can I help?

Quinn:

My guests today are Lissie Garvin and Laura Stieghorst. Lissie is the foundation and fellowship director at the new 776 Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the venture capital firm with the same name, both founded by Alexis Ohanian. Lissie helped run Reddit, was chief of staff at Initialized Capital working alongside Alexis.

Quinn:

Laura Stieghorst is one of the first 776 fellows. She's the co-founder and CEO at BÁSICO, where they are working to understand how we can safely rebalance ocean chemistry using natural mechanisms to remove CO2 from the ocean and restore coral reefs. No biggie, right? Combined, these two humans are a shining example of humanities' young people. Our most affected, our most ambitious, doing hard things because we have to, because they want to. Because, in the end, they're the best ones to do it. And some of these things they're working on, like GPS was, like antibiotics were, like refrigeration was or solar power, mRNA vaccines, right? These things might be possible. They might change the world. Many of them, most of them, will fail, but we don't know until we try. And what Lissie and Laura are trying is incredible. I'm so excited to have you both here and to talk about all of the adventures you guys have going. That is a very exciting chandelier you got going on the back there, Lissie.

Lissie Garvin:

It's a photograph. Vienna.

Quinn:

That's a photo? Dammit!

Laura Stieghorst:

That's stumped me the first time I saw it.

Quinn:

Son of a ...

Laura Stieghorst:

I was like, "What weird illusion?"

Quinn:

Well, congratulations, it worked.

Lissie Garvin:

Yes.

Quinn:

That's impressive. And I just look like I've been keeping people kidnapped here. Listen, let's get serious. Enough. Lissie and Laura, I'd like to start with one important question instead of what is your entire life story. I'm sure that's wonderful and great. I like to ask why are you vital to the survival of the species. And I encourage you to be bold and honest because you're here for a reason. Many guests cackle the first time they hear that or tell me, "I'm not." And then we usually actually get something illuminating and thought-provoking. So have at it. Why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Lissie Garvin:

Yeah. Wow! That is quite the question. I mean, if we were to jump straight into it, I guess with my most recent new position at the foundation, we'll just talk about the fellowship program because I get to fund people like Laura with grants who are actually solving solutions for the world population. That makes me vital because I'm helping these young people tackle huge issues, especially related to climate right now.

Laura Stieghorst:

She got the easy answer. I, on the other hand, get to be the young person that takes all the money-

Lissie Garvin:

Exactly.

Quinn:

Go get them.

Laura Stieghorst:

... and puts it to good use. So I'm vital to humanity's wealth redistribution. Let's say that. Beside-

Quinn:

Into it.

Laura Stieghorst:

... the awesome fellowship from 776 Foundation, I am happy to redistribute Elon Musk's wealth as well as part of the XPRIZE Competition. So that'll be my contribution to humanity. I will happily redistribute other people's wealth.

Quinn:

I mean, a lot of people are cheering for you.

Lissie Garvin:

Totally. I feel like, Laura, you said it really well the other day. You said that you watched one of the launches, and you were like, "I wish Elon would do more for Earth than he was for up in space." I butchered your quote, but ...

Laura Stieghorst:

That's a great story, actually, of how I came to be involved in all of this if we want to get started with that.

Quinn:

Yeah, let's see.

Laura Stieghorst:

About a year ago, in April, there was a SpaceX rocket launch in Cape Canaveral. And so I decided to do a trip up to the cape and watch the rocket go off, and it was really, really impressive. And in the early morning hours, I was watching it go off in amazement and thinking to myself, "Wow, this is so cool, but I wish that Elon Musk would spend as much money helping to save the earth as he was enabling people to leave it." And that very same day was the announcement of the XPRIZE carbon removal competition that he is funding. And so, I get back to class the next Monday, and that's the first thing one of my professors presents to us in class, and I knew that I had to get involved. I had, at that point, no background in carbon capture, but I was like, "This is my calling, clearly. So, got to figure it out now."

Quinn:

I have 76 questions or 776 questions, I guess.

Lissie Garvin:

There we go.

Quinn:

One, what was this class you walked into? Clearly it wasn't like Western Democracy or something like that. I mean, it must be somewhat technical. Correct?

Laura Stieghorst:

Yes, it was climatology and extreme weather events.

Quinn:

Okay. So within the realm of reason.

Laura Stieghorst:

Yes, yes.

Lissie Garvin:

That's offered in Florida.

Quinn:

Right. Yeah.

Laura Stieghorst:

And also offered to environmental science majors.

Quinn:

Okay. All right. So we're checking a few of them. I'm the liberal arts nerd. I'm like a pagan atheist monster who was a religious studies major, and now I nerd out on this stuff all day. So at least you're within striking distance. So, all right, that's pretty compelling. One of my favorite things to do was I had a co-host for a long time with the show, and when we have really technical conversations ... So if the goal of this was just like, "Hey, Laura, we're going to nerd out on exactly what you're doing, and ocean acidification, and all that stuff." Or we talk to these incredible two women scientists who are working with the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, which does pediatric cancer research, and they are scientists. And they're working with Zebra Fish to cure cancer.

Quinn:

And I would stop, and I would turn to my co-host, Brian, on the show, and I'd say, "All right, Brian, where would you start? What is step one for this? Because where do you buy zebra fish? I don't know. Much less how to use them to like cure cancer." So I'm glad that you were at least like, "Oh, this is something I would know where to start." That's helpful. That's helpful for sure.

Quinn:

This is great because I mentioned to you guys offline, where we like to provide the most value is answering the question for folks, "What can I do?" And usually, my first answer is, "Well, what can you do, Lissie, Laura?" Because it's usually this nexus of what am I into, whether it's something now or seventh-grade science you liked. What are your transferable skills? And then I can give you these 7,000 different problems and opportunities across climate or public health or whatever where those things apply. Right? But they love hearing from folks like yourself about why you got into it. So can we take a step a little further back and say why were you taking a climatology class besides living in Florida and the seas going up like that?

Laura Stieghorst:

So yeah, I mean, I have always been interested in environmental science, and even from a little kid, I couldn't really imagine doing anything else. I would say my background would be in citizen science because that's really where I fell in love with this kind of work. Since middle school, my mom started pushing me to look for opportunities in the intersection of science and current events. And in Florida, that happened to be a lot of marine ecological disasters. So from invasive lionfish to harmful algal blooms to coral bleaching, that's always where I caught interest. And any school project where I had an option to pick my own topic, that's where I was directing my focus.

Laura Stieghorst:

And I found a lot of encouragement from scientists who needed people with passion, and free labor, and interest in their work. And you'd be surprised how many really impressive scientists would let a middle school kid get into their experiments. And it was an amazing community that I found in Miami, especially of marine scientists, because it's so niche, and they're so passionate. And it really encouraged me to just send those cold emails, and look for help, and get involved in things that I didn't really have a background in.

Quinn:

That's really cool.

Laura Stieghorst:

So when I got to college, and I was like, "Well, what can I do to help?" And I figured I'll study environmental science.

Quinn:

That's pretty rad. I grew up here on coastal Virginia. We have this thing called the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, VIMS, and I remember thinking it's really cool but never really understanding that that's a job. That's a thing that people can go do. Also, nobody was worse at flashcards than me, so it was not happening as a job once that became evident. But it is so fascinating to hear people talk about, again, like you said, your mom saying get into the intersection of environmentalism and current events. And it's like, "Welcome to 2022." That's what we're doing, so that's awesome. That's really cool. Lissie, you have been ... quick scanning your LinkedIn ... a founder, an event planner, worked in advertising PR. You helped run Reddit. Co-found 776. You're literally making our podcast recording software work right now. How did we get to the 776? What was the conversation? Was it you? Was it Alexis? How did you find your way into philanthropic stuff now after everything else?

Lissie Garvin:

I started out working for Alexis, which is crazy to even say, almost seven years ago. I think this fall, it'll be seven years. And at the time, I was living in San Francisco, and everyone was working in tech. And I was like, "I just got to go try this tech thing out because I'm not going to live here for forever." And so, one of the first jobs I got was this role at Reddit. And at the time, I think there were 45 of us. I remember walking into the office, and I had this imagination of what a tech company looked like, and it was the opposite. It was popcorn ceilings, really bad lighting.

Quinn:

Oh, no.

Lissie Garvin:

Yeah.

Quinn:

That's not what the pictures say.

Lissie Garvin:

No, it's fully not. It's 100% not what the shows show or anything. But I remember sitting with Alexis, and Steve, and Marty, who was a CTO at the time. And I was listening to them talk about what the plans were for the future. And I was like, "Huh, there is going to be so much room to grow at this place. I don't even know what Reddit is, but I'm going to figure it out." And genuinely, the day before, I remember I signed up for Reddit. I had a username. It was my first and last name. The week I started, they were like, "Yeah, not really the point. Got to change that. You can't have it be your first and last name."

Quinn:

Right. You literally misunderstood the entire idea.

Lissie Garvin:

But after I worked there for a couple of years and then as Alexis's chief of staff there, we went full-time at Initialized, his first venture fund. And that's where I really fell in love working with founders from the very beginning ideas. A lot of times, they wouldn't even have a pitch deck. It'd be like, "Alexis, I have this vision," and Alexis would be enamored. And, "Yes, I 100% see what you're saying. We need that." And ultimately, when the pandemic happened, and everyone was forced to stay inside, I think it caused a lot of us to think about the future, and what kind of impact we want to have, what work looks like. And Alexis started 776, the fund. Myself and Caitlin Holloway left Initialized to join him.

Lissie Garvin:

And we'll call it the last five years, Alexis is really good about what do you want your future to look like? What work is most meaningful to you? What do you get joy out of? And we always circled back to wanting to do something good and having some sort of impact. And so, when he talked about the foundation and being ready to launch that, I got really excited. And I was like, "What's the focus going to be? What are you thinking?" And ultimately, he was like, "Why don't you run it? Why don't you? I trust you so much. You've been in this chief of staff role for six years. How about you take a shot at running this thing?" Then he was like, "It's going to be about fighting inequity worldwide". And so, we ultimately decided fighting climate change.

Quinn:

Small problems.

Lissie Garvin:

Small problems.

Quinn:

Manageable.

Lissie Garvin:

The thing about having someone like Alexis as your boss is two things. He has the money to make a difference. He has the capital, but he also has the platform. And I think that having both of those things is really powerful, especially when you use it for good. And I mean, all the time Alexis is calling on people and giving a call to action. So I think that was really exciting also why the inequity worldwide problem is what we ultimately decided to have the foundation be about. And then starting with climate change, I mean, that is so crucial right now to the world, and it affects everyone on a daily basis. And it disproportionately affects marginalized communities, so I think it's a no-brainer to begin there.

Quinn:

As my wife says, I have the unique ability to be the bummer in any conversation now because we could be talking about Cheetos or whatever, and I'm like, "Let me tell you about how it connects to climate change." She's like, "Can I have five minutes without ..." I'm like, "It's everywhere."

Lissie Garvin:

Totally. But I think the important thing and what I have felt from working with the 20 fellows, I mean, you all are ... Laura, you guys are what, 18 to 23 years old? So young. And listening to all of you talk about your projects, ideas, companies, there is not any doom and gloom behind it. It's so energetic and exciting, and it's like, "Yes, we are going to solve these problems." There is actually no other way other than to solve them. I'm trying to take the doom and gloom out of my conversations as well because I go the same way, Quinn.

Quinn:

No, it's easy to. I had a really interesting conversation with a woman, Dr. Brit Wray, recently about climate psychology and just about we do need to sit with these things, and we need to process them because they can be very hard. And obviously, I'm incredibly privileged, and I'm not seeing the enormous daily effects that so many folks, so many marginalized folks, are. But part of the reason we left Los Angeles is literally my home was uninsurable anymore because they were like, "Yeah, sorry, it's totally going to burn down in the next five years. It's not even a question." At least I was privileged enough to get to that point where we could have it up to then. Right? A lot of people were already ... it's out of here.

Quinn:

But at the same time, right? That's part of the reason we focus on the action step stuff here. And part of the reason I like to have these conversations is, again, feeding off the energy of people like Laura and like yourself, Lissie, again, who are enabling these things is incredible. I talked to some guy a couple of years ago. He's like, "I think I figured out how to pull water out of thin air." I'm like, "What? That's fucking nuts. Let's do this thing." That's crazy. And also, we need it everywhere. Let's do it. You can't have enormous, complex systemic problems that touch everything without profound opportunities to rewrite the way we do everything, and the way we consume things, and make things, and redistribute things. So let's talk potatoes about these fellowships. So correct me everywhere I'm wrong, which is how most of my days go. I have three children. I don't get away with anything. 20 climate fellows ages 18 to 23, which is wild, 100K each received over the course of two years. Is that right?

Lissie Garvin:

Two years, exactly.

Quinn:

And the goal is 10 years, 20 million out the door.

Lissie Garvin:

100%. Yep, you nailed it.

Quinn:

Easy. I'm not even close to done. Got to be full-time. Right? So if you're in school, you got to drop out. Is that correct?

Lissie Garvin:

Mm-hmm, correct.

Quinn:

Fascinating. Wide range of applications, technological, social, political, sociological, whatever.

Lissie Garvin:

Yep.

Quinn:

It could even be 501C3 adjacent. Is that correct?

Lissie Garvin:

Yeah. So in this first batch, we have three youth activists that are building their 501C3s-

Quinn:

Awesome.

Lissie Garvin:

... two that are doing research, and then everyone else is starting a startup.

Quinn:

Laura is fixing the ocean. So we know that. Check.

Lissie Garvin:

Yes.

Quinn:

Done. Great. I love on the website it says, "This is not about networking. You have full access to 776 and Cerebro, but your job is to ship." Right? So what I loved about this is it reminds me of one of my favorite groups, one of my favorite humans, Amanda Litman, who runs Run for Something, which organization, they explicitly work with progressive state and local candidates under 40 because they're like, "The receipts are in on everybody else. It's not great." So all these incredible people, like you said, Lissie and Laura, just hearing the energy and the excitement. And also, you're being affected by these things every day, so you're in the best position to affect them.

Quinn:

Laura, what made you besides watch the rocket go up? I wish Elon would do more besides the pretty cars and the space things. What made you be attracted to this new fellowship? What made you feel like I have a shot at this, and these are the kind of people I want to work with?

Laura Stieghorst:

I received this link to the application through a student who attended one of my information sessions. And as soon as I went on the website, I was like, "This is it." Because as an innovator who's working in climate, it's hard to find funding where you don't end up being owned. And I saw the tone and the culture of this fellowship. It wasn't interested in networking. It wasn't interested in our resumes. It was purely about getting the work done, finding the solutions.

Laura Stieghorst:

And I didn't know this at the time, but after speaking to Alexis, I totally got that off of him, just that whatever the obstacles are, we can figure it out, but we need to get this work done. And that's really what I've been interested in. I didn't take a traditional route out of school. I graduated in December, and November was the announcement of the XPRIZE award. And up to that point, I had not applied to a single job. I had all my eggs in one basket, to my mother's dismay, but it was what I wanted to do. And I was so passionate about the solution. Once I saw this application, I knew that this was my opportunity to really expand on the work that I was doing and to partner with the foundation that had that platform and that capital to grow my business and make it the scale that it needs to be to really effectively capture carbon.

Quinn:

And I imagine got your mom off your back a little bit.

Laura Stieghorst:

Oh, my God. Yeah.

Quinn:

Right? I mean fellowship and XPRIZE, it's like, "Can I have a minute now? I'm doing something." Right?

Laura Stieghorst:

Yeah, it's really funny how much the tone around environmental science has changed. When I first declared that as my major, my dad especially, who was like, "What employable skills will you have? What is ecology? Why are you taking that?" And then now, a year after graduation, they're like, "We're so proud of you. We don't know what you're doing, but we're really proud of you."

Quinn:

I mean, again, I was a religious studies major. I remember last week of college, standing with a buddy who majored in the classics, so Greek and things like that. And we're watching on a TV, which, Laura, I'm not sure if you're familiar with. They're boxes that go on the ceiling. And it was a broadcast that only aired at the same time for everybody, and it was CNN or something. It was like, "Top 10 most lucrative college majors." Religious studies and classics, not on that list. And we were just like, "We've made an enormous mistake." And my parents were like, "You've made an enormous mistake." And so, I totally get the limited options things, but it seems like, on the other hand now, your skillset and your professional aptitude is applicable everywhere. So at the same time, you've decided you're going to remove all the CO2 from the ocean, which is just great for everybody. So why there? Why the oceans? Why this particular solve for this particular problem? Let's get nerdy on it for a minute.

Laura Stieghorst:

Oh, I love getting nerdy. Let's go. So the first answer, why the oceans, is because the oceans hold about four times as much carbon dioxide per unit of water as the atmosphere. The oceans, per year, observe 40% of ... are emitting carbon, and overall, hold 70% of the world's carbon. So it's a massive carbon sink, and it has the potential to hold so much more.

Laura Stieghorst:

The analogy that we like to use ... the IPCC has set out this goal that we need to capture 10 million tons of carbon per year by 2050. And if the world's carbon reservoirs are a bathtub, we would be adding a drop to the ocean's bathtub, whereas we would be filling and overflowing the atmosphere's bathtub. Right? So the proportion that we need to add to the oceans is so much smaller, and it has so much capacity to hold carbon. The problem is that once you sink carbon into the ocean, some chemistry happens, and it becomes an acid. So if you've heard about ocean acidification, the problem with corals bleaching, that's all because carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean. So the ocean has a bad case of stomach acid. And when you have stomach acid, you take antacid.

Quinn:

I get it. You're talking my language. Let's do this.

Laura Stieghorst:

So essentially, what the solution ... the umbrella term is ocean alkalinity enhancement. And what alkalinity is, is an antacid that both neutralizes the carbon, the carbonic acid, that's already in the ocean, and it buffers against drops in pH. So pH scale, as we learned in elementary school, high on the scale is basic. Low on the scale is acidic. In the middle, you have neutral. What alkalinity is, is how tolerant the water is to changes on that scale. So the more alkalinity that you add, the harder it is to become more acidic again. So what we're doing is increasing the ocean's ability to take in acid without having that negative ecological effect. So we're not actually necessarily removing carbon from the ocean. We're actually enhancing its ability to take on carbon without negative effects.

Quinn:

So, a couple of things. Thank you for talking to me like I'm a kindergartner. It's the best way to get this thing going. Some would say the ocean is a big place, which, pros and cons. So my brother is doing work in ... he's working with kelp farmers on a bunch of things. And I know there's the folks at Running Tide who are doing a variety of different carbon sink stuff. And they're, they've got a long way to go. It could totally fail like anything, but they get interesting flack on both sides. Some people saying, "We've never really invaded the open ocean with near-shore marine life." And other people are going, "The ocean is enormous. It's going to take a profound amount of this stuff." Let's dial it down to what is your Zantac? What is your mechanism for actually increasing the alkalinity of the ocean? How does it work?

Laura Stieghorst:

I have to give a little preamble for this answer.

Quinn:

Please.

Laura Stieghorst:

So I am working on the side of the solution that looks into the safety and efficacy of this technology. So I'm testing alkalinity on corals to make sure that they're safe in the environment, and to demonstrate the benefits to marine life, and also testing the efficacy. How much carbon can we actually capture through this solution? Now, the solution and the technology itself is being developed by a company called Planetary Tech, and we're partnered with Planetary. I work for them part-time. The other half of my time and my research is funded by grants and by this foundation fellowship.

Laura Stieghorst:

So the technology that Planetary is developing ... their business has three components, the production and sourcing of alkalinity, the distribution of it, and then the measurement to make sure that we are capturing that carbon. All three of those things then produces a carbon credit, and that is the actual product that we're selling and how we make money through this business. So sourcing of alkalinity, that is novel technology that they have patented. And then the distribution aspect and the measurement is really what I'm focused on.

Laura Stieghorst:

And so what we're actually creating, alkalinity, comes out of our process in a liquid form. It's a mixture of water and these alkaline minerals because alkalinity comes from rocks, actually, rocks that make up 90% of the Earth's surface. So we acquire those rocks from mine waste. Mines have to remove a whole layer of rock just to get at their metalloys. And that rock ends up in piles, leaching toxic waste that can cause a lot of damage to the local communities. And so what we do is we process that rock. We actually remove up to 80% of any toxins or waste in that rock. By processing it, we purify it. And we turn that into alkalinity, this water mixed with minerals that then gets distributed into the ocean.

Laura Stieghorst:

So all that we're putting out there is water and purified rock minerals that are dissolved into that water. And when we do this, initially, we're looking at wastewater outfalls, so our wastewater that gets processed and treated. A lot of it ends up out in the ocean, several miles offshore. So those pipelines, that infrastructure is what we're targeting as a method of distribution because it already exists. And most of these wastewater plants use alkalinity to treat the carbon that's in their water. We create organic carbon through our human waste, and that gets treated through alkalinity. So essentially, what we're saying is, "Hey, just add a little bit more alkalinity to capture more than just the carbon we're producing, a little bit of carbon that's in the atmosphere. And once it's out into the ocean, there's no additional energy that goes into the actual capture or storage of the carbon because this is part of a natural process." Once that reacts with the acid, it's stored in the ocean for hundreds of thousands of years.

Quinn:

It sounds incredible. Again, it does inevitably seem like one of these conversations where I go, "Where would I start?" I would get the rocks out of my kids' shoes, which inevitably end up like in my laundry machines, destroying the whole thing, different conversation. But then, do I smash them? How does one process rocks?

Laura Stieghorst:

So the rocks are already ground up. This is why we're seeking mine tailings that are already out of the ground because, again, that reduces the amount of carbon that we have to admit to process those rocks. And then, we put them through an electrochemical process. If you really want to nerd out, this is where we nerd out.

Quinn:

Clearly, I can handle it. Bring it.

Laura Stieghorst:

At a high level, we put it into an acid leaching process. So this is a process that is commonly used to purify rocks. And that acid removes impurities, and it also dissolves the rock to neutralize that acid. And by neutralizing the acid, you end up with a mixture of water that is basic on the pH scale, but that contains this property of alkalinity that will buffer against acids. To get really deep and technical into it, I'd have to bring on the electro chemists from our team, the metallurgist. There's a whole team that works on this.

Quinn:

Oh, I'm sure.

Laura Stieghorst:

My expertise is definitely, once we get that into the ocean, what happens on the downstream side?

Quinn:

Perfect. You're incredible. Thank you for sharing that and putting up with me. I mean, it's like talking to a toddler, I imagine. I wanted to both focus on that last part and your expertise, which is clearly so much more wide-ranging than you're giving it credit for. But also, back up to where you mentioned the credits because not unlike ESG investing, which you've been paying attention, has been a bit of a roller coaster because there's not really any standardization. There's not really any verification of what these things are across any of these markets.

Quinn:

But at the same time, there's been this rush to build these markets for carbon offsets, and companies, and industries, and countries can issue vague net zero plans while buying offsets. And they can not have to worry about continuing to emit until someone finally regulates them. I love that you are actually working on the safety of this and the verification of this because we've seen so many issues with nature conservancy, and would this forest already be protected if we weren't already paying for it? A thousand different ways this just hasn't been corralled yet. How do you keep expectations in check?

Quinn:

And, Lissie, I imagine this is partly ... if you're looking at this from the fund side as well, as these things as business, how do you keep expectations in check from capitalism, in general, from a whole lot of folks trying to do the right thing and accelerate removal, and a bunch of folks desperately trying not to have to reduce their emissions and come to Laura and go, "Are your offsets ready yet?" And Laura going, "I'm not sure yet. I don't know what this is going to do to reefs yet." And we have to do this right before we just throw a bunch of cash at it. How does that side of the machine work? And, Laura, if you like, this is not my side of it, please tell me to go away.

Laura Stieghorst:

How can I answer that question? It's something that I think about a lot. Just recently, I visited Canada to meet with this company based in Canada, and we had a whole week of meetings. And really, the bulk of what we talked about is how do we do this right? We're planning our first trial run of actually releasing alkalinity into the ocean in the UK. It's going to be a 24-hour trial, and there's so many details of making sure that we don't reach any toxins, a million different factors that go into it. And we do it because we want to have a really high-quality product, and we want to ensure that the carbon that we are capturing will actually be stored for hundreds of thousands of years like it's supposed to, and measuring to make sure that does happen.

Laura Stieghorst:

And the difficult part is that, like you said, the customer for this product doesn't necessarily care if the product is of high quality. What they want to buy is the right to emit or the moral good standing to the public that we are a green company, that we are purchasing carbon credits. And the good that does is distributed globally. That company won't reap the direct benefits of it. And I think about this a lot. With other regulations like the FDA, if you buy a medicine that is not regulated by the FDA, you will see the direct negative effects of it. But if our carbon doesn't get stored properly, nobody is really going to know.

Laura Stieghorst:

And my perspective is just how do we make sure the companies that are doing the really hard work to make sure that they have a good product, how do we make sure that they end up on top and that they see the reward from that? And that's really what I'm interested in doing and where I see BASICO moving forward in that space. And actually, yesterday, we had a speaker from the White House, Melanie Nakagawa, and I asked her the same question. We're in the space where we're learning a lot. We're doing the science. We're learning about all of these things that need to be regulated, but I'm a private company. How do we partner then with the government who has the power to regulate to make sure that they know all the things that we know so that we can regulate this space?

Laura Stieghorst:

Because there's going to be a lot of awkward growth time where people are trying to greenwash, where we've seen a huge explosion in the number of carbon capture companies that are starting up. And from Planetary's perspective and BASICO's perspective, we look at some of these ideas, and we're like, "We tried that, and we scratched that off the list ages ago. We knew that was never going to work. How are these people claiming that they're going to capture billions of tons of carbon when we know that fundamentally, this doesn't work?"

Laura Stieghorst:

But because carbon capture is such an exclusive piece of science, it's definitely not something you learn in the classroom. It's very hard to weed out what a good idea is from a bad idea unless you're an expert in the field. And so, I'd like to gain that expertise and be part of the regulatory environment to make sure that what we're doing really is good for the planet.

Quinn:

Yeah. I mean, that's profound perspective for someone who's so early in their journey of solving all of these problems for us. It's fascinating, right? Because you're essentially saying, "I need you to regulate me, and I need you to know everything I know. And I need you to regulate me." And I think about some of the conversations I've had with folks. We've talked to two folks who are working on mosquitoes and malaria, and/or all of the mosquitoes that are in Southern California now that have brought dengue and West Nile, and all these things that came over, I think, on a boat in like 2013. And so, there's a bunch of companies and scientists going, "Well, let's just basically program them with gene drives, and we'll release seven billion of them. And that'll start to eliminate a bunch of these problems."

Quinn:

And there's a lot of scientists, like my friend, Natalie Kaufler, who's going, "Hold on just a minute. We need to triple-check and then triple-check again a whole host of before we can even get to the question of, is it going to work? We've got to make sure nine out of 10 things aren't going to go bad before that." And it seems like that's a lot of what you're checking. And again, correct me everywhere I'm wrong, but it seems like it's, "Make sure it's not doing all this bad stuff first or other unknowns, unknowns that we don't know about, before we can even get to the part of is this helping to store carbon for 500,000 years?"

Quinn:

And that seems to be so many of the issues we've had as we've rushed into these credits about forests or mangroves, or whatever it might be, is going, "Hold on. In California, half the forests that people are paying credits for are burning themselves, which is releasing more carbon." It's complicated. This is all to say I'm so glad that you are in the particular position of going, "I need to make sure this works and it's safe before we do any of these things. And how do I partner with the government to make sure this is as transparent as it can be."

Laura Stieghorst:

I think on the other side of that coin is we need to do it quickly. We have to do it safely. We have to make sure that we're dotting all our Is and checking off our Ts, but we also can't just experiment, and experiment, and experiment for decades. And so, I was part of a conversation with the Aspen Institute. There was a climate summit in Miami in early April, and it was surrounding a code of conduct. How do we do this work both safely and quickly? Do we scale it and make it affordable? And one of the things that everybody in the room agreed on is this notion of do no harm is nearly impossible because every day that we don't do anything, harm is already being done in the ocean because of decades of climate change. We landed on these three principles of do no harm, do no known harm, monitor for any unknown harms, and act quickly when we discover that harm is being done.

Quinn:

These are like parenting principles. I'm going to plaster these in my kid's basement. It seems simple, but they seem so applicable to so many of the things that ... look, again, not to bring it back to parenting, but one of the things I try to tell my kids, especially with their enormous privilege, is we have to do hard things, and doing hard things means you're going to fail all of the time. I fail all day. And it's going to happen, And you have to get comfortable with that, and you have to learn from it. It's the Michael Jordan thing of, "I took 7,000 shots and missed most of them." Right? You get into the baseball hall of fame if you go one for three over your lifetime.

Quinn:

And that means, like you said, you've looked at all these other carbon capture versions and been like, "They don't fucking work." But it's very clear we do need to do some things. We do need your work or versions of it to work. We need to find out through process of elimination, like when you're trying to diagnose some disease. Right? Long COVID, whatever it might be, we have to start checking these boxes and finding out what works. But like you said, we can't experiment forever. Right? We have to really start working towards okay, but what does this mean at scale? And what does it do for coral reefs? That's profound because it's not often that we've got a ticking clock when we've got all these brand new technologies.

Quinn:

But at the same time, again, look at what we've done with these mRNA vaccines. There were people like Dr. Carolyn Kariko, who was working on these for 20 years and enabled us to get over the hump to be able to do these things. But it turns out, when it affects everyone on the planet, you can throw a ton of money at these things, and we get a little closer than we've ever gotten before.

Quinn:

So, Lissie, I'm curious how running these, bringing these fellows in for the first time, what lessons you've learned, looking at it both as someone who's running a philanthropic endeavor for the first time but also as chief of staff of seven different things before and involved in the fund, what lessons you've learned of, "Oh, this could be applicable to our fund as well, or this is how we can increase or widen the top of the funnel next time in 2023." And I know applications, obviously aren't open for that yet. But how do we start to look at the implications of something like Laura is working on and think, "Oh, I've learned a lot from this already"?

Lissie Garvin:

I think from the start, when I was going through all of these applications, like Laura mentioned, I definitely didn't look at it like a resume builder. What have you been doing? I mean, because at the end of the day, some of the fellows are 18 years old, so their resume is high school, doing these essay questions and, "Okay, how has climate change affected you? Why do you even care about this, to begin with? And then how are you thinking about combating it?"

Lissie Garvin:

I think starting with those first guidance and principles made things a little bit easier for me because then I could start to look at the areas like, okay, we have Dismiss in Kenya and how he was affected. And I think the biggest thing that I want to focus on for this next batch is making sure that the international presence is even bigger than what we currently have. Right now, with the fellowship, I think we have 10 countries represented, which is amazing, but I don't have anyone from South America in the batch.

Quinn:

Fascinating.

Lissie Garvin:

Yeah. Then it's like that I know South America is 100% affected. Or Mexico, no one from Mexico is in the batch.

Quinn:

Do you think you guys just don't have the reach to have gotten on the radar? Do you think there's a lack of messaging support on that side to find you guys? What is the disconnect there, you feel? Or maybe you don't know yet.

Lissie Garvin:

I think that's something that I'm starting to figure out. Obviously, this was our first batch, and so we used as much of Alexis's social network reach that we could. And I think I personally reached out to 50 to 75 different climate organizations that I heard the youth follow or read their newsletters or whatever. And they were so generous and blasted it everywhere. But I think I need to find people in South America, for example, in Argentina or Brazil, and reach those networks more specifically. But all of those things being said, we have representation from all over the world. And I think whenever we bring the fellows together, and they're all talking about how climate change has affected them, whether it's wildfires in California or Africa's drought, I think that it's been incredible to listen and learn. But yeah, definitely, I think this next batch, it's bringing in more people from other areas.

Quinn:

It's a little addicting, isn't it, to meet people like Laura and to suddenly have that in your life? It's very difficult to go back and go, "I'll just go do regular shit and spreadsheets."

Lissie Garvin:

It's also so humbling.

Quinn:

Oh, my God.

Lissie Garvin:

Going through the applications, I mean, we had, I think, over 600 people apply for this first one, which is insane. And just reading through all of these essays, I enlisted the help from one of our OIRs at the fund and an analyst after we would go through do our ranking. We did it all totally blind. I would be like, "I was not doing this at 19 years old." I was not thinking about how my impact on this world was going to affect everyone and what I needed to do to solve the issues now. So it's definitely been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I've ever experienced. I'm very grateful for it. And exactly, I will never go to spreadsheets or a desk job again.

Quinn:

It is so profound talking to, again, people like yourself and Laura who get specific on these type of things and go, "No, I know how to do this, and I'm going to take a shot at it." And you're just like, Holy shit," because my resume at 19 was like, how many different ways can you spin lifeguard and part-time waiter who's not great at it, frequently forgets people's side orders. How do you spin that into something like this? The answer is, you don't. It's not going to go great.

Lissie Garvin:

I know. Even just talking with Valkyrie, she is working on fires, figuring out how to combat fires quicker. And she was saying that the technology pretty much hasn't been improved since the seventies, eighties. No one has touched that. And I think what Laura was touching on earlier when we spoke with Melanie yesterday for our speaker series ... Melanie was like, "Get a policy person in right away so that you can start to work with the government and use those resources in that network." And I think that's also definitely going to help with this future generation that are solving and tackling all these issues.

Quinn:

Phrasing and the words we use, and the language we use are obviously so important. And we're becoming increasingly cognizant of how those can be used to lift people up and enable people and can be weaponized against people. And it's amazing how far that can go and how much it can help people. It's amazing how much really taking a step back and realizing, I mean, just all the stuff that we cover here, besides the fact that most of it intersects, it's all choices we've made. And that means, yes, we're behind the eight ball on some things because a lot of those things have compounded over time, but we can make different choices. And what that usually means is having folks that have very different lived experiences from the folks who've got to make decisions so far, be able to make those decisions, and be able to be empowered by 100 grand over two years or other grants, or whatever it might be, that are, Laura, like you pointed out, there's really no strings attached besides now you got to get to work. Right?

Quinn:

We're not going to take anything. We're not going to own your business. Not to rip on the fund, Lissie, itself, but that really matters because it really just enables, reminding me of Run for Something, who are feeling this, who are affected by it, who have family history or don't, or whatever it might be to go out there and go, "No one knows better than me how to fix this because I see it every day, and I feel it every day, and that matters." And at the same time, again, you have these enormous problems, but the opportunity to fix them is so glaring.

Quinn:

I mean, I remember having a conversation last year. I don't know. Time has no meaning anymore. The woman who started a cosmetics company called Beauty Counter, Gregg Renfrew, and she's awesome. And her whole point was half of her mission is building her business, and the other half is ... she was like, "Look, the cosmetics industry has not been regulated since 1938." And you go, "Holy shit! What have we ..." not to be crazy, but what are we putting on our bodies? And then you realize supplements aren't regulated at all, really. It's like, what are we putting in our bodies? And it just goes like, we can make so much better informed choices without going gangbusters on this stuff.

Quinn:

But again, that's why I appreciate someone like Laura, who's like, "I want to focus on, does this work? Are we doing no harm first, whether it's known knowns or unknowns, because we have to promote that more?" We have to promote that position more. It's like we should have a chief liberal arts company person at every Facebook to go like, "I don't know, should we do this?" Because clearly, that person doesn't exist, and it's not going great. So this is all to say, I appreciate both of your roles in this and how you feel like this is a thing, whether it's new to you, Lissie, or otherwise, where you just go like, "Oh, I have to do this." And that is so compelling for folks like me to meet you but also for those of us who are just like, "How do we support your mission?"

Quinn:

Because there's nothing .... And again, Lissie, working at it all this time, there's nothing more appealing than someone who's like, "I'm going to do this, and I know how to do it better than anyone else." And you go, "Well, here's a check. Go figure it out."

Lissie Garvin:

Exactly.

Quinn:

That's incredible. That's incredible. So how can our listeners specifically get involved, support your mission, Laura, Lissie? How can they apply these things themselves? A couple of things, again, specifically, they can mash their fingers against if that's helpful, or things to read, whatever it might be, give them the way

Lissie Garvin:

First off, if you're 18 to 23 years old and you're listening to this, and you have an amazing idea to combat climate change, please apply to the second cohort of the fellowship, which will open probably February, March. So that is one way you can help is by starting a company or idea, a nonprofit, whatever that is solving an issue. And then I think the other way is to just talk about more, what these fellows are working on and the ideas that they're trying to solve, and telling your friends about it, and sharing all of this information. Also, my DMS are always open on Twitter, so if you want to learn more about the fellows, I am happy to share about all 20 of them.

Quinn:

Awesome. I love it. Laura, what can the people do to support you?

Laura Stieghorst:

I like to say that there are three levels of support. We were also talking about this with Melanie yesterday. The grass tops are people like Alexis and people like Elon, who are giving their money towards these causes, creating opportunities to empower young people. The youth, we are most knowledgeable on this. This really is our expertise because we're the ones growing through it, experiencing it, knowing that it will be our future and our burden to carry. And so, really putting faith in youth and understanding that we may not be experienced in traditional senses. We may not have that built resume, but we know what we're talking about when it comes to climate change, and empowering those voices is so important.

Laura Stieghorst:

I would say the middle tier from our standpoint is we got to get involved. Like I said, when I heard about this competition, I had no background in carbon capture. And I got online, and I looked up research papers, and I tore through probably 50 different research articles over the summer and learned about it. And it's totally possible, and it doesn't have to be something that's on your resume. It could be something that you learn about on the go.

Laura Stieghorst:

And when I did finally approach Planetary about wanting to work on their solution and pursue it, they were like, "Where the heck did you come from? We've been waiting for somebody to just drop in our lap." And so much help is needed. There's no such thing as not having enough experience. In climate change, nobody has enough experience, so just go after it. Whatever opportunities you do find, you just have to go out and grab them.

Laura Stieghorst:

And then personally, how you can help support BASICO, we're always fundraising. The climate is not cheap to fix. Our GoFundMe is BASI.CO2. So the two is the CO2 in BASICO. And follow us on social media, also BASI.CO2, that's B-A-S-I.CO2. And just support the cause. As terrible as it sounds, I really think that any knowledge that you retain about environmental science or climate change is like a gateway towards action. A lot of environmentalists get really mad about the whole straw situation because you would use a metal straw and a plastic cup. Well, what's the point of that?

Laura Stieghorst:

But I think that any action that people take ... if you get to the point where you realize how ridiculous it is to put a metal straw into a plastic cup, at least you're thinking about it, and you're realizing it. And then the next time you reach for a plastic cup, you think, "Oh, maybe I'll get a reusable cup or a metal cup as well." And that awareness in one area then spreads to all the other aspects of your life. And having a little bit of awareness in your carbon footprint, even if you can't, or you don't think you can do anything about it, just clocking yourself for a second, stopping to think about it. That's doing a lot. And go out and vote and support people who are young.

Lissie Garvin:

That's what I was going to say. Vote.

Laura Stieghorst:

Yeah. Like you said, those candidates that are 40 under, they need your support because, while there's been a lot of dismay around politics and the effect of a single vote, and everything that's happening in the Supreme court who are unelected representatives, politics matters. Politics are so intertwined in all of this, and it can't just be the Elon Musks of the world and the Alexis Ohanians that give their money towards individuals. It has to be collective and political action as well.

Quinn:

I love it. That's all amazing. We'll put all that stuff in the show notes, of course. Well, this has been fantastic. I have a last couple of quick questions, and then we're going to get you all out of here, back to fixing the ocean and such, little details. So you can answer these quickly, briefly, however you would like. We ask everyone. The first time in your life where you, solo or with your little team, whatever it might have been, realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful? Running for class treasurer, beating up a bully, you name it. It could have been anything.

Lissie Garvin:

Mm-hmm, okay. First one that comes to mind, I remember my freshman year college, I took a sociology class, and it was about animals and how harmful eating them is for the environment. And I was like, "Okay, I can become vegetarian, and that will be my small contribution to helping the earth."

Quinn:

Right. And now look at where you are. It's incredible. I love that. That's awesome. Yeah, again, my children are just old enough that when they're like, "So chicken, that's a chicken?" And I'm like, "Yeah. No, that's a chicken." They're like, "What the like ... no, no. This is not okay." I know.

Laura Stieghorst:

I would say the first time that I thought collective action could work, I was in the fourth grade, and my friends and I decided to do a bake sale for raising funds for the WWF. And being Florida, it started to rain, of course. And we did not let that deter us. We ended up doing a door-to-door bake sale-

Quinn:

Ooh, ambitious.

Laura Stieghorst:

... taking all of our baked goods in a cart. And we raised $200.00, and that was the most money I'd ever seen in my life. And we donated it to WWF.

Quinn:

That's awesome. I mean, that's getting aggressive. I love that. I'm going to have to tell my children that for their next lemonade stand. Can't just stand by the side of the road. Got to go harass people. Let's do this. For each of you, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months? And you cannot say each other.

Lissie Garvin:

Okay. I think that since I took on this new role, I have had the opportunity to meet with so many people that, A, work in the nonprofit space, and B, specifically work in the climate space. So as a collective, this is a brand new world for me, and I am super appreciative and grateful for all of their time and the learnings. So that would be an overall group of people that have helped me a lot.

Quinn:

I'll allow it. That's pretty good. Laura, who's one human positively impacted your work in the past six months? We also allow dogs.

Laura Stieghorst:

I would say my mentor at the University of Miami. His name is Chris Langdon, and he's the first person to really take a shot on me. He attended my very first information session. I'll never forget. I tried a joke for a little bit of comedic relief, and he was the only person to laugh. And I was like, "Yes, this is the guy I need on my team." And I asked him to be my mentor and to lead this research, and he agreed. And he has been so wonderful in this journey, really taking on this research as his own. He's studied the problem of ocean acidification for decades. And he's told me, he was like, "I've been waiting all of these decades for a solution, and now I finally get to research a solution." And he's as passionate about it as I am, and that's invaluable in my work.

Quinn:

Last one. What's a book in all of your free time that you've read this year that has either opened your mind to a topic you hadn't considered before or changed your thinking in some way? We got a whole little list on Bookshop, and the listeners love it.

Lissie Garvin:

Laura, you want to go first?

Laura Stieghorst:

Well, so I read a book called The Wild Trees, and it's about scientists in the 70s who were trying to find the tallest tree in the world. And they went bushwhacking through the Sequoia forests and it was both the challenge of finding the tree and measuring it and then the personal journey of all of these scientists as they did it. But it's incredible how these trees grow. There are entire ecosystems that exist on one tree, and all of the trees are interconnected. They know exactly how to grow to balance themselves out. There are species of other plants and animals that exist in the canopies of these trees that don't exist down on the ground. Incredible, absolutely incredible book.

Quinn:

I love that. I'm definitely going to read that.

Lissie Garvin:

Yeah, that sounds amazing. I'm going to read that too. Actually. I think the most important book I've read, it's called Climate. I'm blanking on the author. But it basically flips the way that you think about climate change in different aspects. I had three different people when I was starting the foundation and telling them about what we were doing, tell me to read it, actually, so Climate.

Quinn:

Pretty specific name. That'll be easy for me to find. Thanks, Lissie. That's amazing. Laura, I think you would love ... I did a conversation with a woman named Dr. Beronda Montgomery, who I think, at the time, was at Michigan or Michigan State. She wrote this book called Lessons From Plants. It's a little, not drier, but it's less like a personal journey and more just like ... Can you imagine persevering in a world where you're stuck in a pot, and you got to find a way to find the sunlight, but you're stuck in a pot? But also, this is what we've learned about how trees take care of each other, and talk to each other, and warn each other of things, and help each other with these things. And you're just like, "That is ..." it's incredible. All of those things blow my mind. So I'll definitely get in there, and I'll check out Climate too, Lissie. Definitely a real book.

Lissie Garvin:

Yeah, I was just looking it up. It's Charles Eisenstein.

Quinn:

Okay. Awesome. Very helpful. Thank you for doing my homework for me. This has been fantastic. You guys have already shared all your social such and your specific URLs on the worldwide web, so we're done there. And I think I've taken enough of your time. I'm very thankful for you both. This was lovely. I'm glad we got it done. Thank you so much. We really, really appreciate it, the work you all are doing.

Laura Stieghorst:

Thank you.

Lissie Garvin:

Thank you for having us.

Quinn:

For sure. Thanks for listening to the show. A reminder: you can send feedback or questions about this episode or some guest recommendations to me at questions@importantnotimportant.com. Links to anything we talked about today are in your show notes in your podcast player. If you want to rep INI or your shit giver status, you can find sustainable T-shirts, hoodies, and a variety of coffee delivery vessels in our store at importantnotimportant.com/store. You can subscribe to our critically acclaimed weekly newsletter for free at newsletter.importantnotimportant.com. Our theme music was composed by Tim Blain. The show was edited by Anthony Luciani, and the whole episode was produced by Willow Beck. We'll see you next time.

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