Until recently it was easy to criticize Salesforce for its position on sustainability. Its efforts to help fix the climate situation seemed more showmanship than well considered climate strategy. For instance, the idea of planting one trillion trees stumbles on issues like finding land and water for the young trees in a world that needs every square inch of farmland. Still the idea of using plants and chlorophyll to do the job makes perfect sense.
More than ten years ago CEO Marc Benioff endorsed Richard Branson’s experiment at capturing and sequestering one billion tons of carbon dioxide as a proof of concept. Branson’s effort, called the Virgin Earth Challenge (VEC) offered a $25 million prize to “…anyone who figures out how to remove a billion tons of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere.” It was a noble effort but many years and thousands of proposals later the money was unspent.
Under the rules of the competition, the winner would need to provide a “commercially viable design for removing at least one billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year for 10 years.” Given the huge numbers, the goal while impressive, asked for not much more than a prototype and the winning entry would need to scale a thousand-fold to meet the needs of a planet bathed in too much carbon dioxide. Branson’s effort treaded water because many workable solutions required some geoengineering, especially in the ocean.
In the intervening years, Branson and company discovered how squeamish people are about geoengineering, which many submissions advocated, and for good reasons. Geoengineering attempts to change some large features of the planet to achieve a desirable result, such as reducing global temperature increases. Some proposals included seeding the atmosphere with chemical aerosols to reflect solar radiation back into space; others called for fertilizing the oceans with dilute iron solutions that would stimulate plankton growth resulting in carbon capture. As Branson later noted in a blog, “Changing the chemistry of the oceans to promote plankton growth however feels very risky, seeding clouds likewise.”
Branson was right to put the brakes on because many proposals, while sounding good, have serious side effects that may not be easily reversed. Whatever solutions eventually are attempted…