Climate change is happening. We know it, and we know we need to enact change fast. Paddling up the coast, the impact of humans was obvious. Clear cut forests, mined mountainsides, and polluted shore lines. My stance is that we need to be far more responsible about doing those things, minimize their impact, and pay particular attention to the people and places who are impacted by those industries.
I (Sanesh) work at a global leader in Carbon Capture technologies. It's a great job, I love being able to use my technical skills & mental energy to have a positive impact on the world. It is however, very industrial and very corporate. There are hundreds of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars involved in making a change over decades-long timescales. As an organization, we are laser focused on quantifiable key performance indicators for CO2 capture and economic viability. Other aspects of climate action and sustainability as a whole, such as social change, are often excluded from our decision making processes.
Travelling up the coast, I learned about a number of much, much smaller, much faster community led organizations who have are having positive impact today. And I'd like to take a moment to highlight them, as from my perspective theres a lot that is big corporate types can learn from them.
In Bella Bella, a local leader took us on a tour of the town. Things she excitedly pointed out were the heat pumps (https://heiltsukclimateaction.ca/heat-pump-project), and the fact that the Haílzaqv nation has a climate action plan. Their website is full of great information, and is well worth reading through. I'm really interested to learn more about the ǧvi̓ḷás applied to climate action.
In one year, Bella Bella reduced annual carbon emissions by 795 tons/yr. That's about 20% of the largest operating direct air carbon capture plant (https://climeworks.com/roadmap/orca). At current Canadian federal carbon pricing they have a 9 year payback period on capital expenses (3800 CAD/home & 159 homes in 2021). For the companies that I work for, pay back periods are measured in decades, not years. On top of their reduction in carbon footprint, they've cut down household energy bills by 2000 CAD/yr per household. In Bella Bella, that's equivalent to giving everyone 6% wage increase, based on median income. As a byproduct of removing diesel heaters, they've improved air quality in the community. In 2022, they installed another 120 heat pumps. The Haílzaqv nation has cut carbon emissions, reduced financial burdens on individuals, and improved community health. They've had both a direct positive impact on the lives of individuals, and made a long term ongoing impact on the environment at a scale that can be reasonably spoken about in the same conversation as billion dollar companies.
There are several other similar initiatives up the coast, like those run by Hoonah Indian Association, the Sitka Carbon Offset Fund, the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund. I had the pleasure of discussing these initiatives with people involved, including both individuals in the community and at the organizations themselves. Based on my discussions, it was neat to see how broadly positive people-powered were about the initiatives. Some people were really proud of the CO2 offset. For others the extra cash in hand made a huge difference. Having multiple benefits erased many of the debates that often come up when I discuss the industrial scale climate action technologies that I work on.
I'm not sure what to do with this new knowledge yet. What's clear to me is that both large and small initiatives are needed. Large companies like Svante & Climeworks provide technology focused solutions, and they're extremely effective at navigating convoluted funding through beaurocracies like the DoE & DoD SBIRs, NRC IRAP, USA IRA, others.
Small organizations like the Sitka Carbon Offset Fund provide community focused solutions, with a focus on ensuring acceptance and positive change for everyone. I'm really excited to learn more about community engagement, and learning to include a wider scope of stakeholder needs in developing new technologies. Broadening my horizons past the CO2 captured and economics to include considerations for positive impact at the community level and stoke buy-in from the public. And maybe even finding ways to work with both large and small climate action organizations to meet our goals. I don't have any answers yet, just lots of questions and open ears. For my immediate next steps, I'll be digging in to BCorp standards, doing what I can to learn more about the other Haílzaqv Climate Action programs, and reading about social enterprises. I've then got to figure out how to incorporate that into my engineering practice. One doesn't often say Rheology, Climate Change, and Social Benefit in a sentence that's followed by specific actions, but here I am making a public commitment to at least try and figure that out.
I'd love to hear what you have to say, and if you have any advice on where I can go to learn.