One of the most famous debates in climate politics is about the efficacy of individual versus collective action: Should you never fly again, or should society raise the cost of a gallon of gas by, say, 40 cents? I find this debate tiresome. Most people are not going to give up flying, nor should they, necessarily; flying is amazing. Meanwhile the government, at least in the U.S., is not close to imposing a carbon tax.
But the Stripe initiative tries to move beyond that. It says, Okay, given the government’s lack of initiative here, what most demands our attention?
The answer is clearly carbon removal. The earlier that someone makes a large purchase of carbon removal, the faster it will become relatively cheap. So Stripe is deploying a small version of what we would call, in a government setting, a procurement strategy.
It’s a classic way to spur innovation. You can see it in Operation Warp Speed, the American effort to develop and secure COVID-19 vaccines. One of the ways that the government encouraged drug companies to make vaccines quickly was to promise that it would buy the final product.
“When investors go to decide whether they’re going to give any of these companies money, they’re going to ask, Is there a customer?” Ransohoff said. “Right now, in carbon removal, the answer is mostly no.”
So Stripe’s job is to be the buyer of first resort: the “demand-side signal” that a market exists for carbon removal. It is guaranteeing, in some ways, the existence of a future market for direct carbon removal. Now that it allows other businesses to contribute to its climate fund, it is expanding the size of that purchase pool. Stripe currently does not take a cut of other companies’ contributions to its climate fund. But it has a clear information advantage. If this positions Stripe to be the world’s first and best carbon bank—well, that’s just good business.
I find Stripe Climate to be unusually admirable, a pragmatic and imaginative new approach to corporate climate action. It is honest, in a sort of structural way, about what companies, even large ones, can do about climate change. For instance: When other businesses buy carbon removal through Stripe Climate, Stripe won’t tell them exactly how many tons of carbon they’ve offset. The point here isn’t for companies to balance their lifetime carbon debt on some imaginary ledger. The goal is for businesses to do something that benefits the world more broadly, to the extent that they can afford to.
Someone Else’s Weather
The reader N. Wolf-Camplin sent in this picture of fog covering the Intracoastal Waterway in North Carolina, near Masonboro Island.
Every week, I hope to feature a weather photo from a reader or professional in this part of the newsletter, because the climate is someone else’s weather. If you would like to submit one, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.