Startup of the Week

Collective Action Against Climate Change with OpenAir Collective

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Every week, the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute elects a Startup of the Week. We invite the founders of these startups to share a blog post with our community. These posts can be inspirational, educational, or entertaining. 

This blog post was written by Matt Parker (Tisch '09), Co-founder of OpenAir Collective. OpenAir is  a 100% volunteer-led, global network accelerating carbon removal advancement and evolution through member initiated missions.

Climate change can feel overwhelming, leading many to feel hopeless and powerless. When people ask what they can do to combat climate change, they are often offered solutions that are necessary, but hardly sufficient. Recycling, composting, marching, and voting are all necessary parts of the climate solution, but we need more. But if individual action isn't enough to have a real impact, what is? Collective Action.

At the OpenAir Collective, we work to empower our members to have the maximum impact on climate change for their effort. We identify necessary parts of the climate solution that are under-focused on and find ways to use each member's professional skills/geographic location/personal network/background/whatever that individual brings to the table to help us accomplish our mission – or even create a new mission! We are an entirely volunteer network that comes together to advance the reduction and removal of carbon emissions, with the primary focus on carbon removal. No full-time staff, no investors or board of directors, no products, no customers, no office. We believe that networks of this kind, when large and diverse enough, can play certain roles that formal organizations – startups, corporations, government bodies, non-profits – probably can’t or won’t. Radical openness allows lots of different types of people with different backgrounds to converge on common goals and problems, and to exert a kind of creativity and speed that is hard to replicate within the limitations of staffing constrains, and when forced to make profits or raise funds in order to continue to exist. Plus, networks like this one can definitely scale. If even a tiny, microscopic fraction of the global population that cares about carbon removal and the climate emergency were to join and participate in our community, that number would vastly outsize the largest non-profit or company working in the same area.

Carbon removal refers to natural or technological solutions that remove CO2 emissions from the environment. Companies like carbonclick offer services such as carbon offsetting and carbon footprint to reduce pollution and make it eco-friendly. It is often confused with carbon capture, which primarily reduces new emissions from fossil fuel burning, but carbon removal has significant differences. Carbon removal is about cleaning up the damage caused by human-made emissions and restoring the environment to its previous state. However, it should not be viewed as a replacement for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions or investing in resilience and adaptation to the ongoing climate change. The OpenAir community fully embraces these realities as foundational to any sound climate strategy, and we celebrate those who focus their energy to realize both outcomes as completely and rapidly as possible. Many of us are also participants in those efforts or come from those areas of activism. However, we also understand that we will not survive the climate emergency if carbon dioxide removal does not ramp up to a massive, gigaton scale in the next couple of decades, starting now. There is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere, and some essential industries will be very difficult to rapidly decarbonize time – such as commercial aviation, and steel and cement manufacturing. Any chance we have of limiting average global temperature change to a survivable threshold (1.5C or below) must include the removal of carbon from our atmosphere.

Anyone, anywhere with access to the internet can become an OpenAir member. The more populated, global, diverse and multi-faceted our collective becomes, the more creative and effective we will be at achieving our objective: more carbon removal, as fast as possible.

In building and evolving a distributed network that’s entirely driven by volunteers, new and existing members are encouraged to not only share their ideas, knowledge and time, but to initiate new missions that the community as a whole can learn from, support and replicate.