OpenAir’s first members were New Yorkers who connected informally through friends in 2019, without any particular big plans in mind. They had diverse career backgrounds – a veteran solar activist, a professor of game design, a PR professional, an attorney, a journalist, and a former nuclear submarine officer, among others. They shared a common concern for the state of the climate (of course); but, more specifically, a growing interest / obsession with carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technology and its possibilities.
A couple of them were equally obsessed with the emergent phenomenon of collaborative networks – the kind made possible in recent history by the internet. They had a hunch that the unique productive power of such networks – anchored in openness, made creative by diversity, and propelled by the collective intrinsic motivation of volunteers to make something new happen – might have a role to play in the future of CDR. And that others would want to join and contribute to it.
Could this kind of network – without employees, bosses, an office, or any formal legal status – accelerate progress and spawn new directions for CDR technology and its place in the real world?
That was the hypothesis that OpenAir was founded to test out. For about a year it remained a conversation. In February 2020 someone discovered Discord and launched a server so that conversation could include more people, hopefully leading to some form of yet to be determined action. That was a month before Covid started shutting down the world.
And ironically it was through the shared circumstances imposed on us all by the pandemic – stuck at home; work upended or lost; constant zoom; heightened anxiety about the fragility of the world, and personal reflection on what to do about it – that this conversation evolved into a community; a collective.
Together, people started to get to work without being told to. Someone shared an idea for state legislation and managed to get it introduced. Others were working on a concept for a DIY, open-source direct air carbon capture (DACC) device. They began calling these projects missions and distinguished them by category: “advocacy” and “R&D”, respectively. The terms stuck. And things slowly but steadily grew from there. New members trickled in, and someone started calling them “collectors.” With each week our footprint expanded little by little, remaining small, but becoming increasingly global. Lots of Californians and New Jerseyans at first; then a wave of Coloradans, Canadians, English, and Indians; and then a lot more places.
That was the beginning, and we still remain at the beginning right now. OpenAir will always be at the beginning, starting things that formal organizations probably won’t or can’t because they lack the right incentives, bandwidth, freedom, or visibility to do so.
And that became our objective: to try and begin and evolve new things – technologies, policies, partnerships, projects – in the CDR world that might not happen without us.
Read: Frequently Asked Questions
IS OPENAIR A COMPANY, NONPROFIT . . . OR SOMETHING ELSE?+
OpenAir is a network of people who voluntarily collaborate on shared projects (“missions”) that push Carbon Dioxide Removal forward in the real world. 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. And networks can definitely scale. If even a tiny, microscopic fraction of the global population that cares about CDR 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 this area.
Collectors volunteer their time, but not to support professionals. They lead, create and drive our missions entirely.
WHY DOES OPENAIR ONLY FOCUS ON CARBON DIOXIDE REMOVAL (CDR)?+
CDR is not a substitute for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions right now. Full stop. It is also not a substitute for necessary investments in resiliency and adaptation to inevitable climate transformation that’s already underway. 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. In fact, 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 in 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 atmosphere. To understand why, please explore our Resources page. We recommend starting with the CDR Primer.
WHAT IS AN OPENAIR MISSION?+
A mission is a specific objective that OpenAir members aim to accomplish in the world in order to advance CDR. Collectors work together to complete missions.
Currently, missions fall into one of two domains.
R&D – researching and developing CDR-based technologies and applications with the goal of solving key technical and cost challenges inhibiting CDR’s advancement; and creating novel CDR use cases and deployment models that the private and public sector have not yet conceived.
Advocacy – conceiving, writing and advocating for policies on the local, state and federal levels of government that directly or indirectly prioritize and support CDR’s evolution and real world deployment.
The number of OpenAir missions taking place at any given time are a function of the size and activity of the OpenAir community as a whole. As the community grows and succeeds, the volume, diversity and global distribution of missions will expand, and the method by which they are determined and elevated will evolve.
WHO CAN JOIN OPENAIR?+
Anyone, anywhere can become a collector (but access to the internet is kind of critical because we’re an online community). The more populated, global, diverse and multi-faceted our collective becomes, the more creative and effective we will be at achieving our objective: more CDR, 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.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO LEARN ABOUT AND GET INVOLVED WAYS IN THE OPENAIR COMMUNITY?+
We recommend first taking a look at our current inventory of Missions, located on our home page. There you can sort by Domain (Advocacy or R&D), and if something looks interesting to you there you can navigate to the relevant channel when you join us on Discord. But it’s totally okay not to have any idea of what you want to work on before joining us “inside.” Most don’t.
It’s also a good idea to attend one or more weekly Mission Meetups on zoom. These are weekly or bi-weekly zooms led by mission moderators where members discuss and plan mission activities. All current Weekly Meetups are listed on our calendar here.
To join our Discord server (which is a lot like Slack) just fill out our short form here, and you will be provided with a link by email within 24-hours that you can get in with.
Once you are inside, someone will great you and give you further direction if you it!
WHAT FORMS OF CDR DOES OPENAIR SUPPORT? +
Many of our members arrived in the community after finding out about Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACC), and this technology certainly remains a subject of great focus and enthusiasm. We also have a lot of fans of biochar, mineralization, and Ocean CDR, among other things. However, OpenAir, as a community, does not actually base its support for CDR on specific technologies, but rather on standards. Ultimately, in order to pull 10 or 20 billion tons of carbon out of the air per year as we’ll need to as we get deeper into this century, a multitude of known and not yet known CDR solutions will be needed. Determining which solutions merit our attention and investment should be determined by their current and potential performance along a range of factors. Permanence and durability are big ones: solutions that are capable of reliably drawing down, and keeping down, carbon for long periods of time must be prioritized, over those that are short-term or vulnerable to reversal.
Second, CDR solutions whose drawdown can be reliably and precisely verified and measured should be prioritized over those that are difficult or impossible to verify and measure. Third, risks must be assessed through a lens of equity and fairness. In other words, if a solution is good at removing carbon but also imposes costs or harms on particular communities or ecosystems then that balance must be taken into account. A do no harm standard must apply.
And finally, we think that a do good standard should also apply. If a particular CDR solution, in addition to being good at CDR in terms of all the standards described above, also produces additional co-benefits for people and ecosystems ( jobs, economic benefits, a more livable environment, etc.), all other things being equal, those solutions should be favored.
We recommend taking in episodes of our weekly webinar series This Is CDR for a growing survey of different CDR forms and their relative benefits. Also, the CDR Primer elaborates the above ideas in greater depth.