Great to be interviewed by Bridget Hickey, Director of Marketing of Cloud to Street ! We discussed why I started the carbotnic podcast, my background, inspirations,the challenges and experience of entering the climate startup world and more! 

https://carbotnic.com/100

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James

The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter

Hello everyone welcome to this 100th episode of the Carbotic podcast and I’m joined by a wonderful special guest Bridget Hickey. 

Bridget Hickey

Hello. So excited.

James McWalter

Brilliant, um, and so today we’re going to do a little bit something a little bit different. We’re gonna actually turn around the mic and Bridget Hickey Hickeyis actually going to interview me and so Bridget Hickey, love to have you introduce yourself and get into it.

Bridget Hickey

Hi I’m Bridget Hickey HickeyI lead marketing at cloud street we do ah flood mapping with satellite imagery and a lot of interesting machine learning I I’m very excited to be here and chat with James.

James McWalter

Great. Um, yeah, we so we we we actually met at a ah climate meet up from my climate journey back probably about six seven months ago and we we hit it off and was like oh you know it’s ah it’s fun talking climate and it’s fun making friends at climate events.

Bridget Hickey

It’s very fun, very excited to be here. Very excited to learn about your journey through all this. Um, so I guess my None question for you is how did this podcast come about how did you start this? Why did you feel like you wanted to get into this.

James McWalter

Yeah, no, absolutely so I’ve always been like like podcast-obsesed you know like the friends family. My and my wife which just like ah he’s just like always listening the podcast three x speed minimum. You know. So for those who are listening 3 x speed I’m sure I talk quite fast. And so like I was always like into podcasts and like I learned so much from podcasts and so a couple years ago it was kind of early days of covid I was like all right I want to be involved in climate change from a startup point of view probably start something myself and I was like ah there’s probably a couple different ways I could do that right? So I could like. But sorry my background was nothing to do with climate change. It’s like where do you even start? you know, um and things are a little bit different now. There’s a lot more opportunities for moving across industries into climate. But at the time there wasn’t that much so I was like I kind of had. Ah yeah took a pen and paper out and I was like what are my options to move into yeah becoming. Somewhat knowledgeable some part of the climate change problem and and start a companying the space and so I was like okay I could go back to school I could do a masters I could get a job at a climate company but it might be more junior than what I’d been doing previously or I could start a podcast where I like just talk to lots and lots of people and find out what they’re working on and. I actually kind of weighing up like the different elements podcasts. Well, it’s not easy by any means it’s just definitely easier and faster and the learning cycle is way faster compared to those other options. So I was like oh let’s let’s try it out a couple of episodes see if I enjoy it and then kind of go from there.

Bridget Hickey

Great And how did you sort of slept the guess what kind of people were you interested in getting to know on the podcast.

James McWalter

Yeah, so you know the none couple of guests were very generous with their time like you know this is all just cold messages out from me to a few different folks working um at you know, climate companies of various types and so the the none 2 said yes. At the time it was I think monthly I was aiming for and then as those went well I moved it to every two weeks and then eventually I moved it to weekly and so really and then and then I took on Gabby who became my producer and she does most of the kind of you know, guest booking and so on. But really, what we’re looking for are people involved in solving problems through the medium startups. So are they on the startup founder or kind of leadership team side of things or are they more on the ah investment side and so we’ve interviewed a few folks on that side as well. And so yeah, pretty much any. Sort of founder who’s working on climate change and solving things in interesting way I’m interested in talking to we we have refused some guests over the over the last couple of years um yeah mainly because I I don’t think that their their approach is actually going to be effective for climate um hydrogen personal cars like. That that is one area that I’ve had a few people recently be like oh there’s going to be hydrogen fuel cell cars everywhere I’m like now evs of one. It’s just it’s just a waste of time for heavy duty vehicles. Maybe but um, but not so much for personal and passenger cars. So yeah, those people will will say no to. But in general we’re pretty open to talking to people working on lots of different. Parts of the climate problem.

10:56.20

Bridget Hickey

I Mean climate Tech is so big. Do you like how did you sort of build your own company. How did you decide where your interest lied within the very very wide and widening space of climate tech.

James McWalter

Whiteboarding lots lots ah lots of whiteboarding. Um, yeah like I think I think the that path is pretty similar to like a lot of folks who are coming from a more generic tech background into the space where they you know. They’ll get some sort of printout or pie chart of like the emissions in the economy and it’s like oh there’s transport and there’s residential and there’s whatever and then we’ll be like okay you know could I tackle that piece could I tackle this piece. That’s basically what I did um I actually did with a couple different folks like I was. You know, doing some pretty lengthy cofounder dating with with a few different people over the course of yeah, a year and went through that process multiple cycles of that process and some and some ideas we would reject based on like they just don’t tackle enough emissions or I would reject reject on that basis and some would be ah. Like it’s a really cool problem. It’s a really cool set of solutions. You could build but just it’s on a good founder fit right? Like if it doesn’t have a software component I’m just like less of a good fit because that’s my background like you know you could bring in a cofounder at school with hardware or something. But in general I was like looking for things that had a software potential solution. So. That was that was it I guess like I know Bridget you were also looking at different climate startups to to join you know because you also kind of come from a more generalist kind of tech background I guess how did you? you know sigh for yourself.

Bridget Hickey

I find I found the ones that were most interesting were the ones where there was I mean I’m I’m on marketing Side. So I liked the ones with like a real ah a bigger story. Obviously the entire climate story is pretty big but um, you know we do flooding right Now. It’s very relevant. There’s a lot of.. It’s affecting a lot of people in real time and there’s not a lot of people tackling it I think anytime a founder has like a pretty strong point of view on where they think the world should go and a specific sort of especially with climate I have identified a gap in which nobody’s really addressing the problem. That’s always. Sort of a fun thing from the marketing side.

James McWalter

Yeah, it’s on on that kind of strong view. But I mean I guess so the view that kind of eventually came to my cofounder Charles is that we’re going to like replace the entire built environment in the next thirty years like that’s a yeah there you go? um.

Bridget Hickey

Um, that’s a good line but.

James McWalter

And and outside of money I say outside of monuments like you know outside of statue of liberty. Everything else is going to be replaced the next thirty years to be like at an worse climate neutral but ideally climate positive in some way so it’s producing clean energy or it’s sequestering carbon in some way. Um, and that’s even like. Literally the residential building will be living and you know individuals are living in because we’re you know, starting to produce things like concrete that absorbs c o two out of the atmosphere and strengthens the actual concrete over time. Lots of like super cool things and some of those solutions might not work. But I think that you know that’s that’s the best where I’m like all right we’re we’re going to be changing everything. What are the kind of barriers to that mass change right? You know rep’re placing the and built environment that we we did it in Europe after world war None in like you know 8 to 10 years um where it’s going to take us longer because we don’t have something as acute. Obviously as a world war but that is the level of change that is.

Bridget Hickey

Um, yeah.

James McWalter

Required over the next twenty years and so there’s a lot of opportunities for kind of making that more efficient and uneffective.

Bridget Hickey

Cool all right? So I have a list of of a bunch of questions that your listeners have given so we might jump around a bench. We just get into it all right? Well None off, you are irish which I don’t know if anyone knows you don’t have this longest accent anymore. But you are we now living in New York doing a tech startup.

18:18.94

James McWalter

Ah, yeah, you go for? yeah, go None No.

Bridget Hickey

Like how did this happen. What was the sort of more generalist tech background you had Do you think that that being Irish has changed your approach to how you’re approaching this I’d love to know about how you got here.

James McWalter

Yeah, so yeah, so I’ve definitely mentioned the farm on the podcast in the past. Um, so yeah, so I was born in Ireland in the kind of mid 80 s ah we had a little farm but we immediately basically not immediately. But when I was 4 years old we moved to New York we lived in the Bronx for a year from age 4 to 5 and then we moved upstate New York to a place called wappinger falls which is like near pokeepsie it’s kind of halfway between New York city and Albany so not that far upstate. And yeah, I’ve lived a kind of classic american suburban life like what later I would like watch on Tv where you know you’re. Playing baseball games and teball and going to boy scouts and getting up to all sorts of you know mischief running and around so we did that um and for various kind of family reasons. My parents decided to move back to Ireland um, in 9095 and so we move back and onto a little rural farm. You know, fifty acre sheep farm on the west coast of Ireland and I sounded pretty american you know a yank as they’d call you back back home and I’m not going to say that it was easy I would ah you know, basically you know. My I guess childhood into my teens was pretty tough in a lot of ways mainly because you’re completely an outsider like when you when you sound that different in such a rural area. Um, and rural west of Ireland accents are incredibly strong, incredibly distinctive. So you know there was there was a kind of a lot to handle a lot to manage with that. Um, you also have this all other kind of culture element that um you know was I guess kind of awkward so in american schools and in american culture in general like success is generally a positive thing right? It’s like you know if you said how how’d you doing your tests. It’s like oh I thought it did pretty well right.

Bridget Hickey

Nice.

James McWalter

Um, that’d be like a reasonable answer to to give whereas in Ireland even if you know you ace the test. It is culturally unacceptable to say that you have to be like I probably failed it and so I did not get the memo as you know an none year old coming back to Ireland and so people will ask me this question and and I’d be like oh you know I feel like I did pretty well. And they’re like oh you’re so arrogant and so ah, it was literally so this was kind of literally the vibe and so I guess it took a kind of while to absorb and understand and kind of bring the you know those None different cultures together in my own head in a way that was satisfactory. And that didn’t really happen until I got to kind of university and you know started to find a bit of a tribe that that worked I worked kind of better with you know I started getting into philosophy and theater and like all these kind of the other artsy things that I ended up. Yeah, not not working in full time. but um but yeah, so yeah that was that was the kind of the message None thing I will say though that did definitely affect. Elements of kind of my focus on climate now is that we convert it to organic farming in 1997 and 98 and yeah and my mom who who Bridget Hickey Hickeyis a big fan of um, yeah, um, by Bob my mom who’s who’s you know.

Bridget Hickey

Pull up. Um, your mom.

James McWalter

Kind of launched a business in her in her early sixty s and and the british has been very impressed kind of looking at it from afar. But um, she was head of the Irish Organic Farmers Association um at the same time as my father was implementing you know, organic farming on our local farm and so you had this scenario where mam was basically like.

Bridget Hickey

People.

James McWalter

Setting up the criteria for the country um whereas his dad was doing it. You know locally and like those things are obviously in clashing right? because what you’re trying to do locally um has all these kind of local considerations that you can’t really take into account when you’re doing like a policy for an entire country. So yeah, so there was a lot of that that kind of stuff.

Bridget Hickey

Your mom continues to get cooler every time I hear more? Um, so you sort of had a winding path into this. But obviously there’s a lot of people who are trying to get into climate tech. We meet them all the time in our various communities in New York um what is what kind of.

James McWalter

Growing up. Yeah, yeah.

Bridget Hickey

Advice would you give to somebody who’s working in tech not working tech but really wants to get involved with the work that the climate tech crew is doing. How would you think that people can go about getting involved.

James McWalter

Yeah I mean I think with any we’re trying to move into any new space right? It can seem very ah restrictive. It can seem like there are various ways people speak or there are various kind of the rules of the of the road for any sort of group that you’re the outsider of and so the biggest thing is. Got to get into that group in some way as quickly as possible to realize that they’re all just normal people doing normal things and what does that mean it means just talking to to lots of people. Um I think it is difficult to break into any new Industry. You know for the true introverts out there but it has gotten easier because there’s a lot more. Slack communities and things that are more virtual that I think are are generally easier for for people who have that more of that approach. But yeah I would say like there is nothing better than hearing for somebody like a genuine interest in working on something that that you care about um I’ll semiregularly at least couple times a month get inbound from different. People who are like you know, looking for mentorship in some way and if I have the time to you know to be full on accessible I’ll I’ll give it if not I’ll point always point people in in the directions of people who might be more suitable to them and one of the great things about the climate space in general is like people are just like super welcoming like you know we’re all. Kind of joined in this incredibly large project and problem that um you know that it’s just it’s so mad. Madly big like how do you even kind of begin to cut a tackle it and so there’s never a sense of like oh we’ve got too many people working on climate like no, but the more the merrier you know.

Bridget Hickey

It’s also weirdly optimistic I Think despite the very big and large challenges people are very kind to friendly. Um.

James McWalter

I really love. Yeah I think that it’s great that you said optimistic None of the things that I think people get wrong and like in a particular way is that the people who are most negative on major problems are the people who work on it the least right? if you go online. It’s like oh you know. Climate change is terrible and like nothing’s gonna be solved and we’re all be living underwater and all this kind of thing none of the people who write that are working on climate change either in a startup or policy or like they’re assigned it like are activists. They’re literally just people complaining and that’s fine like it is a big thing and and you know and people have jobs to do and so on I’m not saying that everybody absolutely should be. Dropping everything to work on climate but I will say that if you do work on climate whether it’s startup or policy or activism. Whatever it may be you do start to feel more optimistic. You do feel more empowered like I think just from a pure mental health point of view like if you’re really worried about climate and it actually stresses you out. Start working on climate and it actually weirdly make you less stressed.

Bridget Hickey

I Totally agree I can’t believe how much I have calmed down about it because I’m I’m just surrounded by really smart people all the time who are so knowledgeable about the problem and it just makes me feel better that they are all working on it. Um.

Bridget Hickey

Okay, so you mentioned a bunch of different online group I Know you’ve personally mentioned my climate journey I think you did on deck as well. Can you talk a little bit about some groups that are available how you’ve how you’ve approached virtual versus real world communities and what you could get out of them if you’re looking to get involved.

James McWalter

Yeah, and we’ll include some of these links in the show notes. But ah, there’s pretty decent communities with pretty large amounts of activity for quite a few different segments of climate. So one is air miners. So my climate journey. It’s probably the most generalist it does have a I think it’s $10 a month fee which is a little. You know it definitely kind of blocks maybe like students and so on to kind of get involved in it but but it’s probably the the oldest and most kind of generalist. Um, so that’s well worth checking out and and paying the $10 for a month or 2 just to kind of get ah get a sense of it. And then Jason Jacobs’s podcast. My climate journey you know is obviously somewhat of an inspiration for this podcast is ah quite an even overlap of guests. So um, definitely checking him out in general. Um, the other piece is air miners so air miners is a great community for anyone trying to do carbon sequestration. So whether that’s through soil or direct air capture machines or something else. Um, there’s a lot of really smart people there. It’s actually probably the best place I’ve found for like genuine research scientists interacting with people trying to build companies and I’ve met some great people from there in person as well who who are kind of working on really cool tech. Um, and then moving things from the lab into. You know, commercialized use cases that have a climate effect and then the other one I would mention ah off the hand is the task force so they’re very focused on distributed energy resources and energy. Um, the 3 people who founded that they’re all based in Brooklyn I meet up with them pretty regularly now. Great great group. I’m really focused on you know, getting clean energy deployed at scale there few others work on climate I think climate base one is there any um missing british.

Bridget Hickey

I like work on climate they have they have interesting little like subgroups where you can do like learning hoops I’m learning about Kelp farming through them. They’re very cool cook consider a past hi.

James McWalter

Everyone goes through their Kelp phase with climate. It’s like ah it’s not even joking. It’s like I was like K solve it all and then it’s like oh it’s pretty tough. Yeah.

Bridget Hickey

It’s very very complicated but it’s still we should all eat more elp. Um, okay next question. Ah, what is the largest climate problem that you don’t think anyone is tackling.

James McWalter

And.

James McWalter

Yeah I mean I think that there I think basically the less sexy. The thing that the less likely to are smart people tackling it. Um I think that’s just like a general rule right? So I guess one experience I had ah on on the other side of this is. When covid started everybody started a Zoom or slack competitor right? So I was in on deck at the time you’re just talking to lots of founders and like honestly fifty sixty percent of people were working on Zoom are are slack competitors. And that’s fine. You know like there’s obviously a clear need for for those things now. Um I don’t think any of those companies really have have like done anything because Zoom and slack did a pretty good job for what they’re doing and like what else kind of you add from there and so those were cases where there’s this like kind of very obvious set of problems. But maybe it’s reasonably well served. And it kind of it was kind of sexy at the time it’s like everyone’s on Zoom quote unquote and so let’s try to solve that. But if I think about like just the economy in general There are so many opaque kind of hard to identify parts of the economy that I personally just don’t know that much about and a lot of them have to do with materials various types. So it’s like if you just look at any object around your home right now. It’s like you know, ah like I’m just looking at my desk some of dog food because the dog sleeps next to me and I have my laptop There are probably easily hundreds of materials going into each of these. Um they have all their own different supply chains and every single one of those supply chains have to be decarbonized. And new materials found either because we have an existing material that could be repurposed that has a more climate friendly like approach or it’s something that we have to completely invent from you know, whole cloth and like completely you know disrupt and like an existing material with something new and so to me like I would nearly. Start just looking at all of the different materials and these materials by the way like you think about cardboard you think about concrete like these are none or at least hundreds of none but none of dollar industries pretty low margin but like just absolutely massive and they do need to be decarbonized and while there are definitely some companies working on some of these things were like way way way. And like I would love to see just lots and lots of you know so smart business people talking to smart material science people and coming up with like new startups.

Bridget Hickey

Yeah, there is so much option there um more specifically on Decarbonization. What do you see? Obviously there’s been a ton of attention paid there recently it sort of seems to be the next big thing with the frontier money going into it. What. What do you see as the biggest barrier to decarbonization I Know you’re pretty involved with air miners. What do you sort of see as like what doesn’t exist yet what will make that scale and.

James McWalter

Yeah, so I guess like so it’s thecarization of existing industries and then just like taking carbon out of the air or getting the carbon removed from the economy in some way So I’ll kind of tackle the second one because I think you kind of touch on the None one already. So I would say that direct our capture. Is like a really really really exciting concept and there’s a reason why a lot of smart people are working on it and a lot of money is being put on it. Um, it’s probably pretty far away from scaling and so to me a lot of the focus on decarbonization right Now. Should be about all of the fastest low-hanging fruit things we can do to buy time for those more technologically advanced things that we’re going to need to finish out the Picture. So What I going to mean by that. So one is just pure clean energy right? Like we just have to decarbonize the grid like just has to happen as quickly as Possible. We literally don’t need to invent anything new for it like it’s purely a scale thing. It’s not even a financing issue from a scale point of View. It’s a lot of other issues that I’ve talked about before when I talk about Mo startup around permitting and interconnection and these kind of things so we also have like transport. That’s another massive segment like we basically have now invented the evs that are necessary. The biggest subject like a barrier to Eb adoption now is more supply chain driven than technology right? like we just need to get more the T Ion batteries built and into these cars. Um like so in general things are happening. It’s just the scale of new supply chains and kind of removing certain barriers around. Things like permitting and so on those are kind of necessary things but all those things need to be ah, sped up as quickly as possible to buy time for things that I think will still be necessary which are things like direct air capture of carbon and you know. Kelp or algae and other methods of like sequestering carbon soil carbon sequestration these kind of things which are somewhat unproven at scale but like we need all of those hits a goal and some of them might work but like most of them are not going to work this side of 2030 like they may be working in the mid 2030 s And by that time though we should have like everything else as optimized as possible up to that point. But yeah I Guess what are your thoughts on that.

Bridget Hickey

And I mean I’m kind of interested in. So Obviously these are big long-term bets and you’re a founder who’s going out and you know raising money in the markets which are obviously all over the place right Now. How do you recommend? A founder is going out with these big huge ideas that just take a lot of time. How should they be. Position that that to investors. How do you think Investors are sort of adapting to the climate Tech market.

James McWalter

So yeah I would say they’ve been adapting really really well until like two weeks ago so so we’re we’re talking and a may here of 2022? Um, so I talked to a lot of ah climate investors before I so even was. Really actually the early days of the podcast really just to kind of get a sense of like where like what is vc aable right? like you know Vc has a very specific type of time horizon they have a very specific type of investment and return investment. They’re looking for and with that. Not everything is. Going to make sense for a Vc right? So a chain of hairdressers is not going to make sense for a Vc but a software app like you know a calendar might because it it scales and has certain kind of elements of scale and and network effects. So when you kind of think about like all the different elements of climate like what’s. Kind of vc backable and what’s not I would say in general vcs ah are driven by the same sort of elite recent elite focus on climate change that a lot of people listening to these podcasts are so climate change is not a populist ah problem to tackle. Vast majority of people working on climate tend to be from higherd socioeconomic groups tend to be well-ed educatated so generally some form of a word elite and vcs are about as elite as you can imagine and so they’re basically going to dinners and cocktail parties and all the usual things. Ah you know, pre and post covid. Um, that necessitate like an interest in these things and so what we’ve seen over the last couple of years is just like a lot of vcs rudy folksing climate and it nearly became a joke you know bridge and I we we also kind of co-host this in-person meetup now in New York for climate folk and whenever there be like a Vc folks showing up. there’ always be like a Vc coming from an existing fund that was non-climate focused and now they’re kind of working to raise their own fund that’s climate focused and it just became me like kind of a semi- joke in my own head. It’s like oh another another Vc doing a climate fund which is great like I ah like we need more like evermore. Um, but it is the kind of world where um. That money is I don’t know if a lot of the money and that a lot of those funds are actually going to make a return for their investments because a lot of the investments going into climate tech startups are not probably Vc backable. They actually should be something more like project financing or some other type of of financing now again I’m not complaining because right now all the money should be diverted as much as possible. But I think we what we are going to see is a bit more streamlining over the next few years as some of the returns from some of those companies that were never really good for Vc in the none place. Don’t you know? don’t don’t don’t come to fruition.

Bridget Hickey

Yeah, he sense? Um, so you were a startup talk a little bit more about your startup. So your startup’s focused on the built environment I’d love to hear about sort of why you focus there here sort of the 1 line pitch and just sort of how you see that evolving and.

James McWalter

Yeah, so we’re um, basically so at the moment green infrastructure projects like solar wind hydrogen have just a really low success rate. So only 1 in 5 of projects that are being attempted actually get built and the reasons that are not get built are issues around. Zoning permitting interconnection and so on and so we’re basically trying to identify all the issues that might prevent a project from being built in a specific place right? because None of the interesting things about once anything is being built in the real-world. The physical world. Ah it has to be built somewhere right? and so the unit of measurement is the land itself and so what can you build there. A is it good for the climate b and can I make money c and so we’re trying to figure that out for every personalcel end ideally right now. New York safe but eventually the world. Um and say okay, yeah, this is a great place to build solar but it’s even better place to build solar for storage or it’s actually an even better place to build a dense residential like tower because that is. You’re downtown Manhattan and that actually makes more sense from a climate point of view because density actually helps climate at the margin. So you know that’s kind of what what we’re or we’re up to I mean so lot of data collection. A lot of figuring out data from lots of different sources making sense of it appending it down to the parsel level and then we’re mostly focused on solar developers. And some hydrogen folks to get up and running because those are the people who seem to have the most acute need. But eventually we do want to be that data source for pretty much any amount of building happening in the built environment.

Bridget Hickey

Me say how’s going. Yeah.

James McWalter

How’s it going? Um, you know it’s sort of world right? So like we we raised we raised money which was ended up being like really easy and now it’s very hard for everybody to raise money. So we’re happy that we got that in done before in time. Um. My cofounder is just incredible. So he built an amazing Mvp and and in pretty fast timeframe. We’ve hired some like interns to help with some data collection and the big thing right now is it’s all it’s all it’s all about getting that none page user so we have some trials outstanding. Um. We’re meeting those folks every week every couple of days in some cases and just converting them into paid customers and so right now everything is about. Can you get that first paid customer because if you don’t have a paid customer. It’s a of business I know historically in the last two years startups have just been able to raise money just on ideas time after time after time. But I think with the the recent kind of valuation downturn.

James McWalter

Well, the economy in general but in sort of some particular like you have to build a business and so yeah, one of the great things that are that that I’ve always been kind of aligned with with my cofounder is like look we have to build something that has real revenue because real revenue means we’re actually helping real buildings in the climate getting built and like it has all those kind of positive. Ah you know? Ah. Kind of additionalities as well.

Bridget Hickey

Yeah, all right somebody wanted to know what upcoming or current technology. Do you think will be a disruptive force in the future.

James McWalter

Yeah, um, coming ah the the so I think that touched a little bit about director capture. But I probably want to kind of paint how I think like director capture is going to actually happen. So director capture. It’s it’s a basically it’s a large series of fans think of it as a little factory but what it’s doing is actually it’s sucking atmosphere in it’s taking that atmosphere. It’s removing the C O two and then it’s storing it in some way either. It’s pumping it underground or combining it with some other material to be stored. We’re going to need like None of these right? like just like a lot. Um, if it’s going to have an impact but what’s interesting about that is they need they could be actually built anywhere because they’re just taking c o two out of the atmosphere and the C O T Two in the atmosphere is completely diluted right? So it’s the same you know x percent in. Your backyard as it is like in the himalayas like it’s it’s the same so you could build these anywhere and so I think one of the like fascinating pieces of like how that that gets deployed is going to be where they get deployed who gets disrupted like if you’re building None factories around the world. Like is there a world where certain countries are say we’ll build them all in our country because they can build anywhere and but the world has to pay us some sort of import export tax because we’re decarbonizing right? So could you have a country like Ireland or a country like Uganda. Yeah, I’m just making random countries who say look you know, put none of. Of dac factories here like we’ll take care of it but we need to be appropriately kind of compensated. So I think once you have something that like has that level of solving the problem if it can’t get cheap enough of course and there’s a lot of technological issues around it I think it starts to throw up some interesting and weird things around trade because one of the things where the. I guess the related aspects we’re going to see is that um I don’t know have you ever read ministry of the future. The the Kim Sandley Robinson book super super powerful book but None of the kind of concepts in it that ah they they kind of get into is when a particular country has this incredibly bad. Um, heat wave.

Bridget Hickey

I Literally just bought it I have not read it yet.

James McWalter

The country starts doing ah geoengineering so you start releasing suphates into the atmosphere and but they’re doing it over their own land and so what can other countries do to combat that I mean there’s not much you can do. But if you do a lot of geo-engineering at scale you start to affect every obviously every other country in the world right? because it’s. Geo. It’s the whole geography. Yeah, it’s the whole planet and so things like dac if they can get to scale I see as like a main way to help prevent some of the you know geoengineering of countries going their own way. Because it’s just incredibly like it’s just going to be outside of war. It’s gonna be incredibly difficult to prevent countries from actually doing geo-engineering because it’s actually pretty cheap to do like putting sulfates up in the atmosphere is not an expensive thing to do relative to other costs. So I don’t know so to me like. Dac if it actually happens is like probably the most most disruptive thing I can think of.

01:05:57.88

Bridget Hickey

Yeah, that are there companies that you think are sort of most likely to do it who are you watching and are really plus why.

James McWalter

I mean climbmeworks has the most money behind them so they’ve built their factor rate in Iceland to take advantage of some geothermal cheap energy. You also they’re their swiss company I believe there’s a few others I mean like there’s a lot of activity on air miners. Ah.

Bridget Hickey

Yep.

James McWalter

None interesting thing about the dak community is that they’re like it similar to like the fusion community I guess like they’re all just kind of like bullying up on each other being like oh that’s a stupid way of doing it. Um, you know it’s it’s the closer. You are to a particular frontier technology the more I guess arguments there are about which direction will work out. Um. Like the None guy recently and and he’s planning on something where they have the capability of stacking the carbon in like basically shipping containers and you can just like stack that I mean these are all super cool things but none of it’s been done at scale outside maybe climb works so climbwork has done it at some level scale. But it’s $600 a ton of carbon which just ah. But context like a carbon in a tree is like $12 a ton. So like we have a long way to come down from a price point of view.

Bridget Hickey

Yeah, um, speaking of sort of the geopolitical side of this. How do you feel about the Biden administration and how they are tackling climate.

James McWalter

So they started really good and then they’ve got progressively worse and worse. So um, so going into the none kind of 6 months of Biden administration obviously coming out of a pretty anti you know climate change solution administration in in the Trump administration it was yeah it was. It was a breath of fresh air. There were certain rules that were immediately brought in that were positive the bipartisan infrastructure bill while there was a lot of money in that for roads there was actually quite a bit of money for things like transmission for the grid that’s helpful for renewables. There was stuff for evs. It could have been more but you know it was all pretty powerful thing. Then there’s 2 elements that have shown the by administrations I guess you know have have been just not successful on climate. So one is build back better which is like a large bill that we proposed last year is a bit of a grab bag bill but there was a very very large climate component and basically build by pay editor was not passed. And I was pretty bullish on Bill Black ridter all the way through until eventually mansion said no and basically when you have a um, ah senate where you have you know a pretty conservative none vote in Joe Manschin you kind of just basically have to let him write the bill and. I think that exactly how it kind of panned out. There was an attempt to bring in other aspects into what in many ways is a climate bill which made no bill at all pass. So that was somewhat disappointing but you know I can kind of understand the elements of and the dynamics that kind of produced that. But at this point I’d be like whatever bill I mentioned be willing to write. That has at least some positive climate effect. Let’s just do it because like we’re running out of time for a you know we’re all likelihood going into republican senate in the next you know None to None to twelve months and in that model like nothing’s going to get passed in pro climate way the other piece which I think is absolutely more egregious and. Ah, yeah, and and pretty kind of infuriating is the solar tariffs. So the Trump administration had tariffs on solar panels produced in China the Biden administration last January extended those tariffs which are bad enough. But. All the tariffs are all these panels coming in to build solar pounds today are coming from southeast asian countries that are not China so Thailand vietnam etc those countries are now under a um department of commerce investigation because a domestic solar panel manufacturer called axion solar. Um. Basically said that those countries are secretly putting in chinese panels rather than producing them themselves and so that they should also be under tariffs I was at a conference for solar and storage developers in New York last week and they were just telling me person after person that nothing is being built right now.

James McWalter

We have stopped building story solar in the United States at scale. Um, basically this is the first year in 25 years that solar costs have gone up for and only in the United States nowhere other country in the world because these tariffs and the fear around these tariffs because one of the the aspects of the of the. Department of commerce’s investigation is that if they find some issues with you know these panels in in these thai countries. They’re going to backfill tariffs on existing solar panels that have already been installed and so this is freezing the entire industry so I talked to people at some of the largest renewable energy developers in the country people are literally. Directly building the things that are decarbonizing energy and they have stopped building like literally in the last three weeks they’ve stopped building because of issues around these tariffs. So I’ve been involved in some you know political wranglings in a small way on this? Yeah, but yeah, engaging your local senator all this kind of thing. But. Yeah, if anybody hears this please please please get involved in kind of getting these tariffs issue kind of resolved because ah, right now. Yeah I think the client like there was more solar being built in the last year of the Trump presidency than this year of the Biden predeency and there’s way more money to be spent. On it. We just can’t literally build it. So yeah.

Bridget Hickey

Well okay, great. Let’s really agree I find find all like like you know you hear these awful like climate news and there’s there’s just nothing people to do and it’s just so deeply frustrating like you know like college senators sort of where we get to. But.

James McWalter

No.

Bridget Hickey

Very frustrating. Um, despite that frustration despite everything going on where do you stand On. You know we touched a little bit about staying optimistic and working in climate Attack. Where do you stay on sort of how optimistic you are that we will stay below ° of warming and that we will be able to sort of collectively. Turn things around in the limited time that we have.

James McWalter

I think we’re going to do it like and again we’re just the pure like optimist. But I I think that there are now enough smart people who care about this I think that number is going up every day I think the resources are pointing in the right direction I think basically I think there are a lot of different levers. That we need to use to solve climate and so you know policy government activism like corporates like larges scale corporates Smalls Scale corporates like startups research science like all these things are different levers to accelerate. Ah, you know the solutions set that we can use and flighted climate. All of these are basically in motion ah to varying degrees of success as we said government as I just said government is is probably moving the slowest but that’s always the case but across the board like these things are generally pointing the right direction and that was not true. Three years ago it was not true. Definitely not true. Five years ago and so I don’t see any sort of large-s scale ah countervailing pressure to prevent that outside of like just like a series of large wars which knock on wood you know is not going to happen. Um, and so if we can you know keep a reasonable amount of geopolitical stability. When all these levers are now kind of pointing in the right direction or we got you know a few decades at least of some somewhat ge havepolitical stability and I know sometimes it can feel like things are very unstable obviously with the horrific things happening in Ukraine and so on but just like on a world historical level like things are still reasonably stable. You know compared to other periods in history. I think that we are in pretty okay shape to hit ° now one more ° is still terrible like don’t you know it still means that you have just terrible things happening to a large large parts of the world but it isn’t disaster and so ah so I’m I’m pretty optimistic. We’ll hit that and I think if things like.

Bridget Hickey

Yes.

James McWalter

Director capture dac that we talked about earlier that got to scale ahead of schedule then we have a chance of even beating that. But that’s more of a I think that’s completely depend on technology being better than what we what we plan for.

Bridget Hickey

It’s more optimistic view than I often hear it’s exciting to hear from you up. Um all right. We have a few more personal questions that we’ve gotten in for you. So None up, what is something that you have been wrong about.

James McWalter

Yeah, yeah.

James McWalter

Ah, self-driving cars incredibly wrong I I’ve like read this article by I called Kevin Drum about five years ago and he basically fully convinced me by this year Twenty Twenty two pretty much every car would be. Decently self-driving and it would just be a regulatory policy thing that was slowing it down but like the technology would be there and that is obviously not true at all. so um I yeah so I was I was very bullish about things moving very very quickly in self-driving cars but was could be wrong out.

Bridget Hickey

Who do you think’s gonna win it who do you think will do it.

James McWalter

Um I I actually do think that it’s the companies that have the most access to data because in the end self-driving cars is like a machine learning data play and so there’s a couple of companies that spun out of Google Google itself has some efforts. So I would say companies that have spun out of or have access to like None of the big tech companies data mapping data in particular like they have the highest odds so all things being equal like I don’t think Google itself because Google itself is just not very good at building hardware. But I think people coming out of like Google kind of you know. Frameworks there’s a few companies who who have that kind of profile. It’s probably most likely I think the least likely are like uber and lyft I think they’re really good at certain type of logistics and I don’t think they’re good at this type of thing.

Bridget Hickey

Yeah, um, what is the biggest challenge you faced over the world.

James McWalter

Yeah I mean probably probably all to do with like immigration of various types and so I probably briefly mentioned in the past. But ah, you know I spent the last few years and in Mexico um hiing on my green card to come through. Um it was. Like I guess like if we’d gotten into it. My wife and I knowing that it would take 4 years it would’ve been fine but like you think it’s a year and it’s another a year that’s another year under a year and so I would say that kind of trying to manage yourself to that when you’re yeah, you’re trying to move forward on certain parts of your life personal life business life work life. Yeah know family friends. All those kind of things.

Bridget Hickey

Well.

James McWalter

But like you just don’t have full freedom I mean that’s obviously something that a lot of people experience. Maybe the majority people experience in the world. But you know someone who is westerned you know english speaker fella who can usually move through spaces in a particularly easy way like everybody kind of brought home like how. But restrictions really can be on you on on your decision making and so on. So finally finally getting through that like it was a year pretty much a year ago this weekend that I did my immigration interview in Juarez Mexico um involved getting completely naked and explaining tattoos that I have and making sure they’re not gang tattoos um during my medical it. It involves even other things that were you know and I will say like everybody involved like I work like like the doctor and everybody I was involved in. Just incredibly like kindhearted generous generous people. It was just the system itself was just pretty. You know, um, like dehumanizing and again and I was by no mirror the nowhere near the like the worst affected person like yeah, you’re doing your interview by all these little windows. And like as you’re talking to the person doing your final interview like um, you’re just hearing people crying like around you because they’re getting denied. Um, and so yeah.

Bridget Hickey

Oh no, um on the immigration note I mean with the world of remote work and obviously there’s booming startup ecosystems in Europe. Do you think you need to be in the us for for building a startup or for building a climate startup.

James McWalter

I I don’t think you do I think that? um, what I guess what does like a place give you so so I personally have worked remote for nearly six years and and now I’m yeah I have an office with my cofounder because I like I like being in a space. Um, after so long kind of remote. So so ah, you know I’d done a few years previous to covid and I would say that covid was incredibly powerful for me in a positive way. Obviously it was horrific for most things but from a kind of leveling of the ground. So everyone all of a sudden was on the Zoom call. So you could get access to investors and and people for this podcast and so on in a way that was just way more difficult to precod like you had to like fly into San Francisco and do the tour and meet all the vcs in person. All that kind of thing with covid and the kind of adoption of so much remote work that made things a lot easier. Having said all that though. I think it is very very difficult to build a company when you’re not surrounded by other people who are building things I think that building something out of nothing is just so so difficult that even if you’re around people who love you and people who you know appreciate what you’re doing all those kind of things. Um, unless they’re. Like builders kind of are people building things and not just in startups. But in general people who are building something new like they tend to like push each other in various ways that are kind of subtle and I think that my time down in and puto verto I had amazing friends and some of people were definitely you know building different things and and so on but the general atmosphere of this place was like. Pretty laid back. Pretty chill. Lovely place to spend some time but not some place to kind of build something and so I don’t think you have to be in the Us to build things. But I do think that San Francisco and New York Boston and a few other places are like known as startup hubs for a reason because there’s just a lot of people building and I think you do have network effects around that and so if you are in a country other country. Like where in your country are other builders building like I would gravitate to that in general is.

Bridget Hickey

All right last question what sort of predictions. Do you have for a climate tech space. What are you excited about what kind of advice would you give someone like what do you think is sort of the next thing that we’re going to be seeing a lot of.

James McWalter

So I think there there’s going to be more fractionalization of ah the climate space right? So you know my climate journey iron miners like these are are yeah these are somewhat aggregated ways of like approaching climate. But. Because of climate is the entire economy. You’ll eventually have trade publications and all these different kind of segments that will be very specific to something and so whereas before you might have to go to yeah my climate journey to talk about you know, electric vehicles. There are if not now there will soon be just like. Online and offline communities entirely devoted to not just electric vehicles but you know electric vehicles that are replacing ah Ford trucks right? that are replacing that like the pickup truck segment of the market and so I think like 1 of the things that will happen is again much more specialization much more focus on those things. Um, it will mean that. Will be a period where it will be kind of hard to find these things and generalists will maybe start to struggle to get the the clear kind of you know, like know exactly where people are kind of congregating online or offline. Um, and so I think that’s None kind of opportunity for people in climate tech we’re thinking about building some sort of collaboration software platform and so on is like continuing to make it easy to direct people into the right directions and so you already mentioned. Ah you know work on climate. That’s a great you know. Product for that like terra terra do is is another like there’s a few of these that that do a good job with that. So I think ah more specialization and then also hopefully in in tandem people who are helping other people navigate that specialization. But how about you.

Bridget Hickey

My connections. Ah I’m actually quite and I mean I work in a B Two B company but I’m I’m really interested in sort of the consumer marketing angle of things I mean I Even just like I feel like a lot of things are starting to get marketed with a bit of like.

James McWalter

Yeah, yeah.

Bridget Hickey

Environmental Guilt. Um, and I don’t think that’s terribly effective and I think that more and more we will just see really solid environmental options that are just marketed as like the best option on the market I think I’m kind of excited for that to get away from all of the The. The shame and the doom and gloom and the guilt and just start ah marketing solutions just because they’re the best cheapest most convenient option on the market.

James McWalter

I Love that and yeah, we actually had somebody talking about solar punk on the podcast a few months ago you and I and and other people at in-person and meetups have talk about this complete like I guess failure on the kind of climate tech community to do a better job of describing this like super exciting future like not just.

Bridget Hickey

Um, one yeah I think there is a lot of gloom and doom and it ah you know it definitely gets clickbait and um, you know people will will read it but I just don’t think that’s.

James McWalter

Mitigating these things but like it’s actually better.

Bridget Hickey

Future I think like everything that I’m seeing that you know a lot of the D to C startups that are popping up are just like really brilliant options but they you know they don’t have like the blue and Green Earth Water Montage There will say just like really great ah branding and marketing. So I mean I look at everything from the marketing and but I’m very excited for that.

James McWalter

Love that? Um, well Bridget. Thank you like? ah you’ve you’ve asked some great questions like it’s it was great.

Bridget Hickey

Have on ah episodes I’m thrilled for you I’m very excited to listen to a None more fight.

James McWalter

Thank you so much. Cheers Bridget.

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