On April 20, 2023 I attended the White House Invest in Nature Summit on Earth Day. I was representing the Foundation for Regeneration as co-Director.
I enjoyed the symbolism of the moment in hand by bringing with me three charms:
1) the rock gifted to me by Marshall Ulrich was retrieved after he summited the top of Mt. Everest (highest point on earth)
2) a cluster of salt from the Dead Sea in Israel (lowest point on earth).
3) a card inscribed on it is a hebrew prayer with an image of the Rebbe in Hebrew from my wife Remi.
To add to that, I brought a large book of Bryan Haynes Art (https://www.artbybryanhaynes.com/) which is the best Midwest solarpunk style like a modern Thomas Benton of photos to share and Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Leo Dee’s book “Eco-Bible” which I gave to my wonderful hosts Andrea and Aaron Lee Zucker. Over morning coffee I learned how Aaron studies longevity and wants to attempt to live until he’s 250 years old and Andrea’s deeping around the intersection of regeneration and judaism.
You can see the goodies in the first photo given out were the Presidential napkin and the box of chocolates which I am now giving to my close allies in shared inspiration of what is to come. There were a few cupcakes with the presidential seal on them which everyone in the room ate immediately. Some ate the seal and some didn’t. I didn’t.
The event was held in the White House Library which is a working library. John Podesta said that this is near the same place where Merriweather Lewis once slept after the Corps of Discovery got back from the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Thomas Jefferson, one of my favorite humans, was then the President. As a history buff, I have original copies of the Lewis & Clark published journey. They were literally here in Kansas City on that journey (just down the road at Kaw Point) so the reference felt close to home. Back then, we were the original west coast. In my seat as I looked around, I could see an entire wall of Joe Biden books and sections of the library that read “poems, messages of peace and friendship.”
My general reaction to the event was that there was a lot of “speaking at “which cannot replace active dialogue with the non governmental sectors. When I’ve attended events in the past, the White House would share their big idea projects with a core group of NEXUS leaders in a way where partnerships, collaborations, etc could be surfaced to support (ie the braintrust model).
I am encouraged to continue to organize a working group to support efforts that make more of these types of conversations to happen. This is because I’m of the opinion that the overall implementation superstructure that will be required to fully build what they themselves are envisioning on climate requires multi sectoral leadership in a way that delivers local/regional outcomes. Not to mention the political risk of the next election results. What I often say is that the systemic mitigation of climate risk will require combined efforts of government, private sector, and philanthropy to coordinate better across multiple organizations on more tasks than they have ever had to before. One element that is missing is seeing data for its true value - the foundation of an asset. With all the Federal money being spent across agencies, we need to be able to overcome the death spiral of the government scorecard and cumbersome applications. Everyone is racing and competing to make more applications than there is bandwidth. It reminds me of images of Black Friday at Walmart. Allow the global and regional leaders to fast track agency/federal applicants so that we can coordinate a successful mobilization. There is a gap in terms of money spent and money spent in ways that deeper and foster regional leadership that can deliver outcomes at scale.
The following section was written primarily via Chat GPT AI to write this article based on my personal notes I typed up and available public releases from the event. Here’s the read out where Foundation for Regeneration Co-Directors Brian Weinberg and Bob Berkebile commitment was featured.
Dr. Heather Tallis Assistant Director, Biodiversity and Conservation Sciences and Jane Lubchenco – Deputy Director for Climate and Environment, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (“OSTP”) led the conference with a focus on youth, technology, and capital.
Leaders from academia, industry, non-profits, philanthropies, and the federal government attended the event to discuss the importance of investing in nature to create good-paying jobs, strengthen communities, advance environmental justice, and conservations
The event began with a spotlight on nature, featuring Arati Prabhakar, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy & Assistant to the President, Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation. They emphasized the importance of putting nature on the balance sheet of America, using natural capital accounting. As Jed Kolko, Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, U.S. The Department of Commerce pointed out, "We don’t invest in what we don’t measure." Of course the presenting leaders were quick to acknowledge the landmark legislation that was passed known as the Inflation Reduction Act (“IRA”) which they estimated would create 9 million new jobs in the next decade. We also heard from Ali Zaidi as Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor to lead the Climate Policy Office. During the conference, Carol Spaun, Director of the Peace Corps, talked about frontline communities in the Global South and how their network of volunteers is pioneering nature-based solution projects.
They reiterated about the The National Environmental Economic Accounting Strategy which aims to put nature onto the balance sheet of America. Originally got involved with this by submitting these comments which I still stand by today (and so does our coalition).
Here are a few discussion highlights:
- Kathy Baughman McLeod, Senior Vice President and Director of Arsht-Rock, announced the Cool Capital Stack during her panel, “a $750 million investment pipeline to protect the world from extreme heat initially across seven cities: Athens, Freetown, Santiago, Monterrey, Melbourne, Miami-Dade, and Los Angeles. The initiative prioritizes investment in the Global South, especially for marginalized communities, women, and children.This initiative was launched with support from JPMorgan Chase, Clean Cooling Collaborative, and EYDAP. The Cool Capital Stack seeks to draw from “the full capital stack,” which includes philanthropy, concessional and blended finance, parametric insurance, and traditional debt and equity capital. The Cool Capital Stack’s pipeline of projects includes both passive and mechanical cooling solutions, such as cool and green roofs, reflective surfaces, urban forests, and water infrastructure. “ See https://onebillionresilient.org/.
- Dr. Gregory Bratman - Assistant Professor, Director of Environment and Well-Being Lab, University of Washington discussed his research on “the connection between wellbeing and nature with exposure improving human cognitive function, emotional regulation, mood, stress reduction, memory, improved test scores, and overall social cohesion. “ See https://sefs.uw.edu/research/faculty-profile/gregory-bratman/.
- Kyle Whyte – George Willis Pack Professor, Faculty Director of the Tishman Center for Social Justice and the Environment, University of Michigan and Science Envoy, U.S. Department of State. “ Indigenous perspectives were also highlighted at the summit, with Kyle Whyte urging us to "hire nature as a professor." By learning from and supporting the diverse relationships that different communities have with nature, we can build more inclusive and equitable solutions that benefit everyone. This is particularly important in the context of the ongoing environmental injustices faced by many communities, particularly Indigenous and marginalized communities.” See https://seas.umich.edu/research/faculty/kyle-whyte.
- Aclima CEO Davida Herzl discussed her climate tech on a panel that can measure air quality hyper locally with block by block data which links directly with our work with the Foundation for Regeneration. She is truly extraordinary and has mapped out the entire state of New York in this way with fleets of autonomous vehicles capturing data at whatever frequency makes sense. See https://www.aclima.io/)
What is the Foundation for Regeneration?
We believe that by focusing on understanding the hyperlocal in Kansas City within the greater Midwest region, we can make sense of and iterate on nature based solutions and the corresponding programs that are relevant nationally. That’s why we are focused on deploying a portfolio of work dedicated to enabling Nature Based Economic Development also known as Climate Smart Economic Development. The Foundation for Regeneration’s portfolio focuses at the intersection of Regenerative Land Management, Financial Innovation, and Circular Economy (turning waste into value) in Kansas City’s Blue River Valley. See more at www.regeneration.us although the website desperately needs an upgrade.
We are placed based…..
Historically, the Blue River Valley was once a source of abundant clean water, rich soil for farming, and a favorite playground for Kansas Citians enjoying fishing, water sports, houseboats, and restaurants. The industrial age brought great change to the river and surrounding neighborhoods; where industry selected riverside sites and brought jobs and economic activity but, over time, converted the once pristine river and surrounding land into a toxic wasteland. As the industrial businesses left, so did the jobs supporting the surrounding neighborhoods. The Blue River Valley - which was once a nature lover destination and thriving industrial community - is now in serious economic decline with an uncertain future. This is ground zero for our work.
What it will take…
The systemic mitigation of climate risk will require combined efforts of government, private sector, and philanthropy to coordinate better across multiple organizations on more tasks than they have ever had to before. Climate mitigation bottlenecks at the hyperlocal level happen at the financing and coordination stages of implementation surfacing key questions:
1) How do we pay for it?
2) How do we coordinate multiple workforces across entities?
3) How do we measure, report, and verify claims in a way that builds trust?
4) How do verified climate outcomes integrate with future GHG inventory and planning work by local authorities and businesses?
5) What type of human culture and leadership is required of us to achieve these tangible climate milestones?
Our answer… (excerpt of FFR portfolio)
In May 2022, Carbon A List, Regen Network, and Foundation for Regeneration developed a vision to create an eco-credit methodology that educates, accelerates, and funds verified climate activities in cities called the Urban Ecosystem Stanard. The UES includes claims for reductions in emissions, carbon sequestration, and risk mitigation. This local marketplace requires buyers (individuals, corporations, governments) and sellers (project developers) along with key intermediaries (verification bodies, credit registries, outcome protocols) to collaborate on the development of a saleable, outcomes-based credit, which will fund the necessary work locally. The first Pilot site has been identified, the 3rd party governance members short listed, and documentation in process.
The Urban Ecosystem Standard above involves the supply of local climate action credits but where is the demand? In January 2023, FFR met Carbon Neutral Indiana who developed a high touch local based sales method for individuals and businesses. On a shoestring budget, they reached 200 paying monthly subscribers at $20 - 100 per month by offering free carbon inventories and then inviting households to go carbon positive. We combined founder Daniel Poynter’s work with Evan Carr (Director of Business Development for the fastest growing company in America who managed 70 sales associates) to replicate the Indiana model in KC; called Carbon Positive KC. So far we have 25 paid members, see www.carbonpositivekc.org.
A Green workforce coop made up of community members most at risk will be trained to carry out interventions, install a data infrastructure around projects that allow for real time city scale monitoring of baselines, or take on sales of credits. The sale of validated outcomes in cities requires new technology as fundamental enablers. A complimentary coalition integrating best in class tech has emerged with powerful firms like Aclima, ASteam, Tesseract Ventures, Rainforest Connection, and other subject matter experts. If you want to go deeper, it's worth reaching out to gain access to reading the multiple White Papers on the subjects above.
If you are one of those what does it all mean types, here are two examples of what interventions might constitute a urban eco-credit. Remember, we are using satellite, camera powered vehicle fleets, and a portfolio of ground truthing hardware and visualization software to track data real time information in a way that shows the delta between before and after with impeccable transparency. We are also deep in the community directly engaged in intervensions.
- By planting agroforestry trees, native grasses, and rotational grazing along the Blue River’s riparian area, we can stack outcomes like: sequestering carbon, increasing biodiversity, improving air/water quality/soil health, and producing nutrient dense food. We are trying to do all this on currently underutilized land; therefore transforming the value exchange.
- By painting the street brighter colors along with installing green roofs, we can increase the reflectivity and decrease heat temperatures in an area. Studies show that a 10% decrease in temperature corresponds to a mitigation/decrease of heat related illness and death up to 20%. In this instance, we are improving environmental and health outcomes.
Right now, we're working add resources for matching grants on this tip of spear climate work. This will enable a blended finance stack in medium term of nearly 1 billion of diversified impact investment.