Eight years ago, Carbon180’s first order of business as an organization somewhere between an idea and a startup was to conduct 600 conversations with folks all across the climate field. Noah Deich, my cofounder, and I learned a lot — how much people knew about carbon removal (very little), who else was working in this space (very few), and what needed to be done to bring this critical industry to life (everything). It was as simple as the refrain we heard over and over when we said we were starting a carbon removal organization: “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I wasn’t, but something kept us going. And eight years later, as I prepare to say goodbye to Carbon180 and begin a new chapter, I’m so glad we did.

In 2015, Carbon180 was founded on the idea that climate policy could be done differently. At the time, most work on climate change was built on two core beliefs: Climate was largely an energy problem, and the most efficient way to fix it was through regulation, a carbon tax. But gaining momentum across the field was a new concept, an idea that you could change the long-term political will to act on climate change by pursuing green industrial policy that spanned economic sectors. Simply put, government could actually drive the creation of new industries, help pick the winners, and develop a feedback loop of climate advocacy of increasing scope. This idea seemed to be working for solar and wind, and we wanted to see if it could work for carbon removal, too.

Equipped with this framework, we focused our efforts on addressing the real-world barriers facing carbon removal innovators and practitioners — and it paid off in a big way. In just a few years, we saw federal funding for carbon removal go from effectively zero dollars annually to over $1 billion in 2022, as well as massive investments from the private sector. These funds have been catalytic: Commercial-scale direct air capture plants are now operational, with plans for million-ton facilities in the works. Seasoned and new entrepreneurs alike have started carbon removal start-ups spanning more technologies and sectors than I could have ever imagined. Frontier has convened tech giants to commit hundreds of millions to create a market for carbon removal technologies. These are just a few recent milestones, but it’s clear that the field has proven the symbiotic relationship between federal policy and the private sector. Carbon removal is no longer a theory. It’s a budding industry that, if done right, could grow to be worth trillions of dollars and drive economic, health, and environmental prosperity for communities across the globe.

As the field continues to evolve rapidly, it will be critical that policy keeps pace with the private sector. We’ll need legislation that takes a portfolio approach, welcoming known and new technologies alike. The long-term success of the industry also hinges, as mentioned above, on doing this right. Let’s set high standards — we need durable, verifiable, and transparent carbon removal developed alongside, with, and for communities where these projects might break ground. These considerations aren’t optional, and they will determine the political viability and overall success of the industry.

Carbon removal offers us a chance to turn a liability into an asset, to take carbon out of the air and with it create new industries and jobs, nourish our soils, and eliminate the legacy carbon emissions affecting communities today. I am proud beyond words of the impact of Carbon180 and the policymakers, funders, innovators, and partners who have helped build this industry from the ground up. What’s possible is more exciting than ever before, the paths we can take to overcoming barriers and leveraging opportunities more numerous.

Today is my last day at Carbon180, but definitely not my last working on carbon removal. We still have a lot to do — and this time I’m sure I want to do it.

Cover image by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird.