Several months ago, I told you about my personal health journey and how it led me to see food as medicine. But there’s another half to my personal journey – carbon. I spent 30 years taking dead carbon out of the deep Earth, and now I’m on a mission to put it back.
In the air, carbon is most abundant as CO2. Plants “inhale” CO2 and turn it into sugar, which then gets converted into complex compounds the rest of life calls “food.” We humans, along with the rest of life on Earth, eat this food and turn it back into CO2. The cycle, when it’s working, goes round and round and everything is in balance.
But for the last 100+ years, we’ve also dug up a bunch of ancient “food” (i.e. “fossil fuel”) that was buried in the deep Earth for millions of years. We have used it to move around, stay warm, keep the lights on, and feed the 7 billion people now living on this planet.
Not long ago, I was one of those guys digging up fossil fuels from the deep Earth. You see, I got interested in energy more than 40 years ago, when the problem with energy was just not having enough. I became an engineer to help produce more energy, and ended up joining one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies. In those early years, I was a special type of petroleum engineer who used sophisticated sensors and mathematics to quantify how much carbon was buried miles below the ground.
But about 30 years ago, it became clear that the excess carbon we were accumulating in the air in the form of CO2 was, itself, likely a large problem. The new mission for energy technology innovation became reducing carbon emissions. Alternatives were developed that would reduce emissions by displacing carbon-based fossil energy with “renewable” energy.
In my later years in that industry, I led a group of scientists and engineers investing in bleeding edge energy technologies, including those alternatives. However, we also understood that solving climate change required us to take a lot of carbon that we put into the air back out again, and consequently invested in a range of possibilities. But it turns out that pulling carbon back out of air is a really hard problem because it requires putting energy into the molecule instead of taking it out.
My world changed one day when someone suggested that we might be able to put enough carbon back into the soils of the shallow Earth to actually matter in the climate equation.
In what was a kind of reverse Jed Clampett moment, someone sent me some soil sample data from a “regenerative” ranch that truly blew my mind. I immediately recognized the quantity and distribution of carbon in that soil as identical to the quantity and distribution of carbon in what we call “source rocks” which, when buried for millions of years in the deep Earth, would turn into oil and gas. In other words, these “regenerative” ranchers were putting carbon back into the Earth in the exact same place it existed before guys like me sucked it out. These farmers accomplished this using the natural process of photosynthesis which adds energy to combine carbon with water and turn it back into food. Earth’s carbon cycle was once again closed.
Today, on the surface, I’m just a guy selling meat to thoughtful eaters like you aimed at delighting your taste buds while nourishing your body. But behind that ribeye, burger or BoboLink, what I’m often thinking about is how to put a whole bunch of carbon back in the ground.
Now you know the other half of the journey that brought me here. Thanks for being a part of it. If you like what we’re doing, please invite your friends to join us as we heal people and planet together.
Blue Nest Beef Co-Founder & CEO