Episode 65

Published on:

29th Apr 2024

E65: Building the common operating picture for climate action with Vibrant Planet

Nick and Allison Wolff, CEO of Vibrant Planet, discuss the platform Allison and company are building to accelerate environmentally and economically sound outcomes in natural resource management, wildfire risk mitigation, and more. Whether your interest stems from curiosity around optimal use cases for AI and machine learning in climate action or nature-based solutions ranging from proactive land management to mitigate wildfires or the reintroduction of beavers, there’s something in this episode for everyone. Specifically, Nick and Allison discuss:

  • How Vibrant Planet’s platform is a perfect case study of using AI and ML for climate action
  • Rapid outcomes Vibrant Planet has driven by digitizing natural resource management processes and uniting all required stakeholders more seamlessly 
  • Underappreciated opportunities for significant impact in nature-based solutions, as well as underappreciated careers that people interested in climate work should consider


00:03:51 - The Multifaceted Impact of Vibrant Planet's Platform

00:10:44 - The Pre-Digital State of Fire Risk Management

00:14:16 - The Importance of AI in Vibrant Planet's Platform

00:19:28 - Global Expansion and Key Use Cases

00:24:03 - Business Model and Customer Base

00:25:44 - Emerging Markets and the Future of Carbon and Biodiversity Credits

00:32:20 - A Concrete Example of Vibrant Planet's Impact

00:36:07 - Challenges and Concerns for the Future

00:42:14 - Calls to Action and Keeping Up with Vibrant Planet

Don't miss out on this podcast if you're interested in learning more about the state of climate tech, the energy transition, and the future of nature-based solutions work to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Subscribe on Spotify, Apple, Google, or your favorite podcast platform.

Learn more about Vibrant Planet on their website and LinkedIn: https://www.vibrantplanet.net/ / https://www.linkedin.com/company/vibrant-planet/

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Thank you so much.

Plus, stay up-to-date on all things Keep Cool here: https://keepcool.co/ and follow Nick on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nickvanosdol and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicholasvanosdol/



Nick: All right, Allison, welcome to the Keep Cool podcast. It is great to have you.

Allison: Thank you so much for having me. Pleasure to talk to you, as always.

Nick: Yeah, so you and I have chatted many times in the past, and I've certainly enjoyed following the success of Vibrant Planet over probably almost almost two years now since we first chatted. But folks listening in who might not be as familiar, why don't we dive right in and just give them the 60 to 90 seconds on Vibrant Planet and the platform?

Allison: Yeah, so Vibrant Planet is a SaaS platform, software as a service. that support natural resource managers, utilities, fire districts, counties, to basically develop prioritized plans for mitigating wildfire risk and other climate risks, and then also enhancing ecosystem services in our natural resources, things like carbon sequestration, recreation, biodiversity, water reliability. So it's basically a scenario planning platform. We really modernized a very old paper-based planning process. And it provides really rich forecasting on what might this mitigation or enhancement treatment do versus this one. And then it monitors the treatment effects and resilience trends to help with kind of continuous, that's where the adaptive planning comes in, continuous reprioritization of resources based on current conditions, current risk. and opportunities to safeguard things like carbon sinks.

Nick: Makes sense. So across all of the various dimensions where it can be helpful and across all the different stakeholders to whom it can be helpful, it sounds like there's both sort of a baseline measurement and understanding element to it where that can feed into potential prescriptions to drive better future outcomes. But then there's also a, okay, now we took an action potentially, and we get to assess how effective it was versus our initial projections.

Allison: Correct. Yep, exactly. So it's forecasting it and it's monitoring where we write. And as our biodiversity lead Sophie Gilbert says, we're essentially making science less wrong over time. And then you think about the markets that can be unlocked around that kind of intelligence. Once you can actually prove over and over again with monitored insights that, especially in fire adapted ecosystems that need intervention, and they also beneficial fire to be healthy, where we can prove over and over again that if a catastrophic fire starts, it drops to the ground where there's treatments like prescribed fire and mechanical thinning and the carbon water biodiversity doesn't blow up and that isn't taken out. We can prove that with really fine scale transparent data that we've built out. we can unlock markets around, you know, risk and avoided losses. So think insurance, think about utilities. And then on the ecosystem enhancement side is we can prove over and over again that as we do interventions that protect things like carbon sinks and biodiversity and water, we can unlock markets around those things finally with a lot of certainty, right? Incredible information that the intervention worked, the carbon is safe and it's growing now because of the intervention.

d in and I'm keen to track in:

Allison: After a long career in Silicon Valley, where I did a lot of movement building around climate solutions like, you know, data center, energy use and renewable power in Silicon Valley, I also did a lot of product design. and product strategy. And I came into the wildfire space, really wanting to get into the nature-based climate solution space, had grown passionate about nature-based climate solutions ability to pull the carbon down that sits up in the atmosphere for 100 years, and also solve things like our methane problem. And as I was digging into where I might land in that space, I was hired to do some work for an impact investor in the Lake Tahoe area and started to dig into what could a new effort in climate solutions take on. And they really wanted to build a center like a Rocky Mountain Institute in the Tahoe area. We don't have that sort of center of intellect like Aspen areas have. And as I was digging into what unique thing this center could take on, Paradise, California burned. We had the 2018 fire season, which was the worst anyone could imagine here in the U.S., in Australia, and parts of Europe. And then of course, 2020 happened. And as I was on a listening tour, all anyone would talk about was fire. And that in fire adapted landscapes, which is more than half of land on earth, these are landscapes that evolved with mostly low intensity fire. It's how these ecosystems cycle carbon, how they cycle nutrients, how they regenerate. And so as I'm learning about these ecosystems and the fire catastrophe that is unwinding, I realized how fast this is going to happen and how fast we're going to lose really critical ecosystems and the ecosystem services within them. So things like cargo storage, water, you know, these fire dependent systems are where most of the world's food is grown. And when you have a big fire, water quality and water quantity are heavily impacted. And so you've got pocket bins and ag systems dependent on that water. Biodiversity, a huge amount of biodiversity, more biodiversity is stored in fire dependent landscapes than the Amazon, which people don't know. And so I just saw this catastrophic literally explosion of these ecosystems and places like California and Mediterranean Europe just aren't going to have any non-burned land left. And forests are converting to grasslands and shrublands and completely changing the ecosystems. So anyway, just got a fire under my butt to try to solve that. So rather than diving into the regenerative ag space, I decided to do what I could to fix the fire problem first. and rallied an incredible group of scientists, land managers, foresters, and silviculturists, and then some of the most advanced machine learning engineers on the planet, who really, all of whom, the folks that came from government on our team were tired of how slow things were moving and really wanted to see if they could make change happen faster in a private sector public benefit corp, and then folks from- Makes sense, yeah. Allie, I really wanted to take on something that had more meaning than, you know, helping ad platforms, essentially.

Nick: Yeah, all of that resonates. And it's very topical because, you know, even as we speak, I think something like the second largest wildfire in U.S. history, the largest in Texas state history is unfolding. So as we both know, and as all of our listeners know, these things are accelerating. They aren't just going away on their own. And so, yeah, it's important work. And it definitely tracks for me as someone who grew up in California too and is very familiar with some of the fallout of some of those bigger fires. PG&E faced massive liabilities. But I guess I'd be curious, you know, when you talk to stakeholders like that now, or at least when you were assessing it when you were first building Vibrant Planet, what was kind of the state of, I wouldn't even necessarily the state of the art, but how are folks trying to understand and navigate their fire risk maybe five years ago? Because I imagine talking about that a little bit will help explain why what you're doing now is so impactful.

Allison: Yeah, well, because it's a little hard to believe because of course, every actor like banking and retail have moved to the cloud. So we sort of we can't really imagine a world that hasn't moved to the cloud. But this is a world that hadn't. And at the same time, we have these mega fires that because of 130 years of land management, you know, efforts or lack thereof, and 130 years of fire suppression, these lands, we've basically created over this period of time, a perfect storm. So just as the way we've managed and suppressed fire dependent landscapes that need fire, that problem has come to roost. we don't have the tools to actually manage the scale and speed of the problem. And so fires moving across, you know, a million, 2 million acres, like we're seeing in Texas right now. And the way planning happens is on paper. So imagine a group of people, so fires moving across jurisdictions, right? It doesn't observe land ownership boundaries. And so as it's moving across these jurisdictions, those jurisdictions have to lock arms and figure out what they're going to do, either moment with managing the fire or ideally preemptively. And so you're talking about a collaborative consensus driven process and imagine doing that on paper. And so, you know, without data, without data visualization and the ability to forecast this treatment versus this treatment mix. What do we need, where, and a complete inability to adequately prioritize resources, because now it's all about sequencing, right? Like, what do we do in what order to keep the most critical landscapes intact? And then the next one, and then the next one. We have no ability to even understand the level of risk and the prioritization of where we deploy resources, much less coordinating that effort across multiple players. So that was the big problem. And, you know, I was watching, I came in as, you know, with a bit of a product background and, you know, coalition building background from Silicon Valley, watching these coalitions, they're called collaboratives at local scales, you know, build up some data in Esri's platform, ArcGIS, literally print a paper map, and argue over a table. And then these processes taking sometimes five, 10 years, and then the whole place burns up while you're in the middle of planning. I mean, I saw that over and over just a couple of years I was observing. And then often once things go into the regulatory processes, like the NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act, NGOs waiting to just sue and then nothing happens. And so I saw the writing on the wall that if we maintain the status quo, we're going to lose everything. And we really need state-of-the-art cloud-based tools that do this rich forecasting, rich data visualizations, very easy to use interfaces so that you can sort of level the playing field on who has the keys to the analytics. so that you can have still difficult conversations about like this spotted owl nest versus this neighborhood, but you at least have the information to bring to the conversation much earlier in the process versus just once you're in the court. So that's really the goal of this system is to just make that productive and literally instantaneous as real-time scenario planning together collaboratively.

Nick: Yeah, beautiful. It makes a lot of sense to me. And I can only imagine, you know, it's one thing. It's already incredibly difficult when you have all these different stakeholders sitting at the table. And then if you're not. armed with the digital well-informed solution. Yeah, I can only imagine what that looked like in the past and probably still does in many places now, but it's time for that to change.

Allison: I mean, until our system is, you know, all over the world, unfortunately, that is still the reality. There really isn't competition yet. So we're working as fast as we can to deploy

Nick: The question I always like to ask, too, is obviously digitizing all of this is a key element of the approach, but from the outside looking in, it also seems to me like there's a lot of other technologies that have improved a lot over the past decade that are making this more possible. I think, you know, there's a lot of energy behind the space economy these days, and even just like the cost of satellite launches has come down a lot. But what other kind of core hardware solutions have helped you all be able to bring a lot of this data together into one platform. I mean, imagine satellites are a big component of it. Maybe LiDAR too, but there's probably a number of other ones.

Allison: Yeah, that's all true. I think the biggest shift is in GPUs. So the compute that is now available because of companies like NVIDIA, right? And the evolution of machine learning, you know, what we're seeing now with generative AI and chat, dbt, and those kinds of things just became possible, right? Like those technologies and the compute required is massive. And so that is the really big shift just in the last two years, even two, three years. And we're taking full advantage of that. At ViroPlanet, we're taking full advantage of the GPU, compute, machine learning, generative AI revolution. And we have some of the most advanced talent in all those spaces on the team. And so one of the big breakthroughs that we invested in early, which has enabled us to create a globally scalable platform, is the development of what we call a foundational model. So the foundation of ecosystems is vegetation, right? It's where all the animals live. It's how we count biodiversity in both plant and animal species. It's, you know, water moves through forests and evapotranspiration cycles, right? And so that was the really big thing to crack is a really fine scale foundational model that maps vegetation at unprecedented fine scale. So we're at one meter scale and regenerative AI techniques to essentially create a three-dimensional digital twin of vegetation. So across forests, grasslands, and shrublands. The reason that's so important is where our system hands off into the final permitting processes. So environmental analysis, where are the owls living right now, for example, folks have to go through those processes. Where are their ancient cultural sites that we have to plan around? There's legislation around those things. And so our system has to hand off into that fine scale planning and then permitting. on where we can apply beneficial fire, where are we going to need to do some mechanical thinning first, because if we apply fire, we won't get the results we want or it could turn into a catastrophic fire. And so we built that foundational layer and then we normalize, which is the sort of the second technical feat We normalize that all the things that have value in a landscape, things like biodiversity, carbon, water, recreation, roads, cell towers, all of the built infrastructure, all of that gets normalized at that one meter scale. And then you have what you need to do scenario planning. In the foundation model, we were able to build that three-dimensional picture with all those values layered on top of it using LIDAR, training our machine learning algorithm on LIDAR, which gives you sort of that three-dimensional, very specific view. But LIDAR is like a snapshot in time and it was stale really fast now. And so what we do is basically refurbish LiDAR, we call it, using satellite data. And we use free satellite data from the European Sentinel system. We use Landsat from USGS, which is 30-meter data, but it has a long history, which gives us a little bit of trend analysis. And then we use in the United States, there's a department of ag product called NAIP, N-A-I-P, and that's like centimeter scale imagery. And so basically what our algorithm does is it massages all these inputs together to create a very, very fine scale vegetation layer. And that was a big breakthrough and it took a big team to crack it. And now that we have, we can take that nationwide, which we just did. We're West wide now. We can go nationwide here soon to help on East coast problems with the East coast sinking into the ocean and various other things. And we can export it so we can bring that to Mediterranean Europe, Australia, Chile, a lot of the places you've heard about Canada that have had really horrible fires. We can now get in there and support

Nick: Excellent. Yeah, it's also a really great answer to, you know, I track everything under the sun and climate and energy. And obviously there's a lot of excitement and momentum behind AI right now, but sometimes it feels a little bit nebulous or as if every company sort of wants to add AI to their tag and claim that they're using it in some way. But this to me stands out as sort of one of the more compelling examples where it's easy to appreciate how that's helped kind of or how that's helped weave the entire platform together in y'all's case, whereas for some other applications, maybe it's a little bit more French.

Allison: You know, that's very true. It's the core of what we do. And then you can imagine as thousands of projects are using these collaboratives all over the world, they're using our system. We'll be able to use pattern recognition again to support recommendations that are very contextualized on socio-ecological contexts, right? Unlike you might want to think about this versus this, because you've seen it work elsewhere and you can build that into the machine basically, right? So yeah, it's the real deal. And you know, I can't tell you, our team is so thrilled to be using this technology for good, right? Because a lot of them built the Facebook core, and they built the ad machines that were the core of developing these technologies, right? Like that's where it started. And for some of these folks to be using that power for good for climate solutions and keeping these critical ecosystems that we love intact and all the ecosystem services we depend on for survival feels awfully good. So it's really thrilling, honestly, to work and they get to work with some of the most incredible scientists there are on earth to crack it.

Nick: Yeah, and congratulations on already being at a point where you can map the entire U.S. and go globally from there. I'd be really interested to offer listeners maybe a concrete example of a type of project or, you know, a type of collaboration between different stakeholders and how them having access to your platform is sort of shaping their decision making in real time, if there's examples that come to mind.

Allison: Yeah, sure. One recent example is in the Truckee Fire District. So those of you that are maybe familiar with the Lake Tahoe area if you're in the Bay Area or have flown out here to go skiing, there's a little town called Truckee that's right off of I-80. And their fire chief and their team used our system to prioritize where they put money. So there's a $350 million a year line item in the federal budget that goes to the municipal fire districts to do what's called community wildfire protection planning. And they need to update those every five years. We're hoping, I think they need to do them more frequently, like every one to two years here soon. And so our system, so again, we're talking about the past being a paper-driven process that is collaborative with, you know, a lot of open citizen meetings and, you know, in this area, Caltrans, right? The transportation authority, Cal Fire units, the Forest Service that Chucky is within. The town is literally plopped in the middle of Tahoe National Forest. So again, the ability to work through prioritized risk mitigation treatments in the wild urban interface, where you have power lines coming into homes and the downtown, making sure we don't have trees hitting power lines, making sure that ingress and egress, you know, emergency workers, if there is a fire, can get in and we can get people out, we can evacuate them safely. So they used our system and they were able to get from the beginning of the collaborative planning process to decision and the start of implementation within nine weeks. And we're talking a multi-year process typically. So that was a big deal. Another example is up in Southern Oregon near Ashland, the Rogue Siskiyou. They're using our system right now. So that's the town of Ashland, tribes up there, BLM, Forest Service, the Rogue Siskiyou Forest. all using the system right now. That's a really big biodiversity area as well. They're in the planning process. And so far, what we're hearing is it's going really well and they're collaborating more effectively. They're already starting to make some decisions. And this is a 5 million acre landscape. It's a really big landscape.

Nick: Beautiful.

Allison: Yeah. We're just hearing more efficient, less conflict, more productive conversations, which is what we were designing for.

Nick: Yeah, makes a lot of sense. And speaking a little bit to the business side, how does kind of like when you think about like the modal customer, is it a pure kind of software as a service relationship? Or is there more intricacy and nuance to it, given that there are, you know, as we've discussed, often, a number of different stakeholders involved in the process?

Allison: Yeah, it's software as a service, we call it analytics as a service. And it's an annual subscription. Some of our customers will buy five years at a time, some buy a year to try it on and then they'll renew. The customer ranges from a forest service supervisor that runs a particular forest like the Rogue Siskiyou or the Tower National Forest to PG&E is one of our customers and we hope to have a growing relationship with them and other utilities.

Nick: Yeah, they definitely need the help.

Allison: Yes, exactly. Fire districts, counties like Placer County and the Tower National Forest area. Hellfire has just extended our central Sierra landscape, which has gone from our initial 300,000 acres, where we started in the North Yuba Forest Partnership, where the Forest Resilience Bond happened, to now 6 million acres. And that growth has happened just in a year and a half. So it's been really interesting. It's like virality and adjacent landowners like we're coming in. Are you coming in? Right. And county and they're all in the same sandbox and they can coordinate. We've got this much money and then they can coordinate. How do they deploy, you know, again, and what sequence to protect the most at risk communities and the most at risk ecosystem services and then go from there. Right. Like how do they sequence the deployment of resources that they're all working together now? It's amazing.

ee the landscape for those in:

Allison: Well, I think it's all sort of evolving in real time. You know, I think, well, first off on the fire risk side, we merged with an incredible team called Pyrologix out of Missoula, Montana. They're the top wildland fire modelers in the world. And so like they saw the Texas fire coming, for example, they've just, they've been working with the state of Texas on hazard mapping. They also saw Lahaina. Lahaina was was just a disaster waiting to happen, unfortunately. And it's just the joining of forces is so cool because they're the top, here's where you have hazard and risk people, both to ecosystems and to build infrastructure communities. And then us, we're the, what do we do about risk people? And so they're completely integrated in our system. And we're so lucky to have them part of the family now. On the market side, carbon markets have been taken out by the knees the last couple of years, as we've all seen. A lot of that was carbon markets and the intent behind them with things like jurisdictional red. The idea was sort of before its time. Well, it wasn't. It was timely, but the technology wasn't mature enough to actually support the intent, is the way to say that. So I think what will happen now, I think in some ways, some of the market takedown is a healthy correction. And now that technology is there, we can really emerge as being one of many players that Pachama and other great companies can now kind of break through the noise with really high resolution data that will bring the credibility and the transparency that those markets were demanding and weren't getting on what actually works. Much more powerful forecasting and monitoring than we were able to do before. So we think things and, you know, dynamic baseline setting, like in the process of what our system is doing, we're essentially creating dynamic baselines. So looking at, you know, a reference area in our world with fire and then where there's treatment and where there's not treatment and what happens when you throw fire at it. So we're able to model that where you're seeing it in real time with treatments next to non-treated areas. And that will bring that proof of, you know, the proof in the pudding that the market is needed to actually invest in carbon that right now doesn't feel investable because we haven't had the data to prove it. similar with diversity. There's super cool emerging markets, some of which are biodiversity leads. Sophie Gilbert is thinking about things like connectivity corridor crediting. And we're mapping where beavers live now, where they might've historically lived. We used to have 600 million of them and they created wetlands throughout the Western United States. And unfortunately we killed almost all of them to make warm clothing. And we also wanted to control water, right? Like we're control freaks, we humans. And so we wanted to channel the water. instead of letting it seep into all the ground, right? And in doing that, we dried out incredible meadows that used to store as much carbon as Indonesian peatlands. And by reintroducing beaver, we can get that level of carbon storage and rich biodiversity and water service back. And so we're mapping, where can we drop beaver in? Where can we build analog beaver dams where humans go in and act like beaver and dam things up? to create that kind of, you know, rich, rich, wet soil that holds a lot of carbon and biodiversity. So, you know, I think there's going to be crediting markets that are going to be possible with those kind of treatments, right? Like doing quotes with my finger, where that actually unlocks a monetizable benefit.

Nick: Sometimes the climate solution or the energy solution is some kind of new age nuclear reactor and other times it's, yeah, reintroducing beavers in the right places. It doesn't always have to be.

Allison: Water market's already there. Like Denver Water charges a small surcharge, just a few cents of every front range customer to create a kitty for their forest of faucets program. So the whole Front Range is paying for treatments upstream in the forest to ensure that the forest doesn't burn down and then clog up reservoirs above the Front Range with sedimentation and downed trees that die after fires. They were spending millions and millions and millions of dollars dredging reservoirs after big fires. And so they're doing preventive work. And so there's a lot more of that to be had. Our original North Yuba, the forced resilience bond that I mentioned, that was unlocked around some analysis that our team was part of doing in the North Yuba, which is a key tributary to the Sacramento Delta, which is California's farmland. We showed the potential, the forecasted avoided loss to the North Yuba water utility. It's one of the last steep canyons in California that hadn't burned severely, really critical water area. And once they saw that, they had never been able to justify nor had the Forest Service going into these steep canyons to do pretty expensive treatments. It's hard to get in there. And so once they saw that, they could justify the spend and put millions of dollars in, and then the Forest Service came in behind them to about $125 million, you're getting the treatments done. So activating the workforce to get out and do it, and they've been right around the corner from my house, so I get to see the progress all the time. It's really cool.

Nick: Yeah, I love that example. It's a really concrete kind of case study. Often folks are just waiting. They intuitively know, I'd guess in many cases, the folks that are intimately familiar with this land, what type of work would be. particularly beneficial and really exponential in many ways. But yeah, we're in this economic system for better or for worse where you need the proof points and the data to actually justify going out and doing the work. And as you said earlier, that wasn't always possible, but now it is.

Allison: Yeah, that's why you get lots of disparate points of view on the same page because you can see it like it's objective and it's inarguable. And that's what was needed to move people to act.

us, you know, for the rest of:

Allison: Well, you know, yeah, we hope to deploy as widely as possible now that our data is available westwide. We're hoping to work with lots more folks from Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, state parks, national parks, tribes, who are also big landowners. We also are really passionate about working with tribes to infuse our system with indigenous knowledge and bringing that to everybody. So that's a big focus is just deploy, deploy, deploy and make sure that the system is working the way our customers need it to work because it's all early and now we can, now we have the chance to iterate it with them, right? We've got it out there and now we can keep evolving it to their needs. We'll also try to enter at least one international market. We've been in a lot of conversations. Our chief scientist just completed a fellowship this fall in Chile, which of course had horrible fires this last season for them. And it's a really critical, there's many critical ecosystems down there, very similar to California ecologically. And so we're really hoping we can find a way to get down there. We're having lots of conversations. There's also a lot of conversations happening in Europe, in Canada. So really starting to put the system to work in new contexts internationally, cracking new hard data problems where we don't have that, you know, centimeter scale, Department of Ag, NAPE imagery that I mentioned. Starting to figure it out. I'm excited about that. We're also taking on sort of the final plan layout with new tools, hopefully a prescribed fire, kind of real-time fire management tool, and then helping people with the environmental analysis part of environmental regs to really streamline the final part of the planning cycle. Just, you know, our whole thing is need for speed. So taking it all the way to the permit and then that adaptive planning can kick in faster where they can adapt plans, report out on the effects that they're seeing and their resilience trends to make sure that this kind of adaptive planning continues to be a big line item in the federal budget. And that we also start to really unlock those private sector dollars that are going to be desperately needed, especially as we maybe head into some political swings here soon. And, you know, the Chevron deference could gut the ability for the federal government to really have authority over natural resources. So we're really focused on, you know, what we talked about earlier, unlocking some of the private capital that really wants biodiversity, carbon, water credits. to basically pay for ongoing work that has to happen. I mean, we need thousands of young people to come into the restorative and regenerative workforce, and we need sustainable money paying them long into the future.

Nick: It kind of leads into my next question, because I was going to ask about what's hardest or most challenging or what keeps you up at night. Obviously, the climactic challenges themselves are probably pretty front of mind. But yeah, some things like that are front of mind for me, too. Obviously, massive election in the U.S. this year. I think there's a decent amount of analysis that folks are kind of doing as to like, all right, what policy is most sticky, even if the administration does change. I'm pretty worried that a lot of it would not be as supportive, pretty imminently, to say the least. But then, yeah, there's other things too, like we've talked a lot about all of the work that can be done at the ecosystem level to drive better outcomes, but that work also has to be done by people that are well-trained and motivated to go out and do that work. So those are some things that kind of already, in my mind, stand out as potential challenges, but I shouldn't put the cart before the horse. What else do you think about?

Allison: No, I think that's right. I mean, the workforce issue alone, you know, young people don't even know that forestry and science and tech jobs and natural resource management is even a thing.

And yet they're going to be the most critical, hopefully well-paying jobs there are. But it's like a flywheel, right? To like get the educational system, you know, from little kids all the way up inspired to get into this work. There's a big flywheel and that's the big problem is we're just out of time. You know, time is what keeps me up at night. I work at our system and the maturity of the technology that enabled it to be. We're 10 years too late. And so like if the chief of the Forest Service can't prove to Congress that the $20 billion that has been spent, for example, on the wildfire crisis strategy landscapes, those are many of the landscapes we're supporting right now. If he can't prove to Congress that that was money well spent, because there are actually, he can verify that the treatments are working, that money may not come next year. And I just feel like they haven't had time, nor a platform like ours, to actually get enough done fast enough to prove the efficacy. And so that's what I really worry about is we're too late. We're too late on every front, whether our company touches it or not. Building a workforce, proving this works before we lose some of the critical places, that's a big problem. The other thing that keeps me up at night is Native Americans managed this land with beneficial fire for 20,000 years. And we're so stuck in Western science and Western perspectives and sort of the history of colonialism and how we managed or mismanaged the land, right? Like we cut everything down. We only have 7% growth in the Western U.S. And that's the other thing is how do we as a vibrant planet infuse our system with indigenous knowledge and how do we do that in a way that doesn't feel extractive and really brings an indigenous perspective to bear on how we relate to land. I mean, a lot of this at the end of the day is sort of creating that reciprocal nature, reciprocal relationship that tribes had with nature, tending it with fire, all these and living with fire. And I just hope that we can get to that vision fast enough with tribes, right? We need tribes help to get there.

Nick: Right. Yeah, that's a misconception that I think about sometimes. I think folks have this idea in their head that when colonialists first landed on, you know, American shores, however many centuries ago, that the land was fundamentally just completely wild and unmanaged, but it's really not true. It was already being managed very thoughtfully and arguably a lot more successfully. People just didn't really have the eyes to see it.

Allison: That's right. A hundred percent. We know that now.

Nick: Yeah. So as you said, you know, we, the time is now it took us 500 years to kind of come back home to that knowledge of that. That was important. Hopefully the next 500 years we're able to, to make good on it again.

Allison: Yeah, that's right. And so much of it is, I've been talking a lot recently about we, you know, the European American has really spent, you know, hundreds of years now trying to control nature, right? Like we have air conditioning, we have heating, we took out all the predators because we were scared of them. They were eating our livestock. We, and then with fire, we controlled fire and now it's biting us in the ass, right? And so a lot of this really is rethinking how we interact with our own ecosystems. We forget we're part of them. And if we don't treat them with more reciprocal respect, we're going to keep seeing what we're seeing, which is the failure of the ecosystem that supports us and unfortunately ourselves. So it's definitely an emergency. The way we're starting to think about our system actually is as a common operating picture for wildfire risk mitigation and natural resource management. Common operating picture is a term from firefighting in the military. And we're applying that now to coordinate critical action fast. And so we're taking that term for what we do. And that's what we're calling our platform.

Nick: I could probably speak to some of those points we hit on at the end here for another hour, but we've already gone for a very solid 45 minutes, and I'm confident we've already given listeners a really good introduction into the work that you're doing, for which I'm thankful for. I always do like to also close on calls to action. I think we already had some really good ones, I think, especially for anyone listening in that's younger and thinking about interesting, compelling ways to get into climate work. Going to work for companies like yours is obviously a great one, but also, you know, exploring what a career in forestry or some other related service could look like is also a great one. I think if I were 10 years younger, I'd be thinking very, very seriously about that, and perhaps I still should. But any other calls to action that you would offer? And I also want to make sure that folks know where to keep up with your work and follow along for the rest of the story.

Allison: Yeah, great. Yeah, I can't emphasize enough if you're a young person or not young, like I think into this space, whether you're interested in the technology side or even agency management, there's so many amazing people that we get to work with inside the Forest Service and the Department of Interior. I mean, there's some mind boggling talent in the Biden administration. And thank goodness, I mean, And yeah, I mean, it's great jobs. It's great benefits. They get to do cutting edge work there. And we need counterparts inside agencies that little tech companies like ours can mind meld with on how do we operationalize their awesome science, right? And figure out how to build what they need for the frontline. So I can't emphasize enough for young people. to how much we need you in this space. And yeah, I mean, we're really open to partnerships too. So if you're a company that feels like there might be something synergistic. Yeah, excellent. You know, we're trying to get into insurance, for example. If you're in the community protection space, if you're in the natural resource space scientifically or have a company doing nature accounting type stuff, we're keenly interested to partner. So I hope you'll reach out through our website. We actually answer those emails. Our website is vibrantplanet.net. And yeah, we'd love to hear from you. And if you're young, keep an eye out for job postings.

Nick: Beautiful, yeah. And I'll definitely be doing my best to bring those jobs to the fore. Well, thanks so much, Allison. It's been a treat. I look forward to catching up again soon and to tracking all the progress this year. Thanks so much for the work that you do.

Allison: Me too. Thanks for telling the stories that are so important for us to keep our eye on. So really appreciate you having me.

Nick: Thanks for tuning in. So you don't miss the next episode on another cutting edge climate tech, make sure to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, Google, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. We'll see you soon.

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About the Podcast

The Keep Cool Podcast
Where climate tech investors get deep dives into the latest cutting edge technology and discover how it fits into the broader landscape.
Climate tech is constantly evolving. Why? To help solve the most important challenges facing our planet. With so much innovation it’s hard to pick out the companies to watch, and it’s even harder to connect them to the wider climate tech picture. That’s why The Keep Cool Show is here. Join host Nick Van Osdol as he dives deep into the latest technologies shaping climate solution technology, but also zooms out to help investors and anyone working in the industry join the dots and get a broader view of what’s really going on. Every week Nick is joined by a climate tech founder, investor or operator, discussing how they’re working to solve climate change. He’ll join the dots in real time, bringing out the nuances, trends and patterns in the industry. If you’re a climate tech professional already working in the industry, looking for the next big opportunity or simply curious about the space, this is the show for you. Episodes every other Thursday. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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Nicholas Van Osdol