Rock weathering

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Cascade Climate?

Cascade Climate is an independent, philanthropically funded NGO focused on dramatically accelerating progress across a range of open-system climate interventions (OSCI). OSCI are approaches that enhance or modulate natural systems already operating at planetary scale to mitigate climate change and its impacts.

In 2023, our focus is enhanced rock weathering (ERW) — specifically, the development of a healthy, thriving ERW market built on a foundation of robust science and rigorous measurement. We plan to expand our focus to include additional OSCI pathways in 2024 and beyond.

For deeper thinking on OSCI and some of the key challenges that must be navigated as these nascent fields develop, read our founder’s writing here. By ‘open system’, we mean interventions undertaken ‘out in the open’, in natural ecosystems. Oftentimes working with or tapping into natural cycles and existing earth system processes. These interventions could be for the purposes of:

  • Durably removing CO2 from the atmosphere, through approaches like enhanced rock weathering or ocean alkalinity enhancement.
  • Reducing near-term warming, by focusing on short lived climate pollutants and albedo management.
  • Mitigating some of the direct adverse impacts of climate change, like delaying or preventing catastrophic sea level rise through ice sheet stabilization.

One example of an open system carbon removal pathway is Enhanced Rock Weathering (ERW). ERW takes advantage of an existing natural process: the weathering of certain rocks (e.g. basalt, olivine) wherein the interaction of water, CO2 (from the atmosphere), and minerals from the rock react to form dissolved ionic pairings in water (E.g. Ca2+ and 2 HCO3-). These chemical weathering reactions already consume over 1Gt CO2 from the atmosphere every year. ERW accelerates the process by grinding the rocks to dust and spreading them, often on agricultural fields, so that the reaction is radically accelerated. That grinding and deployment in an environment amenable to weathering is the “intervention” undertaken in an “open system” where CO2 is removed from the atmosphere through carbon cycle interactions between the atmosphere, soil, water, and rock.

As a field-building nonprofit, we act as a catalytic orchestrator, identifying and addressing the highest-priority bottlenecks or risks holding a field back. We see ourselves as an independent problem-solver and partner to the field, helping tackle thorny issues that individual parties cannot address alone.

You could also think of us as the connective tissue working across government, industry, researchers, communities to identify & resolve bottlenecks.

Core areas of focus include:
  • Coordinating multi-actor efforts to overcome collective action problems holding back progress
  • Building ecosystem infrastructure needed for functioning markets and thriving scientific fields
  • Resourcing targeted scientific investigations to reduce uncertainties
In ERW, our early focus has been:
  • Coordinating a community-wide effort to develop a rigorous, dynamic v1 quantification standard; and
  • Helping develop a data-access paradigm for the first big wave of ERW deployment to unlock a virtuous cycle of deployment-driven learning and growing policy support.

Our goal is to help these new fields and approaches develop in a healthy, high-rigor, science-first, and—as appropriate—fast way. In cases where the science behind an OSCI is deep, robust, and clear, Cascade’s work might focus on helping develop the market (e.g. coordinating among buyers and suppliers to establish a healthy marketplace) or helping build social license to deploy at increasing scale. In (many) other cases, the science is still developing. When this occurs, Cascade will work with (social) scientists, engineers, and community groups to accelerate their work: identifying gaps and helping to direct focus, data + resources towards closing those gaps.

Sometimes, there may be pre-existing or fast-growing commercial activity while science gaps remain. When this happens, Cascade will try to help both sides in tandem (e.g. helping ensure that CDR purchases in the category are high-rigor, and helping ensure that deployments / commercial activity are feeding quality data back to the scientific community).

Ultimately, if Cascade encounters cases where scientific developments indicate that a given approach is unsound, unscalable or too risky, we would seek to flag that approach as undesirable and one that the market should not pursue.

We are focused initially on ERW as our first ‘vertical’ anchor program for several reasons:
  • ERW will be the first open-system durable CDR pathway to be deployed at substantial scale, potentially reaching the megaton threshold globally in as little as two years. Many of the market frameworks and arrangements—such as dynamic MRV standards, discounting frameworks that account for quantification uncertainty in crediting tons removed, and stage-gated deployment—that will need to be developed for any open-system pathway to be viable will be hashed out for the first time in the context of ERW. Precedents established in ERW will carry over into numerous other OSCI fields.
  • The ERW field currently suffers from daunting coordination challenges and existential risks—and yet no existing field-building or market-shaping organization has emerged to take the lead on coordinating progress in ERW.
  • ERW is subject to the same open-system CDR pathway “sources of messiness” as many other OSCI; but from several perspectives (e.g. ecosystem risk and governance) it has a more mild or moderate case of these sources of messiness than other OSCI.
  • ERW offers a suite of powerful agronomic co-benefits beyond just jobs and economic development. ERW is also one of the most obvious economic opportunities for the Global South to play a big role in CDR deployment—with many countries having plentiful feedstock, optimal weathering conditions, and unusually strong co-benefits for farmers because of limited baseline access to agricultural lime and fertilizer.

For more thinking on this topic, read the Stanford Social Innovation Review article “The Missing Tool in the Climate Fight” by our founder and his longtime collaborator, Oliver Sabot. In short, efforts in global public health have shown that some promising but nascent fields can get caught in market distortions or bottlenecks (e.g. the “chicken and egg” dynamic in which buyers want to wait until costs come down with scale, but manufacturers won’t scale up production without guaranteed buyer demand). In these cases, field builders and market shapers can work to unstick these bottlenecks, helping the nascent market overcome its initial distortions and challenges.

Cascade is a nonprofit, funded entirely by grants or donations from a number of leading philanthropies interested in fighting climate change. See the bottom of the front page for a list of our supporters.

No. We do not register, sell, verify, or partake in any other market activity in carbon credits or carbon removal, in part to avoid any misaligned incentives for our work. All of our funding comes from purely philanthropic grants or donations. Also, while we are helping to develop the v1 Community Quantification Standard for MRV in Enhanced Rock Weathering, we do not intend to become a standards body. Instead, we plan to help seek out and/or aid in the development of an appropriate standards body to hold the CQS and keep it up to date.

Cascade Climate considers proposals for grants by invitation only and does not consider proposals with indirect costs above 10%.