Reforesting the Planet with Troy Carter – Episode 54


“The planet is the ultimate dynamic system to try to model, it's very complex. We can't wait 30 years, and then say, oh wait, we have a big, big problem.”

If Troy Carter gets his way, one day we’ll live in a world where “half or more of the planet is seen as sacred territories, where humans have only traditional uses for the land, and not industrial uses.” A world where “every year, there are more and more species of every kind flourishing.” That’s his goal for Earthshot Labs, his venture-funded non-profit backed by the National Science Foundation, whose mission is to repair the planet through nature restoration, forest protection, and the conservation of ecosystems.

Like many a great entrepreneur, pain was the spark. He’d been living off the grid in Hawaii with his wife, feeling that “humans were not figuring it out.” So, this Stanford economics major who never felt comfortable in the office decided to do something about it with the “first iteration” of Earthshot. Rizome applied bamboo in building projects to replace wood, steel, and concrete, to grow a sustainable timber industry. Burdened by regulatory barriers, and a steep upfront investment cost, it was a tough slog that didn’t quite scale.

Carter pivoted, teaming up in 2020 with co-founder Patrick Leung to start Earthshot Labs, to exponentialize his own impact on addressing climate change. The company’s secret sauce? AI software that provides ecological forecasting, financial modeling and risk assessment for investors and land stewards. They incorporate satellite imagery, data sets from field observations, and predictive analysis to decipher past and current ecological climate conditions. The results help them to predict the future under different interventions, project scenarios, and even convey the risks of what may happen to a forest in a wildfire, drought, or floods.

Earthshot, and its offshoot Earthshot Institute, support collaborative projects which bring together tribes, community groups, governments, and NGOs, connecting them with corporations, philanthropists, and other investors to fund large-scale reforestation efforts across the globe. “We’re in Panama, Peru and Brazil,” Carter rattles off, “And we work with partners all around the world. We have projects in Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Madagascar … all over Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and across Central and South America.”

Supporting these projects is an impressive network of experts including scientists and celebrated business leaders. Advisors include noted environmental activist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken of Project Drawdown, iconic Silicon Valley investor Steve Jurvetson of Future Ventures, and a slew of quantitative ecologists. Carter speaks with admiration of his team. “The planet is the ultimate dynamic system to try to model, it's very complex,” he says. But they’re dedicated. And “the reason we're doing this is because we need to direct a lot of money into nature restoration today. We can't wait 30 years, and then say, oh wait, now we realize we have a big, big problem. That's not how trees grow. Ecosystems take time, it takes generations to restore forests.”

Ultimately, he hopes to be able to change the incentive structures for how people use land, water, and other resources. We’re not using them efficiently, he says, and we’re not using them with respect. Thanks to leaders like Troy Carter and his team at Earthshot, we can build resilient systems where humans and ecosystems can thrive in harmony, one tree at a time.