One prize winner is part of a worldwide effort to build a new industry that can tackle tire recycling. Another will allow scientists to share their work around an agro-ecological methodology for increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water, and nutrients. And a third has improved a machine that can remove 500 kg of water hyacinth on a daily basis and turn an invasive into biofuels. These and many other people are past recipients of the Keeling Curve Prize, which is proud to “water the grass” and endorse a diversity of projects that attempt to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“We recognize that our duty to draw down emissions and slow global warming requires the success of not just one silver bullet, but of an evolving network of solutions. Without swift implementation of wide-ranging and divergent strategies, we won’t decelerate global warming and its consequences,” according to the Keeling Curve Prize website.
What’s your idea to reduce GHG emissions? Here’s your chance to make a difference.
Applications just opened on December 1, 2018 for the 2019 Keeling Curve Prize and will be capped at 300 entries. A prize pool of $250,000 will be shared by up to 10 recipients. Perhaps more importantly, the winners will become part of a legacy emissions reductions network that offers key contacts and advice, opens proverbial doors to partnerships, and historically positions the recipient for additional funding from new sources.
The Keeling Curve Prize launched in 2017, with its first winners announced this year. The winning Keeling Curve Prize projects have included:
- software for improved appliance efficiency
- creation of renewable fuels
- access to safer sources of fuel and light for underdeveloped communities
- improved agricultural strategies
- more easily implemented hydropower
- nano-satellite greenhouse gas monitoring
The prize is open to projects from anywhere in the world. “Harnessing the expertise of global leaders, we activate solutions,” the Keeling Curve Prize website states. “From many seeds, the solutions grow.”
Based in Aspen, the Prize was founded by Jacquelyn Francis and Michael Klein, the latter of whom solely funds the Prize. The winners are selected by a team of judges from academia, industry, government and investing, and the selection is guided by two other similarly mixed councils.
“Especially given the drumbeat of dire news on global warming — including the latest US government assessment detailing how climate change is already affecting our environment, our economy, and the health and welfare of our people — it’s extremely important to identify and deploy solutions that attack global warming at its source,” said Francis. “Forward-thinking and tenacious people around the world are working on projects that can curb climate change, but, too often, they never get the chance to scale up their projects and make a major dent in the problem. The Keeling Curve Prize helps problem-solvers turn promising projects into widespread solutions.”
What is the Keeling Curve?
The Prize is named for the Keeling Curve — a dataset that has been tracking the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations since 1958. First started by Charles David Keeling, the measurements are taken from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
The Keeling Curve is a significant source of scientific evidence that shows that CO2 is accumulating in our atmosphere. CO2 is a GHG, which traps heat in the atmosphere and warms the planet. When more GHG molecules are in the air, more heat is trapped, leading to an overall warming of the planet.
The concept of the greenhouse effect was first proposed in the 1820s by the French mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier (1768–1830). For the next century and a half, scientists debated the connection between the composition of the atmosphere, GHG emissions, (including CO2), and Earth’s temperatures.
Human activities, also known as anthropomorphic activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, release CO2 into the atmosphere. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s, humans have been emitting more and more CO2. At the same time, we’ve cleared many of the world’s forests to provide food and infrastructure. Deforestation not only leaves fewer plants to absorb the increasing amounts of CO2 but also adds CO2 to the air when trees are burned or left to decay.
Keeling’s findings were so profound that they prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to start monitoring CO2 concentrations in other locations around the world. And, in July 2014, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a satellite designed to gather the most precise data ever for tracking the carbon cycle on Earth. All of this data indicates that CO2 is building up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Keeling Curve climate visualization record is considered the foundation of modern climate change research. In 2018, carbon dioxide levels are expected to exceed 410 parts per million (ppm) on a regular basis for the first time in human history. Sixty years earlier at the beginning of the records, CO2 levels were at 315 ppm.
“It’s essential that we bend that curve – that we reduce emissions and slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” said Aled Jones, director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, who sits on the Keeling Curve Prize Advisory Council. “The Keeling Curve Prize team brings together an impressive roster of judges, advisors, and innovative applicants from around the world and elevates solutions that can make a real difference in curbing the negative effects of climate change.”
Few other prizes focus so exclusively on climate change.
In 2019, the $250,000 in Keeling Curve Prize money will be designed via 5 categories:
- Energy access — improving access to low-cost, zero-emission energy in underdeveloped communities around the world
- Transportation — reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, from vehicles and planes to transportation infrastructure systems and manufacturing
- Carbon capture and utilization — developing, deploying and monitoring cutting-edge technologies and projects that capture carbon
- Finance — creating and deploying financial models that consider the environment and quality of life on an equal footing with economic ideals
- Social and cultural impacts — changing the way people think about and address humanity’s impact on the environment
#CleanTechnica Exclusive: A 2018 Keeling Curve Prize Winner Describes What It’s Like to Win!
The first round drew 180 applications from 28 countries, representing a mix of sectors and solutions.
Pollinate Energy was one of those 2018 winners. The company reduces carbon emissions by enabling the uptake of affordable clean energy products in India’s urban slums and across rural Nepal. Pollinate Energy gives disadvantaged community members the chance to start their own businesses selling products that improve people’s lives while cutting down on dangerous pollution.
We were able to link up with Alexie Seller, CEO and co-founder of Pollinate Energy, who helped us to understand what it’s like to be a Keeling Curve Prize winner.
How has being a Keeling Curve Prize winner changed your life and aspirations?
When the work of your team is recognized through an award like the Keeling Curve Prize, it’s a great boost for everyone involved; the external recognition is an independent validation of the work we do every day.
On a personal level it’s an opportunity to take five and reflect on the impact you’re having and how best to move forward to maximize that impact. Seeing fellow winners’ projects and understanding their approaches, challenges, and technologies is also an opportunity to learn and connect across the community addressing global warming.
What are you now able to do with your emissions reductions idea that you would not have been able to without the Keeling Curve Prize?
The Keeling Curve Prize helped us implement our idea to merge two established organizations across India and Nepal to bring more household clean energy products to underserved communities.
The prize funding helped train new team members across India, as distributors of products including solar lamps, solar fans, and solar home systems.
Without the Keeling Curve Prize, we may not have seen our best quarter of sales during the merger, helping more customers transition off toxic kerosene lamps, which release high proportions of black carbon that has a warming effect 680 times that of CO2.
As a result of the merger, we are accelerating positive change in the communities we serve and addressing global warming and the related social issues facing our communities and our planet.
How have you tapped into the network of contacts that the Keeling Curve Prize offers you?
We’ve found funders look favorably on recognized awards like the Keeling Curve Prize.
What advice do you have for others who wish to join in with emissions reductions innovation?
Collaborate over compete, and learn from others. We want to solve the same problems, so working side by side makes sense. There’s also an enormous amount of great work being done around the world that different regions and companies can learn from.
The Mauna Loa data is the world’s foremost continuous record of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. According to the CO2 Program at the Scripps Institution, “Unless serious efforts are made to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, it is clear that we are on a threshold of a new era of geologic history — one with climate very different from that of our ancestors.”
Though David Keeling passed away in 2005, his son Ralph continues his father’s CO2 research efforts at the Scripps Institution. Now you too can contribute to climate action by articulating your idea for emissions reductions and applying for the Keeling Climate Prize. As its website says, “When you’ve been recognized by the Keeling Curve Prize, you’ve found an ally.”
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