The Center for Carbon Removal just hired Jason Funk to spearhead our land use work! We are thrilled to have Jason on our team and have asked him to share a little more about himself with our readers by answering a few questions. Check out his answers below!
Center for Carbon Removal: Tell us a little about your background. What have you worked on related to carbon removal in the past?
Jason Funk: I started becoming interested in land management for carbon removal toward the end of my bachelor’s degree. I had studied a fair amount of ecology and the materials cycles of the Earth system -- especially the carbon cycle. Climate change mitigation was becoming an important academic topic, and some of my mentors were researching how we could manage lands to reduce emissions and sequester carbon. I took a small piece of that work and developed it into a Master’s project, in which I looked at the economics of forest carbon sequestration from a landowner’s perspective in Ohio.
That was a theoretical analysis, but for my doctorate I went to New Zealand, where there was a real carbon market. After analyzing the economics, farm by farm, for a 2 million acre landscape, I realized that the tons and dollars were only a small part of the story: the real story was with the people, who linked their culture and their identities to their land, in addition to their livelihoods. So I delved into the legal and cultural aspects of land management among indigenous Maori landowners, and assembled the first pilot project for carbon sequestration on Maori land in New Zealand, using native forest restoration. It was a huge challenge, and it made me realize that not all decisions about climate change are made among policy-makers -- many of them are made at the kitchen tables and community centers of everyday people.
Since then, I have contributed to two well-known environmental NGOs, where I worked with many more stakeholders and strived to shape and develop policies to empower them at the state, national, and international levels. I also spent time building a better understanding of climate science, with an emphasis on the two-way relationship between the climate system and the landscape. It’s still one of the less-understood aspects of climate modeling, but we understand enough to know that there’s enormous potential there.
CCR: Why are you excited about carbon removal?
JF: It’s exciting to be at the leading edge of a new science and policy space -- that’s just where I like to be. I see many of the components of solutions sitting in different places, and I see the potential to connect them together to make something new and interesting. I know others can see even more opportunities, if we can help empower them. But the excitement of this innovative time is tempered by the knowledge that we need to get it right -- and quickly. I feel a sense of obligation to find and develop the best solutions to the climate change problem. My kids are depending on me -- and all of the rest of us -- to do everything we can to leave them a safe and sustainable planet.
CCR: What will your work focus on at the Center?
JF: My work will focus on the primary issue I’ve been working on for many years: boosting the opportunities for the land sector to remove carbon from the atmosphere, reducing the risk of disruptive climate change. In many cases, the potential for carbon sequestration is overlooked or not rewarded. I’ll work to raise awareness of these opportunities, and then seek ways to incentivize the land management practices that can deliver carbon removal. Most of these practices are things we already know how to do -- many involve nurturing forests and enhancing the health of agricultural and rangeland soils. Yet we haven’t fully incorporated these practices into a coherent and holistic policy approach for our public and private lands. Such an approach could accelerate carbon removal in the land sector, bringing us closer to a safe climate trajectory.
CCR: What are you most looking forward to next year?
JF: We will have a new Congress and Presidential administration, giving us the opportunity to elevate the importance of carbon removal in the national discussion. It will be a chance to rethink some of the things we’ve been doing, in terms of policy, while developing new ideas that can help put us on a path to safer levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Each year also brings a new crop of scientific and technical breakthroughs, opening up new possibilities. And in the international sphere, it will be a crucial year in preparing for the implementation of the international climate agreement signed in Paris in 2015. I’m optimistic that these developments will bring momentum to all aspects of climate mitigation, including carbon removal.
CCR: What’s your karaoke “anthem”?
JF: I came of age in the 90s, and I was inspired by music that empowered my generation to question the status quo. Even today, whenever I hear the opening chords of “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog, I get chills. It’s a song that challenged me to reject the things should be rejected, and to do the things that need to be done. At the time, it felt like the song gave me permission to change the status quo, starting by examining my own behavior. For me, it opened up the possibility to construct a new way of doing things, and that same spirit has guided my career, leading all the way to my role at the Center.