I want to start with a story.
I grew up in Southwestern Michigan in a small log cabin. It was an amazing place. We had a small garden in our backyard, where I would collect tomatoes and pea pods in the summer. It was where I rescued a litter of baby rabbits from a stray cat, and where I caught frogs in the nearby ponds and swamps in the late afternoons. I was lucky to have grown up there, with infinite opportunities to explore and infinite treasures to discover.
But one day, that changed.
It was my sixth birthday, and my grandfather, as a gift, gave me a massive book: the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals. I was elated (you now understand how geeky I was as a child). I thoroughly enjoyed flipping through the pages and looking at all the beautiful drawings of elephants, tigers, and lions in lands far away from my living room in Southwestern Michigan. But I was still learning to read and had to ask my mother to explain the meaning of extinction. I will never forget her response.
She said “Leif, extinction is when part of the natural world ceases to exist. Forever.”
Think about that. Think back to when you were young and realized the finality of extinction, and when you learned of the impact we as a society were having on our planet and on the places we fell in love with growing up.
You can imagine the shock I felt, which turned into frustration as I learned of all the different environmental crises that exist today. That frustration almost gave way to despair when I learned about climate change, which threatens to undo all the progress we as a society have made to protect our planet’s health within the last 150 years.
I left Michigan a few years after, which was the beginning of a journey that took me to some of the most wild and rural parts of the continental US. My family moved to the border of Idaho and Wyoming, in the shadow of Teton Mountain Range. I then moved to Borrego Springs, California, located in the largest contiguous state park in the nation, Anza-Borrego: 1,000 square miles of desert. I then finished high school in Coon Rapids, Iowa, which is the most ecologically altered state in the nation with less than 1% of natural lands remaining.
I was blessed to have such an unique childhood, living in all of these amazing and beautiful places, but I also continued to hear the news of climate change, how it was disrupting our world. It was only getting worse.
After years of feeling like I was unable to make a difference in the face of such a global crisis, and to ensure no one would feel as helpless as I have, I cofounded Carbon Down with my friend and cofounder, Ian Arko.
Ian is passionate about this crisis because when he was younger, he witnessed a catastrophic wildfire burn down his neighborhood in Colorado Springs, which was exacerbated by catastrophic droughts due to climate change. Because each and every action he took throughout is life contributed to this crisis, which is true for all of us, he felt like he was only a part of the problem. To enable people to become the solution to climate change, he decided to cofound Carbon Down.
Carbon Down is a mobile climate action platform that helps you foster low-carbon habits, connects you with carbon offset projects to become carbon neutral, and enables you to grow your impact exponentially by leveraging your community.
When I sat down to write about the origins of our company and our mission, there were a few different ways I thought I could start.
The first, and most obvious, was to write about the critical need to immediately address the climate crisis. I could write about how our planet is in incredible peril as carbon emissions continue to rise to precipitous levels, how our oceans are acidifying, how severe droughts are leading to catastrophic wildfires, and on and on and on.
But whoever you are, reading this piece, you most likely already know these things and understand the urgency of this challenge that we face. You don’t need a reminder.
I could have also started with the feeling of helplessness that many of us feel when we see the headlines about climate change. How have we known about climate change since the 1960s, and not addressed it? Why has our society transitioned towards sustainability at a snail’s pace? So many of us want to speed up this trend, but despite the number of voices calling for change, the calls have largely been unanswered.
Climate change has been unaddressed for two reasons. First, and most obvious, is that fossil fuel companies have and continued to mettle with climate science and invested immense amounts of money putting politicians in office that would, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, deny climate change exists.
The second reason is that people do not believe their actions can make a difference in the face of this crisis, and many come to the conclusion that their actions will not alter the trajectory of the climate crisis.
I cofounded Carbon Down to overcome these two main roadblocks to effective climate action. By enabling our users to have an exponentially growing impact on climate change, we the people can bypass the climate gatekeepers, governments and corporations, that have repeatedly failed to take effective action.
By reframing an individual's ability to enact positive change and proving that their actions can have a tremendous positive impact on a crisis they care about, we empower individuals to change our world for the better.