Crowdsourcing Sustainability

Jackie Francis and the Keeling Curve Prize

January 20, 2021 Ryan Hagen Season 1 Episode 9
Crowdsourcing Sustainability
Jackie Francis and the Keeling Curve Prize
Show Notes Transcript

In the latest Crowdsourcing Sustainability Podcast episode, Ryan speaks with the Keeling Curve Prize's Executive Director, Jackie Francis about her story, this year's prize, and all the different ways the KCP is helping climate organizations.

$250,000 for climate solution initiatives!
The 2021 Keeling Curve Prizes will award $25,000 apiece to 10 winning projects that will help bend the Keeling Curve (CO2 in the atmosphere) down the fastest.

Applications will be accepted through February 10th. 


  • 0 - 1:40: Intro
  • 1:40 - Important moments in Jackie's climate journey
  • 3:20: What inspired you to start the Keeling Curve Prize?
  • 5:45: What is the Keeling Curve? And how does the KCP work?
  • 9:25: How do you evaluate projects/applications?
  • 12:00: Who is eligible? How else are applicants supported?
  • 16:30: Who are the orgs who have won the prize in the past and what are they doing?
  • 20:20: Benefits of joining the Troposphere (KCP network)
  • 23:20: Jackie's top 3 book recommendations
  • 25:15: Key takeaways & final thoughts
  • 27:40: Call to action: Apply for the prize and/or tell others about it!

More info on the prize:

There will be two winners for each of the following categories:

  • Capture & Utilization
  • Energy
  • Finance
  • Social & Cultural Pathways
  • Transport & Mobility

So, if you or someone you know is working on a truly impactful solution to help stop global warming (and could use $25,000), apply online or spread the good word.

KCP Links:

2021 KCP Application
Vote Climate 2020 video

Support the show (

Today we are lucky enough to be with Jackie Francis the co-founder and executive director of the Keeling Curve Prize which is rewarding the most effective climate organizations with financial resources and global visibility to help them realize their visions. Before starting the KCP in 2017, Jack Uranus program for the Smithsonian Science Education Center about emergent scientific learning was the executive director of the Aspen Science Center and coordinated a program for the US Department of Energy. 

So Jackie, welcome to the show. 

Hi Ryan thanks so much for having me Yeah absolute pleasure Thanks for taking the time. Very happy to have you on. And full disclosure to listeners out there. I've known Jackie for a couple years now. I applied for a grant via the Keeling curve prize in January 2019 and though I didn't get it Jackie and the team started reading my newsletter and a few months later asked if I'd like to start writing the KCP's quarterly newsletter. 

So I'm somewhat familiar with this wonderful organization already and because of that I know that deadline to apply for this year's Keeling. Prize is coming up which is why I really wanted to have you on today Jackie, I want to make sure people out there doing important work on climate who need money know about this fantastic opportunity where they could win one of the KCP's $25,000 no strings attached to prizes. 

And I really think that getting money flowing into effective projects in orgs that really need it is super important. So we're going to get to the ins and outs of the prize and the KCP but Jackie I'd love to start by hearing more about your climate journey, especially how it started. 

So what? Men, did you decide to work in this space and why? And are there any specific moments or thought processes that come to mind? Well I don't really want to go into my entire climate journey because it started when I was in I think seventh grade. But one of the most important moments was when my science teacher was talking about the greenhouse effect and we were all sitting in this classroom. 

It was probably a spring day. Nobody was really paying much attention. And all of a sudden my ears perked up and I started listening to what he was saying and I thought to myself, you know, wow that that really seems pretty important. And then years later, how about 20 years ago? 

I went to something called the State of the World Conference and Again, I was really struck by the importance of what the the speakers were talking about about how the greenhouse gas effect was caused by human beings and was accelerating and was now being called global warming the global warming was causing climate change. 

And so my journey about 20 years ago kind of started there. I tend to really like challenges and I tend to be a problem solver. So this seems, To me. Like one of the big biggest challenges in our world and a problem that really needed our attention and needed to be solved and I believe it is solvable. 

Yeah, you found yourself a big problem there. I think we all have. So walk us through a bit more of this journey from there to the Keeling Curve Prize. What inspired you to start this project and where did the idea come from? So not to. 

Be as an energy policy and climate science from Johns Hopkins. And as I was taking courses and feeling pretty smug about how much I knew I started realizing that there was a lot to this that not only that. I didn't know but that we had so many of the solutions already in front of our faces and the solutions were being kind of accelerated and activated enough. 

And I thought all right, so we have the solutions. I don't have to go out there and create some kind of magic wand new widget or. New organization I have to elevate the organizations that are out there and do I have that skill set to do that? And I decided I did and I did have a great network a great role at X of people working in this space. 

So I approached my current partner now as a funding partner and he really didn't know anything about this space. So he said no and then a little time went back went on and I went back to him and and I said, you know, this is really important. Please tell me get this this idea of a prize started that activates. 

The solutions around the world and they can really get things up and running past kind of the valley of death that all these organizations were experiencing. And he again said no and then the Trump administration pulled out of the Paris Accord and he called me up and said, hey send me that proposal. 

I'm interested. And that was the start of it. And then since then we've created this amazing organization this prize that does exactly that it elevates and accelerates climate solutions around the world. And we've really increased sort of visibility for all these things that are going on that are the solutions that will get us there. 

Yeah, that is amazing. So for those who don't know, can you please just elaborate a bit on? What the KCP is how does it work and maybe even briefly just the the story behind the name I know the Keeling curve itself is known to big climate nerves, but maybe some people don't know the whole story. 

So could you elaborate a bit more on that? Yeah, absolutely Ryan. So the killing curve is a data set and it is named after a atmospheric scientist Charles David Keeling who started measuring CO2 in the atmosphere from. Up of model and Hawaii where there is an established observation station. 

And the data set measures how many molecules of CO2 are in the atmosphere and this data set this chart has been going up ever since he started measuring it in 1958 and it is now called the Keeling curve even though it does not curve it just kind of well it goes up but it goes up in a zigzaggy fashion because it kind of demonstrates how the earth breathes through CO2 being absorbed by plant. 

Material and then released by planetarial throughout the seasons. And so the reason I chose to name the prize after Dr. Keeling is because this prize is a science focused award that is specifically about lowering our Co2 levels in the atmosphere along with the other greenhouse gases which are mostly methane and chlorofluorocarbons and a couple of others that are really concerning but the CO2 is one of the biggest problems and the keeling curve actually measures the CO2 in the app. 

Mosphere. So that's the story of why we are calling it the Keeling Curve Prize. One more part about that is that I do want people to know what it is because this is the the very visual universal kind of well just data set that shows us what we're talking about here. 

We have five categories for the Keeling curve prize and we award ten winners every year. And the reason we have five categories is because the emissions in our atmosphere where they come from and how they are. Captured. It's a very broad range of industries and programs and projects that work in this space. 

So the categories are energy finance transport and mobility capture and utilization and social and cultural pathways and as you can see these kind of touch on everything in our in our world and that indicates how global warming and climate change are attached to everything in our world. Yeah, I think it's a very comprehensive approach and also you know, it takes the bare bones of this. 

What do we actually need to do to stop global warming? And at the end of the day that means reducing emissions in the atmosphere and you put that right in the name and then there's this. Okay, what are the solutions? And I know a lot of folks maybe familiar with project drawdown. 

They have the top hundred solutions and it just goes to show there's just so many different ways people can plug in and do important work on the climate crisis. And I think your approach reflects that as well. So simply putting the biggest categories front and center and breaking it down. 

Like that. So I'd love for people listening who maybe interested in applying themselves to talk a little bit more about the prize and how it's evaluated. So like how do you determine which orgs will reduce the most emissions and is there anything useful that people might like to know about how this process actually works in terms of the evaluation stage? 

Sure, well, first of all the application period is open right now. So if you are thinking about applying then get your application in because the deadline is coming up on February 10th. So if you have a program or a project the can explain or demonstrate how it reduces greenhouse gases or affects carbon uptake, then you can apply for the prize. 

And we one of our questions I can't remember exactly which one it is but it asks us for you to show us your calculations as how you would calculate your GHG uptake or your carbon uptake or your GHG emission reductions or your carbon uptake. And that's a very important. 

Part of the prize because we really want organizations to think about am I having the effect I want on the atmosphere. And that's what this prize is about. This prize is about bringing down greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, whether it's through forest restoration or direct air capture or a financial mechanism that can help organizations to put in solar or wind or whether it's a transportation system that's going to get us off fossil fuel driven vehicles. 

Or jet fuel. So we want you to think about what is it that I'm doing in my in my program or project and how does that affect this problem? Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And that's that's it. If you are you if you're doing something in that space and you can show us how it's effective it's scalable or maybe it's really innovative then you know, you're gonna be noticed by our our organization and the last thing I'm gonna say is that the analysis process. 

Really follows the application. So if you do a good job reading the application and answering the questions, you'll probably do a good job in our analysis process. Got it. That makes sense. And is there anything else applicants should know before applying in terms of eligibility or anything like that? 

I'm thinking can for-profit companies apply. Is it just for non-profits? Is this applicable to just projects or ideas? Does it have to be in motion already? Could you just talk a little bit more about who specifically would be eligible? Yeah it yes. It can't be just an idea. It has to be a programmer a project. 

And it can be a for-profit or a non-profit and we've had different organizations from all over the world both for-profit and non-profit that have been our laureates. And the one thing to kind of really speaks to your question Ryan is that. We really support all of our applicants not just our finalists or our winners through our what we call the troposphere which is our network and our stratosphere partners which are people like project drawdown and through our constellations program, which is a virtual internship program that I think we're just on the verge of getting it funded so it will be a paid internship program. 

I love that program. And you can actually speak a little bit to that Ryan because you've applied for some internship. Some of our constellation interns and we just love it so much because it's so impactful. Yeah, I had four constellation interns last summer and they were all wonderful. So I I'm very happy to hear that could be scaled up and and funded that's even better music to my ears. 

One more thing on the prize itself because I think some people might be curious, you know, when and if I apply for for stuff like this, I'm always like, okay how much time am I gonna put into it and what are the chances? I actually win. So, I don't know if you can share this or not. 

But how many applicants do you expect this year in 2021 and I guess I do the math in my head and divide by the is a five categories or six categories. It's five categories ten winners. So you didn't win earners twenty five thousand dollars for each winter and in five categories. 

Okay, so can you tell us how many applicants you're expecting to get? You know I can't Ryan not 'cause I don't want to but because I don't know, I mean in the past what we've done is we've capped the applicants and last year, we capped it at three hundred and okay. 

You know this year, we did not cap it. I don't think we're gonna go flying past that but we you know, I just want to emphasize that winning the prize isn't the only good part of this this organization and I do realize that the people need they need funding. 

You know, and this is a really important part of organizations trying to get through the kind of problems that they're having. With funding I think as the prize starts becoming more and more well-known. I'll be better at kind of unleashing other ways of getting funding and that's a big part of what I want to do with my own personal career path is unleash other ways that organizations can get funding. 

As you probably know it feels so often like we're all trying to compete for the same dollars and I I don't like that being sort of the issue where the pie is finite. I think we have to really expand where the money is coming from. I I do see it happening and I do want people to realize that the financial structures have to be expanded for green energy and climate solutions. 

Yeah a hundred percent I think you're you're spot on I've already I've already found this personally through the the constellations intern program, but just the ecosystem itself and starting to make connections whether it be with students finding jobs in climate organizations or maybe some organizations already connecting with each other if they're in similar space, so they're definitely a lot of value beyond just the financial aspect of this which I deeply appreciate and we I'd like to get a bit more into this fear. 

But before doing that I'd love to hear specifically about some of the winning organizations if you can think of one or two and in each category or maybe just tell us a bit about your favorites like I'd love to hear the projects that are having this really big impact out in the world that reducing emissions so I always find these stories inspiring and gives me a nice dose of hope which I think we could all use in these times. 

You don't one of the things that people say to me is that they love seeing our winners because it they see an organization that looks like them and then they feel more inspired to apply for the prize because they're just like well, you know, if wild coasts doing mangrove restoration can win why can't I and I love that about that diversity of our winners and so we have 30 winners over the past, you know three years and we're going into our fourth year it's I've certainly not going to say that I have favorites that's like picking a favorite child. 

But I can say a couple things about like the diversity of organizations that have won over time there's organizations that are fully about the industry like like bolder industries, you know uses tires that have been thrown away and they create something called carbon black that they reuse it's a very very high industry kind of organization and lands a tech that's doing jet fuel nato energy is doing micro hydro in countries around the world. 

And then we have really small organizations like chemologues which is doing biofuels out of invasive high ethic hyacinth in the hills of Kenya and then Takachar which came out of MIT which is another organization during biochars what time does software on efficiency and their if they've partnered with Rocky Mountain Institute and they're business model is just taking off. 

And then we have organizations that do direct air capture like carb fix and finance organizations like the generation forest which is teaching people how to use the forest in a financial and financially smart way where you become vested in the health of your forest and then you don't exploit feedback is about food systems and having like a closed loop in your food system so that you don't have as much food waste. 

Anything is repurposed. SBTI is another one of my favorites and they're actually using science-based targets to work with corporations around the world helping those corporations learn more about what their carbon footprint is and how to make it smaller and SBTI after winning the prize just did an amazing job of marketing and it just really up their game so they're working with all kinds of amazing corporations around the world, it's really neat to see their name, you know. 

On websites everywhere about the work they're doing that is awesome I mean you just rattled off so many that's fantastic. I think it speaks to it just goes back to how much needs to be done and how many different approaches need to be taken and the understanding which is why I think much of why I'm such a big fan of the KCP it's it's a very comprehensive kind of strategic approach like so many different things need to be done. 

I'm glad you guys are focusing on all these different categories and all around the world so that is awesome kind of tying into how many different organizations. Are now have now applied have a one and are part of this sphere, can you tell us a bit more about how that's going and any stories that have come. 

From it of of impact so you can join our troposphere when you apply for the prize you can opt in and we take a look at what you're doing and invite you into the troposphere and if we feel like you know, you you are seriously in this space and then you become a part of our our larger sphere and the larger sphere includes a stratosphere partners which are people like prime coalition and project drawdown who could maybe take your program or your project to the next level and you don't even necessarily have to like be a finalist or a winner to get. 

That there what I do is I curate certain organizations and pass them on to some of our stratosphere partners and say, hey you guys should look at these these organizations because they're doing something that you might be interested in covering as stories or funding at a higher level or something along those lines, so that's kind of what our stratosphere partners agree to do to be a part of looking at what we've cultivated and curated and take it to the next level and then, A part of our sphere is our constellations program which actually is this virtual internship program that benefits both the interns and the organizations that hire them in such an amazing win-win situation. 

We're also looking at kind of increasing some of the other programs like our media program within the sphere to which this year, we did a vote climate public service announcement that was seen by I think it was a close to two million people. Wow, I had a the elections and you know, it basically just reached out to. 

Moms and dads and from the the viewpoint of younger people and why they should vote climate That's very cool, I can definitely link to that in the show notes in case people want to check that out. There's something in there you just said that I want to clarify in case people aren't familiar with it. 

I think a lot of people who listen to this might know project drawdown already. I talk about them a fair amount but you also mentioned Prime. Can you just talk very briefly about who they are and what they're up to and how they fit into all this Prime Coalition is a non-profit that's based in Boston that. 

I'm actually funds innovative projects that might be unknown a little bit and they fund them at like a million dollars per program or project and they're a stratosphere partner that looks at some of our troposphere members when I pass on information that has been vetted by the killing curve price. 

Got it. Thank you for that clarification. All right, awesome. I think we are in the, Wrap-up section of this. So I asked these questions to to all guess they're much broader, but the first one is what are the books or book that you recommend or gift to people the most? 

So I'm a little bit of a science nerd and my favorite book is a textbook and it's about the four billion years of planet Earth and it's called the essentials of oceanography and it starts from you know, the beginning of this planet and kind of goes through to today. 

And for me that's the kind of book I love but that kind of goes, you know further than some people want they don't necessarily want to read a textbook but there's another book that I love that's called global warming understanding the forecast and it's by David Archer and it's a pretty simple read about. 

You know, what global warming actually is and I think most people if they kind of just even skim through it can learn a lot about you know, what we're talking about and and how to understand it. In a really comprehensive way and then if you want to go more on the climate justice social justice side. 

Here it's always good to read Naomi Kleins this changes everything. Yep, nice. So that's it. Yeah three top. My three top recommendations. Love it. The first one you mentioned I haven't read it. I've jotted all three of those down. The first one makes me think of Cosmos and Carl Sagan just that very ten thousand foot view look back over time, like how did we get here how does all this work which is I think very grounding. 

Yeah, I would recommend anybody watch the cosmos series because it's so fabulous and you know, Carl Sagan is a huge. Hero of mine. I love him. All right, so next question is do you have any key takeaways or a final message for folks listening right now? Uh, yeah sure. 

I global warming is a lot like going 90 miles an hour towards a cliff and right now we're in the situation where we need to just hit the brakes hard and you know, we're still gonna probably do some damage to our car, but we won't go flying off the cliff and the way I see it once we do go flying. 

Off the cliff and hopefully we won't then what are our options? I mean, we're gonna potentially have the ability to do direct air capture and to have find ways to draw down our emissions and the atmosphere but it's gonna get more and more expensive and the weather is not gonna wait for us to catch up. 

We're gonna have climate chaos continually and it's just gonna become worse and worse and worse they'll be climate refugees and we just have the opportunity now to see the future. And to slow down the devastation that we're causing as human beings on this planet. And it's such a big problem and there isn't just one way to fix it. 

All industries and activities in our world need to adapt to getting beyond fossil fuels. Yeah. I think this this next decade especially but I mean next week next year. What we do now has so that the consequences of it are so great it's kind of hard to imagine because it's gonna affect what this world the planet looks like for the next hundreds or thousands of years. 

All right. I like that analogy a lot and it just makes me think we're living in this, you know, very scary time but also one where there's so much meaning for the work that needs to be done. So, I mean, that's a silver lining but very silver lining but it's it's in a way we're doing very. 

Meaningful work which I think people are also looking for right now. So the more people working on this stuff the better and it's really really needed. So I like that message a lot. Last couple of things. I have here do you have any calls to action for people listening right now? 

Yes. Call to action would be apply for the prize. If you're doing something that is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or increasing carbon uptake apply for the keeling curve prize. We not only want to see your solution, but if it's a great one, we want to award you. The. Any prestige the killing curve prize Tell others in your network to apply for the prize. 

I know people think that it's a competition so they don't want to tell others but you know what? We try to help. We're trying to raise all boats. We're trying to get everyone thinking that climate solutions don't have to be unusual climate solutions should be every single day. And if you don't have a programmer project, you'll apply for the prize we'll find something in your world that you can join. 

Yes find a way to be more climate aware more climate. Conscious and more climate active And don't just think about it but do it. And if you're an organization that is already doing it and you want to get a constellations intern then right now is the time that we're taking the job descriptions for climate interns and we're going to get that program for the spring semester up and running in a few weeks. 

Awesome. Spread the word folks got to raise all boats here all in this together. To anyone listening wants to learn more or to follow your work, where's the best place they can do that worship? They go. Well, we do have a website and it's global warming mitigation and we have a LinkedIn a Twitter a Facebook and a YouTube channel and those are all healing curved prize or at k curve prize. 

So they can find us there. I will throw that in the show notes. Awesome. Well, Jackie, thank you again for coming on the show and for all the important work that you're doing and the team is doing over at the the KCP and thank you to everyone listening as well. 

Make sure you pass this and, Feel along to anyone you know, who may be interested in applying for the price. Take care all.