There is growing consensus that human impact on the environment has placed our planet into a new geological period of time called the Anthropocene. In Earth’s 4.5 billion years of existence, this is the first epoch to be defined primarily by the actions of humans. Industrialization, nuclear weapons and the burning of fossil fuels have left an indelible, permanent mark on the complex clocks and counters that scientists use to measure geological time.

In this small but deep lake in Ontario, Canada, researchers have measured largely undisturbed core samples from the lake bed. From those samples, they’ve detected a clear and obvious spike in plutonium from nuclear testing and increases in fly ash from coal burning starting in the 1950’s. The aptly named Anthropocene Working Group has proposed Crawford Lake as the official designation site of this period where human influence on planetary health represents a break in time for the planet.

Crawford Lake, Ontario, Canada
Crawford Lake, Ontario, Canada


While the designation of Crawford Lake as the beginning of this new period of geological time is not yet official (scientific consensus often moves at glacial speed), there is no doubt we have reached a breaking point that we may or may not be able to turn back from. From that vantage point, where and how can we support science and technology that makes a sustainable and positive impact on the planet? That’s one of the questions at work at Freeflow and the investments we’re making in planetary health.

Perception Shifts and Government Policy Are Creating the Market

This part of our investment thesis is grounded in the change we can observe in the beliefs and actions of consumers and elected leaders alike. Awareness of climate change and its impact on the environment has increased dramatically over the past few years. A 2022 survey from Pew Research found that climate change is the leading concern of citizens globally:

“Among the many threats facing the globe, climate change stands out as an especially strong concern among citizens in advanced economies, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. A median of 75% across 19 countries in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region label global climate change as a major threat.”   (Source)

When “neither” is the answer to the “paper or plastic?” question at the grocery store, we can know this shift is permanent as people internalize the lasting effects of everyday decisions of convenience. But we can already see signs that an emphasis on sustainability results in sales growth. Sustainability is a market driver. While we must always be on the watchout for greenwashing, McKinsey and NielsenIQ came out with a report earlier this year to back this up:

At the same time, governments across the world are increasing their financial support of renewable energy solutions. In its June 2023 update, the International Energy Agency reported $1.34 trillion in allocations across 68 governments for clean energy investment support since 2020. The report found the EU was responsible for 2/3 of those investments.

In the U.S, the Inflation Reduction Act is swinging into action. In addition to addressing deficit reduction and inflation, the bill allocates nearly $400 billion in federal funding to support clean energy initiatives. This is the largest clean energy investment in U.S. history. The funding comes in the form of tax incentives, grants, and loan guarantees designed to spur action and investment in clean energy, transport, and manufacturing. The primary objective of this funding is to significantly decrease the United States’ carbon emissions by the end of 2030.

These incentive models from governments around the world are recognition of the importance of addressing climate change because of the risks they face. There’s the clear and obvious risk of doing nothing or not enough in the face of climate change. Yet, there’s also the less obvious risk of ignoring citizens’ primary concerns and being voted out. We see these trends amplifying each other and creating a growing market for sustainable products and renewable energy sources of many kinds in all geographies.

Hydrosat: Heat Map for the Planet

One Freeflow investment with a truly global view of planetary health is Hydrosat. The company deploys satellites to capture thermal and infrared imaging data of the entire planet. They then serve this data through a smart platform used by customers to inform decision making for crop yield forecasting, irrigation solutions, drought prediction, weather prediction & monitoring, and water resource management. Imagine your local water authority or farmer logging into Hydorsat each day as part of their routine way of doing their work. Hydrosat data is at the front lines of the global response to climate change and their mission already has great traction. Earlier this year, the company acquired IrriWatch, a Dutch provider of irrigation management software, and raised a $20 million Series A round, including $5 million in non-dilutive funding.

Here’s what CEO and co-founder Pieter Fossel told TechCrunch:

“The ability to track water stress and climate impacts in real time is a critical pain point for Hydrosat’s agribusiness, financial and government customers. This need is only being felt more acutely with the increasing pace of extreme weather events brought on by climate change and increasing instability in global food supply chains from geopolitics and the war in Ukraine.”

Captura: Harnessing the Ocean

Another planetary health investment is Captura, whose carbon removal system is pictured here in this rendering:

Credit: Captura
Credit: Captura

Founded in 2021, Captura provides low-cost atmospheric carbon removal by leveraging the world’s largest natural CO2 absorber – the ocean. With minimal environmental impact, using only renewable electricity and ocean water as inputs, the electrodialysis process generates a stream of pure CO2 that can then be sequestered or utilized to make other low-carbon products.

The company’s technology comes from Caltech and has a pilot deployment in AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles and another planned in Canada with more on the way. Captura CEO Steve Oldham shared in a recent announcement about their deployment with AltaSea:

“Now, our work with AltaSea means we can further accelerate our technology and monitor how our system interacts with the ocean, and we couldn’t think of a better partner to help us take our progress to the next level. Alongside the support from SoCalGas, this really is a great example of California companies working together to take a leading role in the fight against climate change.”

Harnessing the power of the ocean for atmospheric CO2 removal is an audacious vision. But it’s one based in science. Captura’s technology is rooted in Henry’s Law, which in this context aims to establish a balance between atmospheric CO2 concentration and the oceans. Captura’s co-founders are two Caltech professors: Harry Atwater, Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, and CX Xiang, Research Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science. Earlier this year, the company raised a $12 million Series A investment round.

Questions of Science to Answer Human Challenges

Similar talents and intelligence that 100 years ago worked to create affordable, but ultimately unsustainable and damaging, forms of energy now work against a different set of questions. How can we make energy affordable, plentiful and clean? Can we intercept the effects of the climate impacts we’re already experiencing? How can core sciences and computer intelligence integrate to make new kinds of breakthroughs? By supporting companies that are answering these questions, we can contribute to scientific progress.

Just as we find lasting evidence of human impact at the bottom of a lake, we find answers through the scientific process. Hypotheses are tested and confirmed or refuted, and the cycle repeats, with steady progress. Science is an exploration of what’s possible. By accelerating this learning curve with the motivation to improve the health of our planet, almost anything is possible, even turning back the geological clock.