Boiling the ocean

From time to time, we at Sigma Partners see business plans which are so large in scope that we worry the founders have overreached. We ask whether they are "boiling the ocean", the quintessential example of a task that, surely, no-one can accomplish.

Looked at from the vantage point of my involvement in Jewish environmental non-profit, Hazon, we wonder whether humanity as a whole is succeeding in boiling the ocean as part of our global warming project. Even if we don't boil it, we may well be acidifying it quite successfully.

One response to global warming is called geo-engineering -- the concept of engineering solutions for the whole planet. Any geo-engineering project, were it to be a start-up seeking funding, would indeed be accused of trying to boil the ocean, even though they would likely be trying to stop exactly that! Unfortunately, geo-engineering projects are very difficult to model, and because of their enormous scale, are risky to undertake because the unintended consequences will be of that same worrying, enormous scale. In January, the Economist magazine reported on several geo-engineering projects and touched nicely on these themes. In March they had a more detailed report on one such project, based on seeding the oceans with iron (read the story) ... and the unexpectedly disappointing results from early tests.

I wonder from time-to-time whether the venture capitalists' natural skepticism about boiling the ocean should be equally applied to the opposite problem.

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