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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

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How Much Money Do You Need To Reduce Carbon?

money funding fundraising capital effective climate activism carbon drawdown

Beg for money and it comes with strings. Administering money diverts focus. Constant fundraising is a time-sucker. How can effective climate activists turn money into lubricant, rather than sludge?

After 3 years of money-free development, See Through has made great strides towards reducing carbon. To scale this up, should it now drop its 100% pro bono model?

So far so good

Since its Valentine’s Day 2021 emergence, the See Through project has made great strides towards its Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown By Helping The Inactive Become Active.

See Through’s many achievements have been documented on the See Through News website, and in the weekly See Through News Newsletter. A summary appears at the bottom of this article.

Apart from a few small donations for online hosting, and a half-million-dollar one that became a competition prize fund, everything has been created, executed and managed by a global network of experts from a wide range of disciplines, all working pro bono in order to contribute to the See Through Goal of:

Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.

So far the budget for the whole project, including tax, has been $0.00.

This article explores whether, when and how See Through might diverge from this zero-budget path.

Why need money?

First, why fix what ain’t broke?

If See Through’s rapid progress has been unencumbered by money, why consider introducing it?

Money and funding has been a constant debate, both internally and externally. The Money Question, remains a live issue, and is always open to revision. This article takes a step back to assess various different options, and consider the pros and cons of each one.

One practical reason for See Through to blow the dust from its pristine bank account is to stop spending so much time debating whether or not to use it.

Framing the debate as No Bank Account (NBA) vs. Begging Bowl has been useful in focusing minds on what we might need money for, but may no longer be helpful.

Debates tend to quickly stray from the shortest route to measurably reducing the most carbon, into various philosophical back alleys. Exploring the byways of economic theory and the nature of capitalism can be fascinating, for a while, but doesn’t reduce any carbon.

Dichotomising this complex issue diverts a straightforward, pragmatic discussion about operational efficiency into tributaries of abstract ideological debate, getting sucked into eddies, and running aground, on the chin-stroking shoals of nature of capitalism. It can get quite boggy.

The problem is that the time saved in not having to discuss fundraising, budgets and contracts can rapidly be offset by repetitious, unproductive debates about economic theory.

The Money Question still distracts from the core mission of speeding up carbon drawdown. It will almost certainly never go away, for one reason or another. This article is a review of current options that goes beyond the no-longer-helpful binary framing of No Money v. Sell Out.

Here are seven points, A) to G) that lie on the axis that runs from No Bank Account to Venture Capital, listing their pros and cons.

A) NBA: No Bank Account

The Business As Usual option is to keep operating 100% pro bono. This doesn’t exclude the possibility of adding another cash-free option, like option G).


  • If it ain’t’ broke, don’t fix it. Keep riding the gift horse as far as it will go.
  • U’S’P: NBA instantly and clearly differentiates See Through from a crowded marketplace of ‘competition’, whether in the field of commercial carbon auditing standards, or environmental NGOs.
  • Litmus Test: NBA is a quick diagnostic to separate potential partners who ‘get’ the See Through concept and methodology, from those who don’t or won’t. This avoids friction, and saves time for both parties.
  • Integrity: Scammers need bank accounts. Not using a bank account bestows instant integrity. This helps convince sceptical partners, and recruit new STN members/supporters.


  • Obstacle: For many, See Through’s unconventional approach presents a barrier for many to engagement. For every individual who sees NBA an an imprimatur of integrity, others remain suspicious of See Through’s ‘real’ motivation, or perceive it as flagging a lack of credibility or gravitas. Some even see it as evidence of an even more devious scam, even if they can’t quite put their finger on what it could be.
  • Practical: Money can be lubricant as well as sludge. Some things are done quicker and better if you pay people.
  • Efficiency: Much time is wasted unproductively talking about money rather than carbon reduction. 
  • Scaling: See Through is often told that its NBA approach may not work at scale (though many of the same people also asserted the Pilots would be impossible without money, which turned out to be an incorrect opinion rather than a statement of the obvious).

B) Self-Funding

This was actually Plan A, until the NBA approach turned out to be working well. Generating funds from its own activities remains See Through’s best option for retaining independence while generating income to pay for anything it can’t do for free. 

See Through has generated at least three original projects with potential to become profitable businesses:

  1. See Through Games (qua unique sustainability-related marketing data service for commercial brands)
  2. See Through Carbon (charging big businesses to solve their Scope 3 reporting problems)
  3. See Through Enterprises (provision of ESG services to major corporations)


  • Win-win: These businesses could further See Through’s goals, while raising money to invest in projects that require hard cash. 
  • Efficiency: If the business can sustain their salaries, management could be outsourced to paid professionals, allowing See Through to retain its focus on measurably reducing carbon.
  • Oven-ready: Much of the proof of concept for these three businesses has already been done for free, removing a large amount of the risk.


  • Distraction: Running a business, even at arms-length, is a time-sucking distraction, with different objectives to See Through’s core mission.
  • Salary envy: paying some people and not others risks creating a 2-tier system that will deter or diminish pro bono participation.

C) Free Lunches (grant/philanthropic funding)

The climate activism landscape is littered with tempting pots of money. Grants, bursaries, foundations and various forms of ‘free money’, however, usually come with some kind of price tag.


  • Not a myth: Pots of ‘free’ money in the form of no-strings-attached grants, or money with conditions that completely align with See Through’s existing Goal and Methodology, do exist. 
  • Low-Friction: The only cost to applying for grant funding may be converting See Through projects from their current status of limited-by-guarantee companies to some kind of social enterprise, Community Interest Company or (at greater expense) Registered Charity. 
  • No Risk: Tedious and demanding form-filling could be outsourced to professional specialist fundraisers, if necessary incentivised by a finder’s fee for funds raised. 


  • Myth?: Small print always includes strings of some kind – the devil is always in the detail, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 
  • Impermanence: Grants expire, often just when the project they kickstarted is ready to take off.
  • Distraction: Constant fund-raising sucks time, saps energy and deflects focus from carbon reduction. 

D) Equity Crowdfunding 

Unlike the first wave of ‘perk-based’ crowdfunding platforms, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, equity crowdfunding platforms like Wefunder or Seedrs offer formal equity shares in return for ‘investment’ in socially-beneficial businesses.


  • Structure: Equity crowdfunding platform provides a highly-regulated, recognised, established legal structure which applies the disciplines of conventional equity investing to social enterprises that are neither designed nor expected to deliver a return.


  • Permanence: Crowdfunding works well for time-limited projects, may be less suitable for programmes requiring long-term funding. 
  • Hassle: Equity crowdfunding’s highly-regulated environment demands a substantial bureaucratic overhead for compliance, which may not be better than less formal/single-source alternatives.

E) White Knight Benefactor(s)

There are a lot of rich people who share See Through’s goal of measurable carbon reduction, and are looking for meaningful uses for their fortune.


  • One-shot solution: See Through only needs to find and convince one rich person for all its money problems to be resolved forever.
  • Free shot: like grant applications, the White Knight search could be outsourced to a specialist third party. Even if they require a finder’s fee, it’s still cost free and zero-risk.


  • Not so simple 1: everyone else has the same idea.
  • Not so simple 2: Rich people don’t tend to give away money with no strings.

F) Conventional Equity Investment

Chasing philanthropic or grant funding means joining a crowded field chasing a very limited pool of funding. Being a straightforward business accesses a much wider range of potential investors.


  • No more philosophising: This is a business model everyone understands, sparing See Through the tedious NBA iceberg conversations and irrelevant debates about capitalism.


  • Corrupting: Silicon Valley is awash with case studies of well-meaning start-ups who find their core mission (in ST’s case, carbon reduction) is displaced by the bottom line once investors expect an ROI.
  • Self-defeating: conventional equity investment would stifle See Through’s strongest qualities: independence, integrity, fresh approach and originality.


This cash-free option has only recently become feasible as businesses big enough to have substantial Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes and budgets are moving towards Environmental, Social Governance (ESG).

To be clear, this is ESG in its ‘internal’ form (confusingly, ESG is also used as a term to badge premium ’green’ financial products, often fraudulently, giving this acronym a bad name).

These kinds of ESG programmes are budgeted, in-house programmes run by big businesses to prove its corporate good chops externally, and motivate, recruit and retain staff internally by paying them to do things other than generate profit.

ESG comes in many different forms. 

  • Some companies are flexible on how many days they pay employees to do ESG work, others specify 1, 2 or 3 days annually
  • Some leave the choice of ESG work up to employees, others only permit them to do accredited work
  • Some companies do all their ESG activities in-house, others outsource it to commercial suppliers (se B above)
  • Some prefer community-based volunteering (e.g. paying a software engineer to spend 3 days painting a village hall), others permit skills-based volunteering (i.e. the same software engineer could spend their 3 days coding part of a See Through Games Github repo)

The key point, however, is that any contribution, financial or in kind, that comes under the ESG rubric MUST come with no strings attached. Anything conditional, transaction, retaining IP etc. means it doesn’t count as ESG.


  • Cash-free: Providing See Through conforms to whatever legal entity requirements a company requires in order to to claim ESG credit, no money is needed.
  • First Mover: ESG is a very new market, with very few fixed rules, presenting a great business opportunity for a smart new supplier.
  • Track Record: Average take-up for ESG options at big corporations is around 15% (remarkably low when compared to, say, the take up of holiday pay). A big factor is likely to be that the options on offer are unattractive. See Through has spent 3 years developing, testing, and proving the appeal of a wide variety of ESG-appropriate projects, which the general public find appealing even though they’re not being paid by their employers to participate. See Thgrough should be able to help ESG staff at major corporations in improving their KPI of raising participation rates from current levels.


  • First Mover: see above – ESG is untested, virgin territory with no clear rules.
  • Time-Sucking: See Through has been in detailed talks with many companies, ranging from dozens, to hundreds, to tens of thousands of employees, with no results yet. Decision-making is slow because ESG has a low priority outside of company reports, ESG departments lack decision-making power and real budget control, or they do not yet have well-developed ESG policies.

What’s the (business) plan?

Here are some pragmatic questions to blow away the philosophising, and provide the specific nuance that may point in a more useful direction:

  • How much money does See Through need?
  • Who would get paid?
  • What would they get paid to do?

Sketching out business plans for, say, three different scenarios, might help direct discussion towards practical solutions, and away from vapid economic theory.

Retro-engineering a business plan from a budget is unconventional. Putting the cart before the horse, however, may help inform, or even settle, some of See Through’s Money debates.

As a thought experiment to get the ball rolling, here are three scenarios, with the starting point being different amounts of money.

The critical number, of course, is to estimate the amount of metric tonnes of CO2e each version might reduce or sequester, but thinking through these different scenarios may help imagine the different version of See Through each would produce.

£25,000 Version

£100K Version

 £1,000,000 Version

Product-Based Analysis

Alternatively, a product-lead analysis of See Through’s portofolio of projects might lead to different conclusions, or align with the budget-based perspective. Seen through this lens, here’s an analysis of See Through’s ’product range’:

Eyeball Acquisition/Unwilling Inactivist Outreach

Educational/Community Services

Scalable Data Projects

See Through welcomes any thoughts, feedback, comments or suggestions on its future path. Please email:


See Through Story: The First 3 Years

Here, including budget details, is a brief summary of what’s been achieved three years on:

See Through News (social media network): launched Feb 2021

STN’s global reach, mainly in the form of Facebook groups membership, has passed 350,000 and been growing at double-digits per month for three years. On track to pass 1 million by the end of 2024. Budget to date (inc. tax): $0.00

See Through Carbon (carbon auditing standard): launched Sep 2023

See Through Carbon Competition, was See Through’s response to an unsolicited donation of $500,000 worth of supercomputing, which came with only one string attached – an expiry date less than five months away. The gift was branded with See Through’s new carbon auditing standard, See Through Carbon, and designated as a prize fund for a competition to aid carbon drawdown in the Global South.

  • Dec 15 2022: conceived
  • Jan 1 2023: announced
  • April 10 2023: successfully completed

Details can be found on the STC and STN websites, and its remarkable story forms the first series of the STN podcast AI’s Dirty Secret, or How To Spend Half A Million Dollars of Supercomputing.

On September 1st 2023, the See Through Carbon website went live, explaining what’s wrong with Carbon Accounting 1.0, explaining what’s different about See Through Carbon, and detailing Pilot 1 (Wiltshire/SMEs).

By early 2024, 6 more Pilot projects had been added, covering UK Live Music, Global Industry, UK Healthcare, UK Local Government, Global Agriculture, and Global Textiles. Each locale and scope served to make STC’s standard as universal as possible, and different See Through assets and collaborators were deployed to provide different incentives for Pilot participants. Details are on the STC website, but the pilots are already collecting real-world data enhancing:

  • Quality: the robustness and flexibility of STC’s technical standard
  • Marketing: the leverage brought by other ST projects
  • Data Flow: the auditing and consultancy procedures on which to design a web and mobile app

Budget to date (inc. tax): $500,000 donated in kind.

See Through Together (video content productions): launching Q2 2024

Following the success of accumulating the eyeballs and attention of its Unwilling Inactivist target audience on the world’s via the free infrastructure of the world’s #1 social media platform, Facebook, STT targets the #2 platform, YouTube. STT Productions has accumulated a large and diverse pipeline of unseen, unique and compelling content to launch the channel, including:

Budget to date (inc. tax): $0.00

See Through Games (online games)

A suite of engaging games designed to entice players along a path that ends in measurable carbon reduction, and generate a unique dataset that can be traded for carbon reduction, or monetised.

  • The Think Game: hundreds of real-world prototypes filmed and data collated. MVP coded. Github repo drafted
  • The Learn Game: 10+ real-world prototypes filmed. Github repo drafted
  • The Act Game: real-world prototype tested. MVP coded. Github repo drafted

Budget to date (inc. tax): $0.00