Project Drawdown gathers climate solutions
I struggle with climate change. It’s so hard to come to grips with the enormity and complexity of this global challenge, and even harder to know what to do. It turns out that Project Drawdown is just the thing I was looking for, to help me find some focus and optimism when the challenge is so immense.
Project Drawdown founder Paul Hawken, a well-known environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author, has had his own struggles with climate change. As far back as 2001, he started looking for the best approaches for addressing this central issue of our times. While he found high-minded strategies geared toward action by governments and multinational corporations, what he was after didn’t exist: a compilation of real world solutions that speak to us all.
In 2013, Paul began to assemble a coalition of more than two hundred scientists, researchers, fellows, writers, economists, financial analysts, architects, companies, agencies, NGOs, activists, and other experts. It’s an impressive team, and they’ve produced a book and website that highlights eighty of the most viable ways to “draw down” carbon from the atmosphere. By pursuing a wide array of strategies, we can not only slow the increases, but also begin to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide and other disruptive chemicals enough to stabilize the climate.
Project Drawdown’s book is a gorgeous, large format work that’s engaging and hard to put down. I left it out in our living room and it was like a magnet for the others in my family. Impressively, the companion website has much of the information in the book freely available, with more information to come.
Project Drawdown bills itself as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” That’s an audacious claim. And ironically, what makes this work so compelling is that it’s not really a plan. There won’t be any authority managing or directing the implementation of these solutions. Because this issue is larger than any government, corporation, NGO, community, or individual can address, the strength of the Drawdown “plan” is that it’s provides tools for all of these actors. Many of them have great promise for engagement at the local or county level.
The top ten solutions collectively demonstrate four overarching themes: energy, food, land use, and population. They are ranked by the number of gigatons of carbon dioxide each one avoids releasing into the atmosphere.
ENERGY. It’s no surprise that moving away from fossil fuels for the production of energy would be high on the list. #2 is Wind Turbines. According to Project Drawdown, wind energy has become the lowest cost source of new capacity at 2.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. Converting to wind could also produce phenomenal financial savings over fossil fuel production.
Coming in at #8 and #10 are Solar Farms and Rooftop Solar. With the dramatic reduction in cost in the last decade, solar PV is now competitive with conventional electricity in much of the world. The cost of solar electricity continues to drop; it’s soon expected to become the least expensive energy in the world. With trends like this, coal is not coming back.
FOOD. There has been increasing shareholder advocacy on the issue of food waste, and for good reason: #3 is Reduced Food Waste. Globally, it is estimated that one third of the food produced goes to waste, while food production accounts for one third of the world’s labor force. Despite all this effort, almost 800 million people are hungry on a regular basis. We can do much better. #4 is Plant Rich Diets. In Project Drawdown’s estimate, the western diet, with its emphasis on livestock, accounts for at least 15% of greenhouse gases, and as much as 50% when all the indirect emissions are included. If cows were a nation, they would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitters, principally due to methane releases. #9 and #11 are Silvopasture and Regenerative Agriculture. Silvopasture, or forest grazing, integrates trees with livestock, preserving biomass, while regenerative agriculture includes and goes beyond organic farming. All this adds up to huge opportunities in our food systems.
LAND USE. Deforestation contributes over 16% of greenhouse gas emissions. On the list at #5 is Tropical Forests. Recent research indicates that tropical forests are extremely resilient and could recover 90% of their biomass through natural regrowth. There are promising efforts to make forests ecologically robust and socially and economically valuable, reversing the financial incentives that have taken them down.
WOMEN and GIRLS. #6 is Educating Girls. Prioritizing the education of girls leads to higher wages, less mortality, less disease, and better living conditions. Not surprisingly, it also leads to smaller families. Indeed, #7 is Family Planning. Increased access to family planning and healthcare is essential to limiting future population growth. Without it, we may have an additional one billion people on our small planet by 2050. For their calculations, they split the projected reductions in greenhouse gas between them. What Project Drawdown doesn’t highlight, however, is that the combined impact of educating girls and family planning would be #1 on the list, primarily through less population. But what is number one?
NUMBER 1. What’s the number one solution? If you haven’t thought of it yet, don’t be surprised—you are not alone; I would never have guessed. At the top of the list is #1 Refrigerant Management. This unexpected entry is because hydroflorocarbons (HFCs) are 1,000 to 9,000 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. While the Montreal Protocol successfully moved the world away from ozone-depleting chemicals, this replacement refrigerant is poised to create its own problem in climate change. If we can tackle this one alone, we could mitigate 1˚F of global warming. Since 90% of the HFC emissions occur at the equipment’s end of life, the focus needs to be on capturing, recycling, or destroying these chemicals. Unlike the other items in the top ten that are projected to produce substantial savings, this effort is likely to be costly.
I don’t often find myself uplifted by what I read about climate change. Project Drawdown’s book has been different. I’m inspired by seeing what we collectively can do and are doing, and reassured that many of the areas in which I have focused my personal life and resources are listed in the eighty solutions. I’m now motivated to do more. Check it out at drawdown.org.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of the Natural Investment News.