Drawdown- The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming Edited by Paul Hawken

Article by Anne Joost


Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, is a collection of 100 substantive solutions that are already in practice in every sector of society. These solutions are scaled out 30 years in a rigorous way, and demonstrate a path towards reversing global warming. Each of the solutions does one or more of the following: reduce energy use, change the source of energy, sequester carbon. The goal is not to stabilize or mitigate carbon emissions, but to “draw down” carbon, out of the atmosphere. Drawdown is not just a book, but a project. A coalition of researchers, academics, scientists, policy makers, business leaders and activists put together information on climate solutions.

The table of contents divides the substantive solutions into different sectors, such as Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, Materials and Coming Attractions. Furthermore, each solution is ranked, on a global scale, based on the total amount of greenhouse gases they can avoid or remove from the atmosphere. The language used to describe the solutions avoids complex scientific or technological terminology. Descriptions are no longer than three pages and easy to understand. An overview of the history of the discussed solution is offered. The reader may stumble over some interesting historical facts. Did you know, for example, that the first solar array was installed by Charles Fritts on a rooftop in New York City, in 1884?[1] Additionally, a good overview of advantages or opportunities, as well as negative aspects is included.

Most of the solutions mentioned in the book are, as described by Hawken, “no-regrets solution(s)”. However, some of them do not fall into this category, such as nuclear energy, meaning that they have some draw-back. While there are benefits associated with nuclear energy, such as a low carbon footprint, cost and safety concerns are used to argue against this energy source. These “regret solutions” may be necessary in a move towards renewable energy. The reader also needs to keep in mind that the book focuses on a global view, and does not take into consideration specific local challenges. For example, the solution “wind turbines” will rely heavily on political and utility support for distributing wind energy from production location to demand location. While the authors hint at some of these challenges, the picture remains imperfect. This is to be expected from a book which aims to give an overview of existing solutions. Furthermore, in general, political action lags behind technological innovation.

While the section on Energy will demand action mostly by policy makers and the energy industry, the section on Food opens with a solution that every reader can apply individually: “plant-rich diet”. This solution is ranked number 4. “[T]he production of meat and dairy contributes many more emissions than growing their sprouted counterparts – vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.”[2] The authors reference a study from the University of Oxford, which claims that a worldwide transition to a vegetarian diet could business-as-usual emissions by 63%.[3] This, of course, is a large-scale view. The authors are aware that this radical shift will not occur any time soon, but raising awareness and offering delicious alternatives, even regarding meat as delicacy, are a first step. As the population is growing, sustainable solutions for food supply are not only beneficial for the climate, but also for meeting future food demands.

The reader may also stumble over some solutions he or she may not have heard of yet. Providing clean cookstoves, for example, cannot only save lives within a home. “Traditional cooking practices comprise 2 to 5 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.”[4] Traditional cooking practices include cooking over an open fire, using wood, charcoal, animal dung, crop residues and coal as fuel. Have you heard of multistrata agroforestry before? This is the name given for a practice that combines an overstory of tall trees with an understory of multiple layers of crops. “Multistrata systems can prevent erosion and flooding, recharge groundwater, restore degraded land and soils, support biodiversity by habitat and corridors between fragmented ecosystems, and absorb and store significant amounts of carbon.”[5]

Some solutions may seem surprising at first. For example, ranking and results of educating girls is ranked 6th. The authors state that girls’ education “is the most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.”[6] This is an economic approach to the solution. However, educated women are also more effective at building resilience towards climate change and environmental disasters. Traditional knowledge about land, food, and water can be combined with newly learned information.

The list of solutions is interlaced with various essays. One of which is an excerpt of Mark Hertsgaard’s book Hot – Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. This essays seeks to interrupt the doomsday tone climate change has taken on in the news. A man, known as Yacouba Sawadogo took matters into his own hands and developed a practice that restored soil fertility, an innovation known as agroforestry in the West. This story shows that local innovation is as valuable, if not even more valuable, than new technological innovations.

The book Drawdown is not geared towards economists, policy makers or scientists, but for all citizens of the world. No matter if you are a student, worker, business owner, farmer, or politician, you can approach this book, learn about the wide variety of solutions that are available to draw down greenhouse gases, and apply specific solutions in your life. What is your role in the process? Of course, the book is more of an introduction and overview. Nevertheless, it should also be part of a movement, according to Paul Hawken. “The economic data we have collected shows clearly that the expense of the problems in the world now exceeds the cost of the solutions. […] We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future rather than stealing it.”[7] While emphasizing the economic aspect of climate change, it needs to be combined with social and technological approach. Personally, I am not an economist and numbers do not have the same appeal to me as words. Each solution is ranked. Results include net cost, net savings, and the amount of CO2 reduced by 2050. The net cost of each solution is conservatively calculated by taking into consideration initial purchase, installment costs and operating costs over 30 years. The authors also take into consideration net savings. The book describes methodology and what the numbers tell us in the appendix. However, more detailed information will be made available on the website drawdown.org once the book is officially released on April 18th, 2017.

Spoiler: Ranked number 1 is “Refrigerant Management.”

[1] Drawdown, ed. Paul Hawken (New York: Penguin Books, 2017), 11.

[2] Ibid, 39.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 44.

[5] Ibid, 46.

[6] Ibid, 81.

[7] Ibid, 217.

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