In 2001, American environmentalist, entrepreneur and author Paul Hawken began questioning experts about how global warming could be halted and reversed. By that time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had published three reports warning that global warming would have damaging future impacts. Hawken wanted to know the most effective solutions, their potential if scaled up, and how much they would cost. He quickly learned there was no such inventory.
Fast forward to 2013, after Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth had rattled the public and further climate reports implied that it might be ‘game over’ for the planet. Always the optimist, Hawken preferred to see it as ‘game on,’ and in 2014 he co-founded the non-profit group Project Drawdown with environmentalist Amanda Joy Ravenhill.
Drawdown refers to the time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. The co-founders’ goal was to identify, measure and model 100 substantive solutions toward achieving drawdown to see what could be accomplished in 30 years.
In 2013, the most widely stated climate goals were to slow down or stop greenhouse gas emissions, but to Hawken those were necessary but insufficient goals. “If you’re traveling down the wrong road, you are still on the wrong road if you slow down,” he opined. The only goal that makes sense is to reverse global warming, he thought — and there was no roadmap for that. ProjectDrawdown would become that plan, but in a unique and holistic way.
Hawken and Ravenhill gathered the elements of a roadmap from humanity’s collective wisdom, as demonstrated in widely available practices and technologies that were economically viable and scientifically valid. Their sources were individual farms, communities, cities, companies and governments. For data collection and analysis they pulled together a coalition of researchers and scientists who compiled a comprehensive list of climate solutions. From that list they chose those with the greatest potential to either reduce emissions or draw down and store carbon from the atmosphere, reviewed the literature on each solution, and devised climate and financial models for each. Then outside experts evaluated inputs, sources and calculations.
Drawdown — the book and website
A summary of the findings was published in 2017 in a book edited by Hawken: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Surely as comprehensive as the subtitle asserts, it presents 100 ecologically sound ways to ‘draw down’ carbon from the atmosphere by working in co-operation with natural systems. The intention was to organize the information in useful ways, distribute it widely, and invite readers to amend, correct or add to the information, which was simultaneously placed on the drawdown.org website.
Both book and website are organized into eight sections: Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, Materials, and Coming Attractions.
Every solution entry contains: information on its history and science, some examples, a ranking in terms of its global emissions-reduction potential, an estimate of how many gigatons of greenhouse gases it avoids or removes from the atmosphere, and its costs.
Updated regularly on the website is a summary of all the solutions and their relative rankings in terms of effectiveness in reducing or drawing down carbon. These rankings are perhaps the most surprising part of the work of Project Drawdown, in that the most effective approaches are not what we would expect. Who would have guessed that refrigerant management and alternative refrigerants would both be in the top 10? That reducing food waste would be number one? Or that educating girls and family planning would be the second most important way we could reduce carbon emissions?
Since the book was published, Project Drawdown’s research has continued, and just this year they published the latest update — the Drawdown 2020 Review — available for free download from their website. They also produced a report linking achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with Project Drawdown solutions. Ultimately, we can build a regenerative society, because when we implement natural solutions to solve the climate emergency, we produce a plethora of cascading benefits to human and planetary well-being as well. Necessary requirements will be a new paradigm of co-operation, a vision of possibility and the collective will to address the issue. (…)