Despite Setbacks, Drawdown can help us meet our Paris Climate Targets

  • Drawdown

The past year has seen some startling setbacks for the United States in terms of climate action, from the rollback of EPA regulations to the decision to pull us out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In spite of these actions, we can look to grassroots efforts for inspiration and tools to help us move toward the sustainable future we want. Drawdown is one such toolset.

Before I talk about Drawdown, I’d like to note in particular that pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement may prove to be the most useful decision Donald Trump has ever made.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that the actual decision was a good one. In fact, it may have been one of the single worst decisions of all time. The decision was largely based on falsehoods. While most rollbacks of environmental protections have been regionally limited until now, this one impacts the entire world- and as such, it cannot and will not be ignored. It may in fact become the catalyst for a worldwide problem-solving wave the likes of which none of us has seen in our lifetime.

In Trump’s display of climate defiance, he has created a new kind of unity, and one that may in fact be powerful enough to change both the strength and the timeline of climate action. With cities, states, countries, companies, and leaders holding fast to the commitments outlined in Paris despite Trump’s best efforts to derail them, the only question remaining is this: which actions should we focus on to rapidly decelerate climate change?

Lucky for us, this question has many answers, and they have been there all along. Years ago sustainable business wunderkind Paul Hawken, the kind of luminary often invited to global sustainable development meetings, asked several of his colleagues familiar with climate solutions one simple question: what are the most impactful solutions to climate change?

Unable to get the same answer from any two people he asked, Hawken took matters into his own hands, assembled a team of PhDs and graduate students from around the world, and set about researching the impact of 100 existing solutions; primarily common technologies and practices. The resulting book, “Drawdown: The most ambitious plan ever devised to reverse global warming” is one of those rare moments of clarity in disorganized times. It assigns hard numbers to actionable solutions, including their climate impacts, costs and savings, all to answer the question of whether “drawdown”- the reversal of climate change- is possible.

And it contains more than a few surprises. Here is just a small sampling.

The way we store and produce Food

While many of us think that shifting our energy structure from fossil fuels to renewables is the most obvious way to fix our climate, it is actually the way we produce food which has the most potential to help us get to drawdown.

Among the top five solutions listed in the book are switching to a plant-based diet, reducing food waste, and better managing the way food is refrigerated (which, actually, has the greatest carbon impact of any single solution). Together, these three solutions hold the potential to reduce 226 gigatons of carbon- the same as removing all of the world’s cars from the road for 47 years.

Drawdown Depends on Regenerative Land Use

Regenerative land use practices can turn current carbon sources into carbon sinks. Some of these practices covered in Drawdown include nutrient management (more accurately matching nitrogen fertilizer application with the needs of crops), managed grazing (mimicking the migratory patterns of wild herds to increase carbon sequestration on grazed lands), silvopasture (raising trees and livestock on the same lands), and preserving the carbon sequestration potential of coastal wetlands, among others.

The tides already appear to be turning on land management, with governments and companies around the world making bold commitments to ending deforestation and restoring degraded lands.

Drawdown

Equity and Education of Women

Increasing equity is a great climate solution! The education of women and girls, women-owned smallholder farms and land management by indigenous people are all cited as practices that can help us achieve drawdown, and none too soon!

Climate change is inextricably tied to a variety of social inequities, and while this book points out a few of them, there are all kinds of overlaps in the solutions to social and environmental problems. Kudos are in order for Hawken and his team for promoting this crucial intersection, because our future depends not only on our understanding of the planet we live on, but on our ability to coexist with and lift up others.

Drawdown

Drawdown forms the basis of a unique and achievable plan (and, as Hawken himself noted during a launch event I attended sponsored by Ecotrust here in Portland, the only plan we have) to turn back the clock on climate change and its associated negative impacts.

The next logical step for the Drawdown team’s work is to provide regular citizens worldwide with the information they’ll need to help scale these solutions, from breaking down regulatory barriers to encouraging investments from private industry.

The time is now to assemble our collective strength, work together, and find ways to scale the Drawdown solutions (Hundredgivers has written on several potential solutions already). At the precise moment many of America’s elected officials believe they can ignore the call for climate action, we can use our voices- and this book- to catalyze real and lasting change for the better.

Liz Hardee

Author: Liz Hardee

Liz is a researcher, analyst and writer in pursuit of a stabilized climate and a more equitable world. She has authored articles for Solutions Journal and Triple Pundit, among others, and has worked to advance a low-carbon future across a variety of sectors. She lives in Portland, OR, where she tends her garden year-round.


2 Replies to "Despite Setbacks, Drawdown can help us meet our Paris Climate Targets"

  • Mark Trexler
    July 25, 2017 (10:25 am)
    Reply

    I admire Paul Hawken and his work, including on Project Drawdown. That said, Project Drawdown is one piece in a 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. To put many, most, or all of our eggs in the Project Drawdown basket is simply a bad idea, and I’ll note it’s an idea that Exxon and others love since it takes the pressure off major emitters and puts it millions of other decision-makers. Here’s the fundamental problem.

    Liz notes that “In Trump’s display of climate defiance, he has created a new kind of unity, and one that may in fact be powerful enough to change both the strength and the timeline of climate action. With cities, states, countries, companies, and leaders holding fast to the commitments outlined in Paris despite Trump’s best efforts to derail them, the only question remaining is this: which actions should we focus on to rapidly decelerate climate change?” No, that’s not the only question. The real question is whether there is any basis at all for such a statement. In years of searching I have yet to come up with serious analytical evidence to suggest that companies can or will solve climate change, or that cities can or will solve climate change, etc. etc. Climate change is a “wicked problem,” and the wicked problem literature is clear on the complexities of tackling such a problem. As long as carbon is generally un-priced or under-priced, for example, most economic decision-makers will not act in ways that tackle climate change. To suggest that decision-makers can voluntarily come together and somehow counter the lack of carbon pricing (and carbon pricing policy) requires some sort of serious supporting analysis. It can’t just be anecdotal arguments that actually distract us from the real challenge.

    • Kathryn Thomsen
      July 25, 2017 (1:20 pm)
      Reply

      Thanks Mark for your valuable input as usual! Of course, Drawdown is but one piece of the million-piece puzzle…I doubt very much that Liz is suggesting here to put all our climate solution eggs in one basket…she’s simply writing about some very tangible solutions that we’re both very excited about having attended the Drawdown talk recently in PDX… Regarding the issue of un or under-priced carbon and how to resolve, it would be helpful to see a simply-written piece (or webinar!) that lay-folks can sink their teeth into. It’s a very complicated topic…can you link us to such as piece? If you’d like to publish something here on Hundredgivers, please let me know – would love to feature such a blog on Hundredgivers!


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