If global warming is ‘feedback’, it is vitally important that human society respond to it if we are to create a pathway to a more sustainable way of relating to our planet.
Paul Hawken, environmentalist and author, aims to bridge the gap between urgency and agency, showing how we can use the power we have to create change now. In his recent book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming Hawken analyses 100 solutions to reverse global warming – based on effective responses that are happening around the world right now.
‘Drawdown’ is the scientific term for the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – the cause of global warming – beginning to decline. Paul Hawken says reduction of emissions isn’t enough and reversal is key – drawdown is the catalyst to this process.
The good news is that the 100 ways to get there are based not on emerging technologies or concepts, but practises we already have, that are expanding around the world. The solutions are ranked by effectiveness in their carbon impact through to the year 2050, as well as total and net cost to society and total lifetime savings.
So, let’s get straight to the point. Drawdown argues that management of fridges and air-con units is the number one solution. Chemical refrigerants, which absorb and release heat to enable chilling, have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Removing and transforming these chemicals into other chemicals that don’t cause warming will reduce 89.74 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, according to Drawdown.
But it’s in combination that the solutions will achieve reversal. It’s a welcome perspective that diverse land management, education as well as scaled technology, will allow us to adequately reverse climate change. Here are some examples from Drawdown.
Educating girls (ranked #6)
Drawdown highlights that women with more years of education lead more vibrant lives that positively affect their families and communities. They also have fewer and healthier children – and curbing population growth significantly avoids emissions.
Further, Drawdown maintains that educated women have better nourished families and more productive plots of land, and are more effective stewards of soil, trees and water. Resilience in food production through a changing climate will have impacts that resound throughout the world.
A few key initiatives that enable girls to access education are:
• making school more affordable
• reducing the time and distance to get to school
• helping girls overcome health barriers, and
• making schools more girl-friendly.
Drawdown calculates that 59.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide will be reduced by 2050 by educating girls.
Wave and tidal electricity generation (ranked #29)
Drawdown suggests that wave and tidal energy is a largely untapped energy source that utilises oceanic flows to generate electricity. Although the constant and hugely powerful nature of tides and waves holds great potential, the challenges of operating in harsh and complex marine environments has stalled developments in energy generation from the ocean.
Wave energy typically relies on generator devices floating on the surface of the water that convert wave movement to electricity. Tidal uses underwater turbines that spin and create power from rising and lowering tides. Supporters believe wave power could provide 25% of US electricity, for example, says Drawdown, and around the world technologies are being tested and improved to capture and convert the incredible power of the ocean into energy.
Drawdown approximates tidal and wave energy could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 9.2 gigatons over thirty years.
Indigenous people’s land management (ranked #39)
It makes sense that those who have lived on the land the longest are those best equipped to care for it.
As Professor Stephen Garnett points out, Indigenous people are crucial in conservation efforts as a quarter of all land is in their hands – over 38 million square kilometres. Indigenous lands encompass nearly two-thirds of the world’s most remote and least-inhabited regions. Further, an incredible 40% of lands listed by national governments around the world as being managed for conservation are Indigenous lands. Australia would never meet its obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity if its Indigenous peoples had not been prepared to allocate more than 27 million hectares of their land to conservation.
Drawdown’s analysis has found lower rates of deforestation and higher rates of carbon sequestration on lands that Indigenous people manage. Sequestration is where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form – although this can be done artificially, forests do that well.
Indigenous communities have long been the frontline of resistance against deforestation. Their land management practices also encourage biodiversity and safeguard rich cultures and traditional ways of life. Expanding the areas under secure Indigenous land tenure can sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says Drawdown. Some actions include:
- engaging the local community to manage forests
- shifting swidden cultivation, which employs slashing and burning to clear land
- agroforestry – growing and conserving trees as part of the agricultural system, and
- using fire as a tool to maintain ecosystem dynamics.
Drawdown estimates that approximately 849.37 gigatons of carbon dioxide captured in the biomass of forests and soil will be protected by Indigenous land management.
Finding the most effective way to contribute
The climate has always changed over time. It’s time to acknowledge that we’re contributors to this change and then start focusing on what we can do to positively drive that change. It’s important to reframe the ‘problem’ of climate change to perceive the change as an opportunity for improvement. Hawken encourages us to shift the language around climate change away from war-related expressions like ‘fight against’, ‘combat’ and ‘slashing emissions’.
Responding to our changing climate is an opportunity to build a healthier and more inclusive environment and society. It’s also an opportunity for innovation. From transitioning to a plant-rich diet (ranked #4) to ridesharing (ranked #75), there are many more solutions to explore, some of which may already be part of your daily life. Hawken says we need all of the solutions to achieve drawdown – so do what you’re passionate about to make a difference.