January 13, 2019 by Jean
I am a voracious reader and have been for pretty much all my life. I remember my weekly dilemma when I got my library card at age four and could only borrow four books at a time from the library. While my mother went off to the adult library upstairs, I browsed books in the children’s library, agonizing over my choice. I needed to find four that I would enjoy reading over and over again, since they had to last me a whole week until our next trip to the library.
These days, I am not bound by such constraints. I typically have 6-8 books checked out from the library at any given time, and I also have ready access to the hundreds of books that fill bookcases in every room of my house. Winter is an especially good season for staying indoors and catching up on reading. I typically have two or three books in progress, including some intellectually challenging non-fiction reading, some lighter non-fiction like memoirs or gardening narratives, and a novel.
My current “serious” reading is Drawdown (Penguin Books, 2017), created by a coalition of climate scientists and edited by environmentalist Paul Hawken. This book is unusual in the climate change literature because it combines serious science with accessibility to a lay audience and (most importantly) optimism. The book uses current scientific data to assess 100 existing technologies that we can use not just to reduce the rate of carbon emissions from human activity but to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and re-sequester it in plants and in the ground, with the goal of reversing global warming by 2050. The book ranks these 100 technologies in terms of how important they are for reaching this goal. At the end, it presents several realistic scenarios for combining technologies to accomplish the goal of reversing global warming within the next thirty years.
The bulk of the book presents the 100 technologies, divided into chapters focused on various sectors of the economy that produce greenhouse gas emissions. These include energy, food, buildings and cities, land use, transportation, and materials. There are also chapters on how reducing inequality for women and girls are part of the solution and on “coming attraction” technologies of the future.
As I’ve been reading the book, I’ve been amazed and enlightened by how much low-hanging fruit there is in terms of action that could be accomplished now. For example, in the Drawdown Coalition’s “Optimum Scenario” (the one that produces the greatest reduction in atmospheric carbon by 2050), the fourth most important “technology” is reducing food waste. (Did you know that one-third of the food produced on our planet is wasted? In the United States, much of that wasted food ends up in landfills where it produces methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, as it rots.) The fifth most important technology is eating a plant-rich diet. We’re not talking about rocket science here! Educating girls and making family planning available in developing countries are also in the top ten (because both reduce birth rates and global population), numbers 8 and 9 in the optimum scenario.
Of the 100 technologies assessed in Drawdown, here are the fifteen that are singled out as most important, in order of their effectiveness as part of the Optimum Scenario: onshore wind turbines, protecting tropical forests, preventing the escape of refrigerants into the atmosphere, reducing food waste, eating plant-rich diets, silvopasture (grazing animals among trees rather than in open grasslands), solar farms, educating girls, family planning, growing trees for staple crops (e.g., bananas, breadfruit, avocados, coconuts) in tropical regions, protecting and restoring temperate forests, planting trees to create new forests, rooftop solar, protecting and restoring peatlands, and regenerative agriculture (agricultural practices that restore rather than deplete soil fertility).
What this list tells me is that solutions to our human-made climate crisis are well within reach. Despite this, a recent report shows that Americans actually increased our carbon emissions by more than 3% in 2018. The recent evidence of increasing rates of global warming and climate change have been alarming, but we don’t need to bury our heads in the sand and pretend it has nothing to do with us, and we don’t need to give up in despair at the magnitude of the problem. We just need the political will and leadership to take the action that is already available to us.
Drawdown is one of the most important books I have ever read, and I’m finding it both inspirational and hopeful. I am planning to recommend it to everyone I know, including all my Congressional representatives and senators. To learn more about Project Drawdown, click here.