My Earth Day Post: Drawdown’s Top 5

drawdownDrawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken (Penguin, 2017).

Drowdown presents 80 substantive solutions to reverse global warming. They are based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers from around the world. Project Drawdown’s global solutions are grouped by category: Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, and Materials. And they are ranked from 1 to 80, with #1 having the most bearing on greenhouse gases, expressed in the gigatons(!) of carbon dioxide that would be removed between 2020 and 2050. And, in the section “Coming Soon,” another 20 forthcoming solutions are presented, some of which are very close at hand. There are also a handful of essays sprinkled throughout, by climate thinkers as various as Michael Pollen and Pope Francis.

The scientists, researchers, and policy-makers of Drawdown synthesized primary research from thousands of studies to determine the rankings of these solutions. And under each solution you’ll find plenty of details about what the problem is, how the solution works, the upsides and downsides, and the required financial investment or estimated savings.

This is not a book about ‘cap and trade’ or carbon credits or other band-aid type ‘solutions’ that allow us to go down the same wrong road, only at a slower pace. Rather, as in the military, drawdown here means a reduction and reversal strategy that changes the course itself. As hopeful as this book is in its arguments–that the reversal of global warming is still possible–it does not invite a “sigh of relief” or a Pollyanna-ish view that we will be “saved by technology.” Drawing down in this serious and determined way will take work, from every available set of hands—from national and international coalitions, from NGOs, from cities, towns, municipalities, and communities, from corporations and businesses and industries, from religious and tribal leaders, from educators, from farmers and ranchers, from individuals in their kitchens, their homes, their cars, their gardens. I hear it as a rallying cry and as an infusion of a much-needed sense of purpose. Drawdown does not dictate your personal role or roles; it does not tell individuals what they should do. But I will tell you, if you read this book—heck, if you read my postings about it– you will discover what your many contributions can be (maybe already are) to Project Drawdown.

Drawdown’s Top Five

1. Refrigeration (Category, Materials): The hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in 2airconrefrigeration and air conditioning have –gasp– a 1000 to 9000 times higher capacity to warm the environment than carbon dioxide. According to the Kigali agreement, a mandatory amendment to the Montreal protocol, HFCs are to be phased out beginning with high income countries by 2019 and in toto by 2028. Whether this can keep up with the fact that air-conditioning, once a luxury, is now commonplace worldwide is uncertain. But there are already alternatives to HFCs on the market, namely natural refrigerants like propane and ammonia. Dealing with refrigerants will be costly, but these costs are offset nine-fold, by solution #2’s net savings alone.

2. (Onshore) Wind Turbines (Category, Energy): Estimated to be the world’s cheapest energy source by 2030, wind has the potential to cleanly meet nearly all the world’s energy needs, particularly in conjunction with solar energy in areas of the world where wind is most variable and inconsistent.


3. Reduced Food Waste (Category, Food): It is estimated that as much as 30% of the global food supply is wasted, which means that 30% of all the resources (financial, human, and natural) spent in the production, distribution, and vending of food are also wasted. In poor countries food waste happens less on the individual level than from failures and inefficiencies at the level of transport, storage, and refrigeration. In high-income countries food waste is more a matter of vendor and consumer habit.

food waste

4. Plant-Rich Diet (Category, Food): Reducing meat consumption lowers methane emissions from cattle, reduces land use and the need to deforest additional land as pastures are worn out, shifts us away from a fossil-fuel heavy industry, and lowers water demand.

Healthy food in rustic wooden tray over grey background


5. Tropical Forests (Category, Land Use): I’ll summarize. Tropical forests are defined as those located within 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator. These forests have suffered extensive clearing, fragmentation, degradation and depletion. Their restoration (well in progress, both passively and by intention) is critical, since tropical forests have the world’s largest forest area and the highest carbon uptake. Likewise, when we lose forests, tropical or otherwise, high amounts of carbon dioxide are discharged into the atmosphere.  According to the World Resources Institute, 30% of the world’s forestland has been cleared completely, and another 20% degraded. Restoring these degraded forests, especially the tropical forests, is a crucial piece of drawing down.



What is my uptake from Project Drawdown’s top 5? What can I, Deborah, do to support these efforts?

  • I can plant trees, lots of them; and I can support those who do so on a larger scale, particularly organizations that work to restore tropical forests.
  • I can cut my food waste drastically; I know I can. And I can support local, community, commercial, educational, and national organizations who are committed to reducing food waste.
  • I can eat less meat. Definitely. And I can make sure the meat I do eat is local or grown in ways that are easier on the land, require less transport, don’t waste water.
  • I can keep my refrigerators and freezers up to date and properly dispose of broken or outdated appliances that use refrigerants. I believe I could live without air conditioning entirely. But my husband cannot. Still, I can turn that AC thermostat up a degree or two or three, in both the house and in the car. I can support and advocate for the organizations that are working to eliminate the refrigerants that increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • And I can be better educated about wind power, talk it up, promote it, support those who champion it and be more vocal to those in charge of energy subsidies which, at present, go almost exclusively to outdated and degrading forms of energy, namely coal and fossil fuels.

Wow. I guess there’s a lot I can do. And we’ve only gotten through the first five solutions. Stay tuned. I hope to talk about five Project Drawdown solutions each week or so.

Happy Earth Day. And, yes… I’ll say it. Why not make every day Earth Day?


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