Category Archives: Every Day is Earth Day

Drawdown: Women and Girls

This is the second in a long series of posts inspired by Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken (Penguin Books, 2017).

girls reading

As a reminder, Drowdown presents the 80 most substantive solutions for reversing global warming, meticulously researched by leading scientists and policymakers from around the world. Project Drawdown’s global solutions are grouped by sector: Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, and Materials. And the solutions 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. You can find a more complete introduction to this series of posts here, where you will also find my Earth Day post, detailing Drawdown’s top 5 solutions.drawdown

Solutions #6 and #7 both come from the sector Women and Girls, which happens to be the smallest category in the collection, containing only 3 solutions (compared, for instance, to 20 in Energy, 17 in Food, and 15 in Buildings and Cities). And yet 2 of the 3 solutions in that small category, Women and Girls, fall into Drawdown’s top 10. This is partly because women and girls represent a majority of humanity, at 51%. But it is also because “climate change is not gender neutral” and “women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from Malala Yousafzai’sdisease to natural disaster.” At the same time, women and girls are “pivotal” to successfully addressing global warming and its impacts.


6. Educating Girls (Category, Women and Girls): The authors of drawdown believe that malaevery life “bubbles with innate potential” and “nurturing the promise of each girl can shape the future for all.” And they argue that study after study bears out the truth in Malala Yousafzai’s (the Pakistan-born activist for girls’ education) famous assertion, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.”

Project Drawdown’s conclusions about the benefits of educating girls are based in voluminous research showing that women with more years of education have fewer, healthier children and better manage their reproductive health. “The difference between a woman with no years of schooling and [one] with 12 years of schooling is almost four to five children per woman. And it is precisely those areas of the world where girls are having the hardest time getting educated that population growth is the fastest.” Educating girls is the “most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.” All of which inextricably links solution #6 Educating Girls to the solution ranked #7– Family Planning. The two solutions are so interwoven, in fact, that the authors present all their figures (costs, savings, carbon drawn down by 2050, etc.) in combination, attributing 50% to each solution.


7. Family Planning (Category, Women and Girls): The success of this solution lies in increasing women’s autonomy in decisions about when and how many children to have. The emphasis is on a reduced number of births, hence on a more stable and sustainable population which, subsequently, will reduce global resource demand. Of course, this raises red flags—not only in countries where women traditionally have few rights and less say about how early or when they bear children or how many, but also in first world countries where women’s reproductive autonomy has become a largely partisan issue.

Also, the authors are well aware that the mere hint of population “control” can raise hackles. But not only are draconian, Malthusian, or eugenicist solutions (forced sterilization, one-child limits, etc.) undesirable, they are unnecessary to encourage and maintain healthy population levels. Only more and better education is necessary and, of course, equal access to it. I hope we can all get behind that.


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?