Paul Hawken Drawdown book climate solutions

In the midst of the constant bad news about climate change, Drawdown is a breath of fresh air. 

Instead of telling us more of what we already know (or don’t want to know), Hawken has rolled up his sleeves and gotten on with the job of trying to fix the problem. ‘Drawdown’ has pulled together the 100 most substantive solutions to the climate crisis. 

The full book title is: ‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming’As the word ‘comprehensive’ suggests, a lot of work has gone into researching and developing the suite of solutions. It’s unusual too to hear talk of ‘reversing’ global warming. Normally doing something about climate change is about ‘mitigating’ and slowing it down. 

“If we’re going in the wrong direction, why would we want to slow down in the wrong direction? Why wouldn’t we stop and turn it around.” 

– Paul Hawken, ‘The Intellectual Environmentalist’ on The Environment Show

What is Drawdown?  

Drawdown is the point where greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and come down.  

Hawken organised a team to map, model and measure the most substantive solutions which could make that a reality. He started with the idea of using existing technology. The things we already know that will work. 

“Eighty of the solutions analyzed are in place, well understood and are scaling. What our 70-person global research team did was measure the impact the solutions would have if they continued to scale in a rigorous but reasonable way, and what the cost and profits would be.”

Paul Hawken, ‘What Does the Environment Movement Need Right Now?’ 

The Drawdown book is largely a reference book – both smart and easy to digest. It sets ups a list of solutions, ranked by their potential to reduce carbon, brief explanations of each, and even cost estimates to ramp them up. 

What becomes clear from Drawdown is that our existing idea of solutions has been too narrowly focused on a few obvious solutions – like wind energy, solar energy and electric cars. We need a whole suite of solutions to draw down greenhouse gases. In his book, Hawken is proposing 100 solutions to draw down greenhouse gases. 

“Our way of looking at this (the solutions) has been prescribed by Al Gore and others as wind and solar and wind and solar. This idea that if we just go to clean energy we get a hall pass to the 22nd Century. It’s just not true. Of course, it’s important we do them, but you can’t just choose the charismatic solutions and say if we do those we’re good.” 

– Paul Hawken, ‘The Intellectual Environmentalist’ on The Environment Show 

How Drawdown came about 

International Panel on Climate Change IPPC
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has been giving us a “problem statement” for decades. (Pic via UN.)

The first real impetus for Paul Hawken came in 2001 following a dire assessment of the climate situation by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC.) 

He began to wonder why everyone was talking about the problem and no-one was talking about the solutions. 

“The science on climate change is an extraordinary problem statement. The headlines that come out about extreme weather, fire, ocean acidification, and so on, all validate that problem statement. But we keep immersing ourselves in the problem rather than accepting it and saying: Got it. Now let’s work on the solutions.”

– Paul Hawken in ‘A Plan to Reverse the Climate Crisis’ 

Over a number of years, Hawken spoke with a range of academics, NGOs and activists about properly researching and bringing together those solutions. All thought it was a good idea but committing to the mammoth task remained a stumbling block. 

Then in 2012, he read Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying Math’ – which highlighted the vast amount of fossil fuels in the ground that is yet to be burned. And how we’d all be toast if the fossil fuel companies got to carry out their business plans. This was when Hawken really got going. 

By 2014 he set up ‘Project Drawdown’ – an NGO and what was to become a book. 

“Although we’ve had public discourse about global warming for over 40 years, no one had measured the top solutions to climate change, until now.” 

– Paul Hawken ‘What Does the Environment Movement Need Right Now?’ 

How Drawdown was done 

Project Drawdown is basically a big maths exercise. The team set out to calculate the most impactful solutions to climate change without bias or foregone conclusion. 

Comprehensive lists of climate solutions were gathered and then filtered down to those that had the greatest potential to reduce emissions and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. 

The work was done by 230 research fellows from 22 countries using over 5000 references. 

“Every carbon number is peer-reviewed data. We didn’t use anecdotal data.”

– Paul Hawken, ‘This book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change’ 

Literature reviews and detailed climate and financial models were used. Numbers were drawn from respected institutions. Outside experts evaluated inputs, sources, and calculations.

“With respect to greenhouse gases, we relied completely on peer-reviewed science, using the more conservative data where there is a spread. On the financial side, the measurement of cost and return, we only used data from the most respected international organizations: the IEA, FAO, World Bank, IPCC, etc. And again, we were conservative on costs and the rate at which costs would go down. The data employed in the models is not our data. We are transparent about where it comes from.” 

– Paul Hawken, ‘A Plan to Reverse the Climate Crisis’ 

Hawken maintains if anything their estimates are conservative. He didn’t want to be accused of getting the outcomes wrong. 

“We erred on the conservative side over and over again because we didn’t want anybody to look at this and say they didn’t do their homework.”

– Paul Hawken, ‘100 Solutions to the Climate Crisis’ 

What’s also important about the work is that eighty of the one hundred solutions are existing, commercialised technologies that simply need to be scaled up. Twenty are what Hawken calls “coming attractions” – ideas that have good potential that is not yet commercial. 

You can find all the solutions and reference to the data behind it at the Project Drawdown website – www.drawdown.org/solutions

What are the solutions to global warming?  

According to Hawken the results of their research and analysis surprised them. The top solutions were quite different from what they expected. 

“If you had asked us at the outset to name the top five or 10 solutions, we would have gotten them wrong.” ~ Paul Hawken 

Here’s an overview of Drawdown’s findings. The size of the slice in the pie chart shows the relative importance of different solutions. There’s a good explanation of each of the 100 solutions in the Drawdown book and on the Drawdown website

Drawdown book climate change solutions

The mosaic of solutions to ‘drawdown’ greenhouse gases and reverse global warming. 

What follows is a synopsis of just a few of the solutions. We’ve highlighted some of the most interesting and surprising solutions in the Top 10. 

Refrigerant Management    

air conditioning refrigeration global warming solutionRefrigeration: 90 gigatons of CO2 could be reduced. (Pic by Zulki Jrzt.) 

The top solution surprised everyone working on the project – refrigerant management. Hawken himself says he wished the number one solution was sexier. 

The reason this one is so significant is because the gases from refrigeration are thousands of times more potent than CO2. The proposal is about retrofitting refrigeration systems to reduce HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons.) 

You can see refrigerant management in the large purple slice of the pie chart above. 

The team at Drawdown even say their numbers on this are conservative. They played it safe and didn’t take into account a recent international agreement that proposes to phase out HFCs – because they couldn’t get reliable numbers. (But if it does come to fruition it could mean avoiding an additional 25 to 78 gigatons of carbon dioxide.)  

Food   

food waste Drawdown global warming solutionReduced food waste: 70 gigatons of CO2 could be reduced. (Pic via OzHarvest.) 

You can see how many of the solutions related to food in the number of red slices on the Drawdown pie chart above. 

“Food as a sector was the largest group of solutions.”

– Paul Hawken, ‘The Intellectual Environmentalist’ on The Environment Show 

The food system as a whole, particularly when you add its transport, plays a major role in greenhouse gas emissions. It follows then that changing how we do it can play a key role in solving global warming. Even more so, when you realise that the farming of plants can additionally sequester carbon. “It’s a twofer” as Hawken told me. 

Hawken was also surprised by how high a couple of the specific food solutions were in the ranking of solutions. Reduced food waste was number 3 and a plant-rich diet was number 4. 

Hawken isn’t saying we all have to give up meat, but he does make the point that we overconsume meat in Western countries and that has a major impact on the environment. 

“The impact raising meat has on the environment is extraordinary.” 

– Paul Hawken 

The Drawdown model reduced animal protein in developed countries and raised it in countries where there was a deficiency. The goal is to have the world eating a healthy diet with more plant-based protein overall without eliminating animal protein. 

The impact of food waste was another surprise to the Drawdown team. They also say its impact could be even higher in real terms as the project didn’t count methane emissions from food in landfill. That’s because there wasn’t a reliable way for them to measure it. 

Women and girls  

Drawdown educating girls climate solutionEducating girls: 60 gigatons of CO2 could be reduced. (Pic via Drawdown / Hugh Sitton.) 

“We think it’s a solar panel that’s going to save the world. It’s not a panel — it’s a woman!”

– Paul Hawken in ‘A Plan to Reverse the Climate Crisis’  

The number 6 solution is educating girls. The number 7 solution is family planning – clinics to support women’s reproductive health — not just in the developing world but also in the West. 

These two solutions are clearly linked. It’s well documented that women and girls who are better educated have fewer kids. Slowing population growth will mitigate human impact on the planet. 

If these two solutions had been combined in Drawdown’s calculations they would be the number one solution. 

“Both issues are intertwined: If you leave girls in school and support their education, they tend to plan their families very differently. When they’re married off early, which happens all over the world for cultural and religious reasons, their choices are made for them. Educated girls become women who make different family choices: they’ll have an average of two children rather than five or six. It’s the difference between high and median world-population predictions. Put six and seven together, and it becomes the number-one solution.” 

– Paul Hawken in ‘A Plan to Reverse the Climate Crisis’  

This TED Talk explains how empowering women and girls can play a major role in addressing global warming. It’s by Vice-President of Communication for Project Drawdown Katharine Wilkinson

Forests 

climate solutions forests trees greeningProtecting tropical forests: 61 gigatons of CO2 could be reduced. (Pic by Tobias Tulias.)

There’s an enormous amount of CO2 stored in forests that we need to avoid releasing. Clearly we need to hang on to the trees we have. One pressure point right now is the remaining tropical forests around the world. The number 5 solution is about protecting tropical forests

Trees and plants can also draw down carbon from the atmosphere. There are a range of greening solutions which will help do this – as you can see in the green slices of the pie chart above

“You can’t achieve drawdown (of greenhouse gases) unless you sequester carbon, but right now the only way we know how to do it in a reliable way is photosynthesis.”

– Paul Hawken 

For more on this often neglected area of climate solutions, check out this 3-minute film where Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot explain why and how we need to protect, restore and use nature to tackle the climate crisis.

Reality check (Can it be done?)  

But isn’t it going to be hard to get all this going? Hawken says the Drawdown solutions flip the current gloom and doom thinking and give us a positive doable goal. 

“Somebody can come back at us and say, “That’s very difficult.” Yeah, OK. But, better know that we can do it and it’s difficult than to not know it at all.  It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It doesn’t mean the odds aren’t long. But at least it means that we actually know that there is a pathway through that we have at hand.”

– Paul Hawken 100 Solutions to the Climate Crisis’ 

He also likes to remind sceptics that 80 of 100 solutions in the book are in place right now and already developing. As he says in our interview with him – 

“Every one of the solutions we modelled is scaling, and actually very well. That’s the hidden story.”

– Paul Hawken, ‘The Intellectual Environmentalist’ on The Environment Show 

Hawken says we have to understand that the old way of doing things (like getting energy from fossil fuel combustion) has had a 200-year head start. So it looks like slow progress in comparison. In fact, the rate of transformation in many of the new sustainable technologies is happening more quickly than we realise. (Think the rise of wind and solar.)

What we need to do is accelerate those solutions. 

What you can do 

Hawken says you should do what you can in an area that resonates with you. 

“Do whatever is important to you on an individual level. What lights you up? Whatever it is start there.”

– Paul Hawken 

Maybe it’s working with people accelerating the solutions. Educating girls. Impact investing. Even communicating the solutions. See which of the solutions you feel a connection with. Apply your skills & experience and use your professional & social network. 

In our interview with Paul Hawken, he spoke of the many different areas of human endeavour that have the “agency” to help accelerate solutions. And how we’re going to need all of them on the case. 

What’s next for Drawdown?  

At the time of writing this review, Hawken is working on the sequel – Drawdown Two. It’s a collection of all the top “coming attractions”. These are technologies still in development and almost with us. Hawken says they’re potential game-changers, but not yet proven. 

“Some of them will fail. It’s hard to say which will or won’t.” 

– Paul Hawken ‘This book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change’ 

One example Hawken cites in the above article is “living buildings” which would supply their own water by directly capturing moisture in the air. 

He also admits that as technology changes and new data comes in that the rankings in the original portfolio may well change. Some of the original Drawdown technologies may prove more effective than originally thought. 

Videos about Drawdown  

These videos will give you a good sense of what Drawdown is about. 

In this video, Paul Hawken, the Founder of Drawdown, explains the thinking and philosophy behind Project Drawdown (12 minutes) – 

This is a TED Talk in which the Research Director of Project Drawdown, Chad Frischmann, explains the key solutions in Drawdown – 

Read the Drawdown book  

Paul Hawken book Drawdown

You can buy Drawdown on Amazon – 

‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’ 

There’s a lot in Drawdown – 100 ideas – with plenty of depth behind how they got there. But you’ll also find the book well structured, interesting and easy to digest. 

We think it’s going to be an important go-to reference as the world comes to realise it needs to get on with solving the climate crisis. 

I am giving a copy to the politician who represents my electorate in the Australian national parliament. He’s new to the job, smart and looking like he may be a contender for a senior government position later on (I reckon in foreign affairs.) If he really is in this for the long haul he’s going to need this book. 

Ratings for the Drawdown book 

Our rating – 4.8 

Amazon – 4.6 

Audible – 4.3 

Good Reads – 4.4 

Interview with Paul Hawken

For the final word on Drawdown, listen to my interview with Paul Hawken. In it, he discusses the thinking behind Drawdown and how climate change may well be the catalyst for the transformation of humankind.

“Every problem is a pathway to transformation.”

– Paul Hawken, ‘The Intellectual Environmentalist’ on The Environment Show 

Related 

‘Drawdown’ is both an NGO and a book. Find out more about Project Drawdown (via their website.) 

Read our profile of Paul Hawken on this site. 

Check out our collection of Paul Hawken’s best quotes – including his thoughts on climate change. 

Phil Stubbs

Blogger, Podcaster, Producer at The Environment Show

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