Field Notes

Paul Hawken and Project Drawdown

hawken drawdown

With his new Project Drawdown plan, entrepreneur and visionary Paul Hawken has an important story to tell. It’s a story about humanity’s positive future. A story about surmounting and, indeed, reversing climate change. Getting the words right for this story is something he cares deeply about.

“You can’t fight climate change,” Hawken told the sold-out crowd gathered in our Modern Grange this January.

“The last thing I want to use are metaphors of war, because that’s failing to bring people together,” he said. “And that’s because the human brain does not respond to future existential threats, period. We’re wired to meet human needs now.”

Where we are now is in a state of fear, Hawken observed. The news is bad, the headlines promise worse, the weather is crazy, we’ve tipped past the point, it’s all horrible.

Not so fast.

A companion to the website, Hawken’s new book Drawdown promises that it is “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” It’s nothing less than audacious. But better than that, it’s nothing less than absolutely possible.

Because Drawdown posits that the information, technology, and scientists needed to reverse global warming by 2050 already exist. The methods are already in place. The data points have been proven. The people are ready. But they’re everywhere. Scattered. Far-flung.

What no one has so far done is to take all of that innovative, solution-forward data on the atmospheric concentration of green house gases — and put it in one spot.

Gathering research from scientists working in what Hawken terms “cautious, moderate, respected institutions” in 22 countries across the globe, Project Drawdown does just that. The result, online and in Drawdown, is a considered, mathematical list of the top 100 best ways to draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases — either by avoiding emissions or sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

The Drawdown coalition is composed of over 100 researchers, scientists, graduate students, business leaders, and others from various fields who comb the scientific results. All of the research they use is peer-reviewed. “We simply do the math,” Hawken said.

Organized into sections like “Energy,” “Land Use,” “Materials,” and even “Women and Girls,” Drawdown examines innovations already in use — as with solar water heating in the Energy section — and extrapolates what would happen if their application were expanded.

With the solar water heating example, Project Drawdown researchers estimate that if the current 5.5% of the “adressable market” — those who get enough sun to use it to heat water — rose to 25% by 2050, the savings would be roughly $774 billion. Remarkably, 6.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions would be negated.

These are big numbers. Speaking to the SHED audience, Hawken referenced wind turbines as just one example. If wind turbines were adequately increased in their addressable markets by 2050, the financial windfall would be over $7 trillion. “And that’s a conservative estimate,” he stressed.

In fact, Project Drawdown’s conservatism is the most repeated criticism it receives. Rather than spinning fanciful numbers, its projections seem fantastical enough just remaining within the slim confines of reality.

“Ninety-eight of the 100 solutions in Drawdown have so many benefits that we’d want to do them even we weren’t in a crisis,” Hawken said. “We will have reversed global warming by taking care of people’s needs — not their greeds.”

Hawken is an advocate of no-till farming and told the audience about a type of kelp that is attractive to cows and, once ingested, reduces the resulting methane emissions by a full 70 percent. There are so many solutions. “Humanity is on the case,” he assures. “The ideas and implementation we need are already happening.”

According to the statistics compiled by the Project Drawdown team, the #1 problem of global warming is food production and waste and the #1 solution is refrigeration.

But take problems #6 and #7 and combine them. Suddenly the math changes again. Problem #6 is the education of girls; problem #7 is access to family planning. Add those two together and suddenly you have both the #1 problem and the #1 solution all rolled up into one. Might be, the future truly is female.

“Why do we never hear about women?” Hawken asked, seemingly exasperated. “It’s always this promethean attraction to technology.”

Project Drawdown and its companion book are weighty considerations of what it means to be a human on this Earth, with all of the possibility and peril humanity entails. The time for pragmatism, Hawken said, is now.

“Hope is fine,” he told the audience with a broadening smile. “But we’re about reality.”

Leave a Comment