Drawdown, a new compendium of climate-stabilization tools and solutions edited by the versatile Paul Hawken, has an impressive subtitle: “The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” Does the book live up to it? Actually, it does—Drawdown is a great book that should have been written long ago. It will give you the best kind of hope, the kind that balances realism with radical vision. It isn’t perfect, but given it’s only the first product of an ongoing “Project Drawdown,” a coalition of scientists, technologists, and policy experts offering climate solutions, I trust that the gaps will soon be filled.
Why the term “drawdown?” Hawken—whose earlier résumé spans the civil-rights movement, green business, and a number of successful books (most notably Blessed Unrest, his 2007 overview of the global-justice and sustainability movement)—chose the term as a exercise in “the rectification of names.” The phrase is from Confucius, who said that proper names are necessary to both wisdom and success. Thus “drawdown,” a word to replace the timid “emissions reductions” and the almost defeatist “mitigation,” and to accurately denote the challenge of, well, drawing greenhouse emissions down to net zero by 2050.
Does this sound an impossible task? If you answer (or privately mutter) “yes,” you aren’t alone. But Hawken does not agree, and he’s gathered an impressive stable of allies—researchers, modelers, and in Tom Steyer, who wrote the foreword, a key next-generation California philanthropist, political activist, and major donor to the Democratic Party—to help him make his case. Stabilizing the climate system will require a heroic global effort, but the point here is only to show that, at least at the level of technologies and practices, such an effort can do more than merely succeed; that it can succeed well, and open into futures that we can actually bear to contemplate.
There are two reasons why Drawdown stands out among the many recent climate books. First is the systematic process by which the Drawdown team set out to show that we really can stabilize the climate system, in time to avoid cascading global catastrophe. To that end, the book is built around a set of 80 carefully chosen “solutions,” and 20 more “coming attractions”—potential solutions that aren’t yet ready for prime time. Each has been studied, modeled, and when both possible and proper (family planning is taken as a human right that is “inappropriate to monetize”), priced.
It’s an interesting set. Drawdown’s solutions run the gamut from rooftop solar to educating girls, from conservation agriculture to refrigerant management, from plant-rich diets to heat pumps, from alternative cement to indigenous people’s land management. Most are “no regrets solutions” that we’d be wise to pursue even if there was no climate crisis, but, interestingly, nuclear power is also listed, though it’s prominently labeled as a “regrets solution” that, this being an emergency, we might feel compelled to support despite grave misgivings.