Edited by Paul Hawken. Penguin Books, 2017. 256 pages. $22/paperback; $13.99/eBook.Buy from QuakerBooks
Beautiful and big, with striking color photographs on every page, Drawdown is like a carefully researched coffee-table book on hope for the future of our earth. Each one- or two-page section describes a particular solution to global warming that is currently in practice; offers an estimate of how much carbon it could remove from the atmosphere by 2050, along with associated costs and cost savings; and ranks it in a list of 80. Organized in seven sections—energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, transport, and materials—one can read through or dip in at any point. To round out the solutions to an even 100, 20 additional practices are suggested that are not currently ready to scale but hold substantial promise. A half-dozen essays are scattered in as leaven, inviting us to reach for our roots, remember our values, and keep the whole picture in mind.
For those of us who try to stay on top of the frightening realities of global warming, our reward is often an overwhelming and numbing sense of hopelessness. Drawdown is, first and foremost, an antidote to despair. The core message is that we know how to do this!
Eating low on the food chain, buying electric vehicles, and installing solar panels appear in these pages as part of the solution, but the focus is on collective action. And there is such a multitude of we’s! Groups of scientists working on energy efficiencies in transport, buildings, and materials production; associations of farmers, ranchers, and foresters spreading promising land practices; industries creating more circular flows of materials and energy; municipalities and states investing in infrastructure, regulating problematic practices, and incentivizing promising ones all are present. If we are not part of any of these groups, we can join efforts to encourage and support them, and educate others about their importance.
The book is full of gems. Who knew that there are wide differences in the climate impact of various rice-growing techniques? And different promising approaches to agriculture—mixing trees and pasture, mixing trees and crops, reducing fertilizer use and soil degradation in conventional farming while scaling up regenerative practices, restoring forsaken lands, managing irrigation and grazing with an eye to climate impacts—offer a dizzying variety of practical ways forward for anybody concerned about this sector.
In the transport section, solutions range from the highly technical to totally rethinking how people can be present with each other. On the one hand, adding a gear to the turbofan engine design on one airplane model has cut fuel use by 16 percent. On the other, scaled use of sophisticated “telepresence” can altogether avoid emissions from many business air travel trips.
For those who like answers, Drawdown‘s first ten solutions are: refrigerant management, onshore wind turbines, reduced food waste, plant-rich diet, tropical forests, educating girls, family planning, solar farms, silvopasture, and rooftop solar. It turns out that refrigerant management relates to phasing out dangerous chemicals in air-conditioning units, under a binding agreement signed by 170 countries in Rwanda in 2016—good to know about, but not likely a focal point for citizen organizing. Yet everybody can find something in this book to be passionate about.
It’s generally easier to focus on what we’re against than what we are for. Yet, while opposition to harmful policies and practices can’t be abandoned, working for solutions we believe in can both expand our circles and renew our souls. Whether engaging in regenerative agriculture, supporting mass transit, working on projects to educate girls, designing living buildings, creating bike infrastructure, campaigning for solar expansion, or backing indigenous land management, we are all working on the same issue.
The challenge, I believe, is in seeing whatever work we choose as a seamless part of a larger whole, learning how it is connected to everything else, faithfully following those connections, and not giving up. Rather than second guessing which strand of the garment is best to pull on, we need to pick up one that calls to us, pull, and not let go.
Raymond Williams, a Welsh writer, speaks to my condition when he says, “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.” Paul Hawken, editor of Drawdown, is of a similar mind. While some may see despair as a form of advanced spirituality, to me it seems both a luxury and a dead end. We must grieve for the state of the world, for sure, but then find ways to act in faith and hope. Drawdown is a powerful resource for that journey.