Drawdown – Reviewed

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global WarmingDrawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a hard read, not only due to the dense technical information but also because of the harrowing facts and the task faced by humanity. Drawdown refers to a scenario whereby we have reduced our CO2 emissions so much, that we are removing more than we produce. Negative carbon emissions. Without reading the epilogue, I corrected guessed how to use the book. See what solutions to climate change I can incorporate, into my everyday life. For me personally, I’ve started cycling more/using public transport, investing in ethical funds, growing my own vegetables (with limited success), saving water, reducing food waste (reducing Methane production) and holidaying less (mostly incidental). I have looked into home composting and may do it in the future. I think the biggest change people can make is veganism, vegetarianism or even flexitarianism.

My top/favorite solutions would be educating girls, family planning, farmland restoration, agroforestry (maximising space with more than one crop), silvopasture (integrates trees, pasture, and forage into a single system), regenerative agriculture, managed grazing, walkable cities, bamboo, protecting forests and peatlands. I picked these because of the return on relatively low investment.

And the top coming attractions:solid state wave energy (harnessing wave energy without moving parts), direct air capture, and seaweed feedstock. I’m not overly optimistic about smart highways, because of its most notorious incarnation “Solar Freakin Roadways” was a bit of a joke. Some of the others in this section are pretty farfetched too. Maybe nuclear fusion will save us all?

Some of the best facts have been as follows, Methane is up to 34 times more powerful at warming than carbon dioxide over a hundred year period. This is why in part using it as Biogas has its benefits. When considered over their lifetime, solar farms curtail 94% of carbon emissions that coal plants emit. Plus none of the harmful pollutants are emitted. It’s astonishing for how long humanity has known about anthropomorphic climate change. Alexander von Humboldt described the effects of human induced climate change in the early 19th Century.

What I especially liked about the book was how on each page, it would delve into the history of whatever was being talked about. In one section, it explains how the world shifts between ice ages. CO2 is drawn down by bacteria and other organisms eventually lowering temperatures. Over eons active volcanoes emit CO2 to gradually warm the atmosphere.

Detractors often pooh-pooh renewable energy as unreliable but as the book says, when the sun isn’t shining the wind is often blowing. A multi-faceted approach to energy needs will satisfy the grid well. Plus there are some rather ingenious approaches to power storage such as trapping heat in molten salt, raising water table heights or even mine carts. Critics will decry electric cars, on the basis of the carbon emissions required to make them but over their lifetime they save more carbon, than that that is emitted. Further, that they’re running on electricity generated from fossil fuels. Whilst that may be true, ever more energy is being generated renewabally and electric cars are 4 times more efficient than their counterparts. Electric cars produce 50% less CO2 than gasoline cars when powered from the grid, if the power comes from solar, a 95% reduction in emissions. Not to mention the lack of nitrous oxide pollution.

I didn’t know artificial geothermal even existed, in that rather than using heat from springs you can just go down farther enough and it’ll get warmer, by virtue of being closer to the core. This can provide a stable source of energy. This source isn’t without problems however. Biomass and burning waste are bridge solutions to drawdown, they’re only emitting CO2 captured recently from the atmosphere. Once a champion of Nuclear Fission, the book shows how it’s a regret solution, because of the waste it generates and how expensive it is.

Fundamentally, it comes down to money. Governments and investors seem uninterested in investing in these solutions with the same rigor as non-sustainable projects. Frustratingly, there are so many simple things governments and individuals can do but don’t, they just bury their heads in the sand. People’s attitudes are that, the most catastrophic effects of climate change will be felt by the following generations, even though effects are being felt now.

Currently neo-liberal capitalism especially and perhaps capitalism in general, is poorly equipped to deal with global emergencies such as climate change. So much of which is premised on eternal economic growth, no matter the destruction of the planet. It won’t favor a clean slightly expensive fuel source over fossil fuels (which are often heavily subsidized). Powerful lobby groups and existing infrastructure don’t help either. Even when they are on parity, renewables get a tough time. This is when governments need to step in, whose approaches have largely been lacking and uninspired. The Green Revolution doesn’t need to be about losing jobs and a slowdown in the economy, rather the opposite. When you can invest in these old industrial heartlands with clean, green jobs. Modern farming practices are extremely bad for the environment. Firstly, the carbon emissions from livestock and processing. Secondly, slash and burn practices to remove forests and other carbon sinks. Then the intensive, fertilizer/pesticide driven factory farming degrades soils so that all the stored carbon is slowly released.

What Covid-19 has shown me, is the reason people act for that and not climate change is, people think climate change will affect other people and not them.

I think reading this book in 2016 would have made me an optimist but after Trump has decried Climate Change as a Chinese hoax and pulled out of the Paris Climate deal, it’s cause for concern. Especially as the Paris deal doesn’t go far enough. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we’ve got a lunatic in the form of Jair Bolsarano in charge of Brazil and he doesn’t shy in letting the Amazon rain forest be chopped or burned down.

More info at drawdown.org

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