Project Drawdown is an accessible and comprehensive inventory of solutions to global warming: a catalogue of the top 80 methods and technologies for reducing and removing carbon emissions. By scaling up existing solutions, it is not only possible to stop global warming, but to reverse it. At the same time, most climate solutions also make social and economic sense, making us healthier and better off.
A catalogue of solutions
Project Drawdown was started by the well-known environmentalist and author Paul Hawken, who wanted to know if the practical solutions we have are actually enough to solve the problem. When he asked the question, no one knew. The first results of were released as a book in 2017, to critical acclaim.
The genesis of Project Drawdown was curiosity, not fear. In 2001 I began asking experts in climate and environmental fields a question: Do we know what we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?Paul Hawken
Project Drawdown was started in 2014 as an international coalition of more than 200 researchers and scientists from over 20 countries spending more than two years or to map, measure, model and describe the most substantive solutions to global warming. Think of it as an IPCC for climate solutions.
Paul and his team scoured the academic, peer-reviewed literature to discover the best technologies, tools and methods. They were not interested in pie-in-the-sky ideas relying on hitherto uninvented technology or undiscovered principles of science, but things that work. They include all the ‘standard’ solutions — wind and solar power, electric vehicles — but also some surprising ones, like educating women and girls. Many concern how we dispose of land and produce food, important topics that tend to get less attention. In addition, they found 20 ‘exotic’ solutions that may help is in the future but are not ready and may never be.
For each solution, they collected data on how much they contribute to reduce or remove emissions, as well as their costs and savings. With this data, they could create scenarios for 2050: versions of the future where the world has applied these solutions to solve the climate crisis. These solutions were then ranked in terms of carbon impact, from refrigerant management (#1) to building retrofits (#80).
From the scenarios they created, the answer to Paul’s question emerged, and it was a resounding yes. We have all the solutions we need. It is possible not only to arrest global warming, but start drawing down carbon from the atmosphere. With a reasonable effort, we can start reversing global warming in the second half of this century.
How to make a better world
Most of the solutions discovered are ‘no regrets’ solutions, things we would want to do even if there was no global warming problem because they would make us better off, healthier and more comfortable. Altogether, they could save the world more than $40 trillion by 2050, for example through reduced waste and higher efficiency.
Take renewable electricity solutions, like wind turbines both off- and onshore (#2 and #22), solar farms (#8) and geothermal (#18). Together, they can remove 152 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide while producing cheap and clean energy without pollution that is dangerous both to the climate and to human health. Electric vehicles (#26) help too, removing road pollution that cause lung disease, cancer and many other ill effects. And fuel bills, they’re gone.
Many solutions are not glamorous but quotidian, pragmatic and boring. A case in point is refrigerant management, the number one solution. By replacing the chemicals that run our air conditioners and refrigerators with less polluting alternatives (even CO2,carbon dioxide, recycled from air!), we can reduce global carbon emissions by almost 90 billion tonnes by 2050 compared to carrying on as usual, while costing 900 billion less.
Or take food. Just wasting less food (#3) or getting the right balance between meat and vegetables in our diets (#4) will make an enormous difference. Waste is expensive while diets with too much meat and not enough fruits and vegetables have been firmly linked to poor health.
There are many more solutions and the point has been made, but it’s worth considing two more: educating women and girls (#6), and family planning (#7). They are two sides of the same coin, and combined, make the #1 solution. It simply involves making sure women and girls, especially in poorer countries, are educated to the same level as boys and men, and to make sure that women and their families have adequate access to family planning services.
This is not putting the responsibility for global warming on the shoulders of women and girls any special. It is merely a recognition that educated women live more rewarding lives and contribute much more to their societies while getting the opportunity to have children by choice rather than chance. To call for education of women and girls is to say we need to stop excluding half the human population from economic, social and political life.
We are aware that more science is only part of the answer. Unbounded and uncritical belief in the goodness of science and progress helped get us into this mess, so it’s reasonable to think that more of the same will not get us out of it.
We recognize that we don’t fix our problems without also addressing the underlying values and world-views that led us to this critical juncture.
We don’t fix any problems unless we stop creating them through all our destructive practices — tearing down, exploiting and destroying our resources, without a care for tomorrow. Other environmental problems assail us on all fronts because we have not yet learned to appreciate that we only have one planet, and it cannot sustain the current level of use very much longer.
We have to acknowledge that our Earth and nature itself has lessons we must learn. By using the wisdom of indigenous peoples, acquired over thousands of years, we can learn to live within the boundaries of nature while producing food in plenty. For example, combining orchards with cropland (#28) is suitable for many types of plants while being more productive than monocultures. In addition, trees help remove carbon from the atmosphere.
We have to learn to address our problems as societies and communities, not as individuals. We can be free while also recognizing that we are part of a whole, counting 7.5 billion other people, all with needs and wants, just like ourselves.
We take heart form the fact that Drawdown isn’t just another technocratic plan — it contains many of the tools we need to address our towering problems, for which global warming is just a symptom.
Inherent in the list of solutions is a major transformation of the global economy; to how produce things; to how we grow our food; to how we get around; even to major social problems. It contains another agricultural revolution; it addresses poverty; it calls for the full involvement of women and girls in shaping our future; it will transform how we build cities.
Drawdown is the endpoint we need to aim for, and when we reach it, we will have changed the world.
The Drawdown Approach
All in all, Drawdown is more than just a catalogue of solutions — it is a new approach to action on global warming, or at least a renewed emphasis on an existing idea.
We need to change the conversation away from abstract goals and the consequences of climate change; away from shaming or scaring people to action. If 30 years of advocacy has shown us anything, it is that an approach based on fear causes paralysis, not action.
There is a better way: we want to reframe the issue in terms of solutions rather than problems; in terms of the future we want to envision rather than the one we don’t.
This is why we have created Drawdown Toronto: to demystify climate action; to educate people about solutions; to push politicians to act with courage; to invite people to shape the future of this city, the country and the world; to enable people to build a better future.
We don’t call for transformative change because the transformation is already happening. We call for everyone to be involved in the transformation and to help accelerate it. Then we can get the planet and the future we desire: a healthy, prosperous and sustainable Earth for ourselves and generations to come.