Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming

Maddy Harland | Thursday, 26th October 2017
A collection of solutions that when utilised in a designed whole, could change the world for the better. That is the plan: Planetary permaculture design. Read it.
Author: Paul Hawken
Publisher: Penguin
Publication year: 2017
RRP: £17.99

Drawdown is a fascinating book and the project itself is exactly what we need in a world divided by climate change scepticism and inaction. As explained on page 56, in 2013 Paul Hawken gathered 70 scientists and policy makers from 22 countries to research climate solutions and winnow their list down to 100 of the most effective ways to reduce emissions or sequester carbon and asks the question: What would happen if these were scaled up globally? Drawdown is when greenhouse gases peak and then go down year on year.

The solutions are listed in five categories. The first is Energy and presents technologies and strategies that supplant fossil fuels. Solar and onshore and offshore wind are no brainers. Controversially, nuclear is also included because arguably it can reduce CO2 by 16.09 Gigatons by 2050. What scientists can’t predict is the overall through life costs and the risks incurred by accidents and terrorism. Drawdown leaves you to decide whether this solution with ‘regrets’ should be utilised.

The next section is Food. The fourth most effective way of reducing emissions is to eat a plant rich diet. Improved rice cultivation scored 24th, Regenerative Agriculture 11th, and Tree intercropping 17th. You will find the hand of Eric Toensmeier (Carbon Farming Solution) in this section. Imagine if scientists could extrapolate how effective fully featured, integrated permaculture on land management could be, i.e. RegenAg + Biochar + Intercropping + Holistic Planned Grazing! To get this kind of data, the methodology has to take each technique case by case, not as a whole system, but in future the Drawdown Project may expand its criteria. The Project is at stage one – and I hope it will continue its research, and with adequate funding. (The first stage relied on goodwill and personal funds from Paul and others.)

The next section is Women and Girls. Family planning scores 7th as a solution. It is intimately related to the 6th: Educating Girls. Girls have less children if they are able to stay at school longer and marry later. Family planning obviously plays an important role in freedom of choice. If these two were combined it would become the number one Drawdown solution in the world. 

Next comes Buildings and Cities. The idea is to create biological and cultural arks by designing net zero buildings (79th), walkable cities (54th), bike infrastructure (59th), and utilising technologies like LEDs (44th) and green roofs (73rd). There is more – you have to read this book!

Land Use, the next section, is exciting. It looks at gigatons saved through actions like protecting forests (38th), coastal wetlands (52nd), tropical forests (5th), and peat lands (13th). Of vital importance is also leaving land to indigenous peoples to manage. This scores 39th. Bill Mollison was an early proponent of this.

Fourth is Transport: both implementing fuel efficiently, but also curtailing use. Yes, mass transit, electric cars and bikes, and high speed rail but no to current rates of use of all transport. We need to ‘telepresence’ more.

Last is Materials: household recycling (55th), alternative cement (36th), and, surprisingly, refrigerant management (air con and reclaiming fridge coolants) scores as number one solution. Then comes a future casting section about solutions we could do like building multi-storey structures from wood rather than concrete and small-scale ocean farms that regenerate ecosystems and provide food.

The book ends with Janine Benyus’ essay on reciprocity. This tells the story of the methodology of sciences like ecology, a science that understands that trees and plants do not just react to factors like climate or soil type, they are shaped by the relationship between themselves. In other words, the reciprocity of the parts effects the whole. This is key to climate science. Though we can now begin to calculate the most effective solutions in isolation, what every good permaculture designer knows, is that when the elements are placed in beneficial relationship with each other (i.e. birth control and girls’ education, or the combination of zero carbon buildings, walkable cities and smart low-e, insulated glass), we get exponential gains. This is what excites me about this book. It is not so much an appraisal of what we are doing now, it’s a collection of solutions that when utilised in a designed whole, could incontrovertibly change the world for the better. That is the plan: Planetary permaculture design. Read it. 

Maddy Harland is editor of PM

UK readers will find the book HERE