“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
Like many others out there I am suffering from climate anxiety, and yes, it’s a thing. In fact, there is even a 9 step program for it available in some cities.
I sometimes feel like there is very little I can do to help reverse the fairly dire situation we have gotten ourselves into. Right now, people on the front line, such as scientists, politicians, and civil servants, are working on developing adaptations to climate change. There are small island countries, such as the Maldives, in the Pacific Ocean whose governments have bought land on nearby mainland for the inevitable time that their homeland is under water; officials from cities along the shores of the east coast of the United States are regularly visiting Holland to take lessons on how they have adapted to living below sea level.
Fortunately, there are people out there who are doing their best to swim upstream and not just adapt to our changing climate but provide solutions to help reverse climate change. That’s right – reverse – climate change. The book, Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, provides a reference manual for what can be done now and over the next 33 years to reverse greenhouse gas build up.
The book is laid out in a way that each solution provided takes up about two pages. (The book is the size of a coffee table book, so not something you want to shove in your purse or knapsack for a little light reading on the way to work.) The solutions are presented in easy to digest “bites” of information. They have really developed this book for the science newby. Each solution is laid out to help you understand what it is, where it comes from, who is currently using it, what some of the drawbacks are, and the effect it would have if a certain percentage of the global population adopted it. Five to ten minutes here or there is enough time to look at a solution.
The format for each solution is consistent across every sector so that comparing the various methods of GHG (greenhouse gas) emission mitigation is quick and easy. There is a quick snapshot in the right-hand corner of each solution of how much they estimate a solution will cost versus its benefits and how many tons of GHG emissions it will save. At the end of each solution is an analysis of how they’ve arrived at their numbers. Some solutions have hefty price tags — such as refrigerant capture — but the payoff is huge, while others have benefits that outweigh the costs such as widespread adoption of smart thermostats (and therefore, the implication is, that they should be implemented immediately).
Each solution has been grouped into different categories – Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, etc. 72 scientists from around the world contributed to this book so that the solutions are truly global in nature, as are the examples given. That is not to say that all solutions can be applied in every part of the world, or that each solution will have the same effect on GHG emissions in every part of the world.
The book provides a roadmap for governments and policymakers to help guide them as they move towards meeting their Paris Climate commitments, as well as education for the rest of us as to the impact of differing solutions.
While the book states that we can reverse climate change by 2050 if all of these measures of implemented (a tall order), it acknowledges three different scenarios – Plausible, Drawdown and Optimum, with each scenario taking more GHGs out of the atmosphere than the previous one.
The top 10 solutions to help capture or avoid GHG emissions are in the table below with respect to the “Plausible Scenario” (the least aggressive).
If you look at the chart, you will see that several solutions omit net costs and net savings. That is due to their being too variable to measure. Many of these solutions also involve cultural changes. Eating less meat in our culture can be tough for many people to swallow, while educating girls in patriarchal societies has been an ongoing challenge.
I found refrigerant capture surprising because of the reality of capturing it. Although capture is commonplace for industrial units, it is less so for residential units. The trick will be to implement systems to capture these gases effectively and that may involve subsidizing the current value of refrigerants in order to motivate their capture from smaller units.
The last three solutions carry benefits that far outweigh the costs. In fact, building more solar farms to replace power plants at the utility level will not only be cheaper, but save $5 trillion in lifetime operational costs. While it seems like a no-brainer on paper, resistance will be significant from power plant unions and companies with a vested interest in building resource-intensive structures (construction firms, cement companies, etc…). It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, but it will be an uphill battle.
This book provides some great reading about what measures are possible to help get us out of our current situation. The key will be getting policymakers to use this book at the reference guide it is intended to be and to have the political will to follow through with changes that are more imperative with the passing of each melting iceberg.
To keep up to date with the group’s research, you can follow their progress on their website.