He took on the KKK now Mr Nice Guy plans to save the planet ...
MANY persuasive, informed, high -profile people have publicly confronted climate change. Naomi Klein, with her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate. Al Gore, with his Inconvenient Truth documentaries. Leonardo DiCaprio, with his own substantial documentary, Before the Flood, and his recent $20 million donation to climate-change charities.
You might not have heard of Paul Hawken, but a new book he has edited could be our best hope yet to save the world. It is called Drawdown and its subtitle is The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming. A few months ago, Hawken was interviewed at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, California. The interviewer – journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard – expressed the hope that everyone in the audience would buy and read the book, and “treat [it] as if your life depends upon it. Because it does. And my life depends upon it, and my 12-year-old daughter’s life depends upon it”.
Hawken, a youthful-looking 71-yearold from San Francisco, is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, author and activist who, in his own words, has dedicated his life “to environmental sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment.” He has established successful and ecologically-conscious businesses and has consulted with heads of state and chief executives on economic development, industrial ecology and environmental policy.
In 1965, he was press co-ordinator on the Martin Luther King historic March on Montgomery, and a photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, focusing on voter-registration drives. He also photographed the Ku Klux Klan in Meridian, Mississippi, after three civil rights workers were tortured and killed – helping bring the story to the world’s attention. He is now executive director of Project Drawdown, a non-profit organisation that examines when and how global warming can be reversed. The aim is to achieve a drawdown in CO2 emissions.
The project reached out to researchers across the world to identify and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to tackling climate change. “What was uncovered,” says its website, “is a path forward that can roll back global warming within 30 years. It shows that humanity has the means at hand. Nothing new needs to be invented. The solutions are in place and in action. Our work is to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible. We chose the name Drawdown because if we do not name the goal, we are unlikely to achieve it.”
The solutions sweep across diverse fields – electricity generation, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, transport and materials.
Project Drawdown points out that inequalities mean women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to the impact of climate change, from disease to natural disaster. But they are also key to global warming being successfully addressed and to “humanity’s overall resistance”. Educating girls lays foundations for vibrant lives and is also a powerful tool in the fight against emissions by curbing population growth – put simply, educated women have fewer babies. Securing women’s right to voluntary, high-quality family planning would benefit the life expectancy of them and their children while also affecting greenhouse gas emissions. A third solution is to increase the yield of female farmers around the world (there are more women farmers in the world than men, incidentally), meaning less pressure to deforest extra ground and thus fewer emissions. Drawdown’s solutions propose increases in onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar farms, wave and tidal energy, and geothermal power. On the latter, the project notes that the heat energy contained below the Earth’s surface is about 100 billion times more than current world energy consumption. Other solutions include more high-speed rail, increased electrification of freight rail, more use of hybrid cars, electric bikes replacing cars for urban travel, increased usage of mass transit for city travel, and “walkable cities”, which prioritise two feet over four wheels through planning and design. Cutting food waste is also important, as is getting more people to switch to plant-rich diets. (The project reminds you of the startling fact that if cattle were their own nation they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.) The top-ranking, standalone solution in terms of reduced CO2 emissions (89.74 gigatons) covers the humble fridge and air-con unit. Old refrigerants – CFCs and HCFCs – that damaged the ozone layer have long been banned, but while hydrofluorocarbons, their main replacement, spare the ozone layer, cautions Hawken, they “have a global warming potential that’s thousands of times greater than CO2’s”.
The choice of “reverse” in the new book’s subtitle is no accident. Current levels of CO2 emissions are beyond anything previously encountered on Earth, Hawken says. “The idea of mitigation, reduction, stabilisation, to me seems kind of absurd and kind of weak as a goal ... The only thing that makes sense is to reverse it. Let’s go back the other way. I just felt, like, if you don’t name a goal, there’s little chance you’ll achieve it.”
Earlier he put it this way: “When words are used like ‘mitigation’ and ‘reduction’ and ‘slowing down’, it’s really like Thelma and Louise in slow motion. If you’re going over the cliff and you slow down, you’re gonna go over the cliff more slowly. If you’re going down a wrong road and slow down, it’s still the wrong road. So the language around why we should address this problem has been weakkneed, not really helpful.”
Drawdown is not a mere ambition “it’s about preserving civilisation”.
Paul Hawken helped bring the horrors of the KKK to the world’s attention Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images