Book Review: “Drawdown”

Review Drawdown
The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming”
Edited by Paul Hawken
Penguin Books, 2017
256 pages, paperback, $23

“Drawdown,” edited by Paul Hawken, makes an audacious claim for its subtitle: “The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” But, it lives up to its claim of offering a broad picture of what the Earth, and we humans, need to do if we want to reverse global climate catastrophe.

What is “drawdown”? It means responding to this existential threat to our planet by not only zeroing out more carbon emissions but also by sequestering carbon in our atmosphere to reduce its warming effects.

The book provides summaries of 100 strategies, most or all of which need to be implemented if we are to turn around our dangerously changing climate. There are some we would expect: solar/wind energy, electric vehicles, composting, forest preservation, reusing paper and plastic. But there are many other lesser-practiced methods: Wave and tidal power, increased family planning, “smart” thermostats, expanding bamboo use, bullet trains, and alternative cement products are other necessary approaches that help make this a truly “comprehensive plan.”

Most of the methods mentioned include a calculated number of gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) that can be sequestered by 2050, an estimated cost, and the amount of savings through implementation. For example, expanded rooftop solar is expected to reduce 24.6 gigatons of CO2 at a cost of $453 billion with a savings of $3.45 trillion. The authors calculated refrigeration as the most effective way to reduce carbon dioxide, figuring almost 90 gigatons of CO2 can be sequestered by changing how we cool things and preventing refrigerant chemicals from escaping into the environment.

“Drawdown” separates 80 of its approaches into seven categories on topics such as energy, food, land use and materials. It also has 20 “Coming Attractions,” good ideas, such as seaweed as a miracle food for humans and animals, that weren’t being widely applied in 2017, when the book was published, but are ready for prime time now.

A plant-rich diet — with less meat — ranked No. 4 at 66 gigatons of reduced CO2, but reducing food waste — eating crooked carrots instead of throwing them “away” — ranked even higher at 70.5 gigatons. Our food system is a huge carbon polluter, but it can also be a path to carbon reduction and sequestration.

How do we turn around a climate teetering on the edge of collapse? Can we tackle this problem directly without causing panic or leaving it to powerful corporations or politicians who may put profit and political expediency above science and a healthy environment? How much must we depend on expensive technological fixes that may fail or not be implemented effectively? Will we require paradigm shifts in public attitudes that haven’t yet taken place? “Drawdown” barely addresses these thorny dilemmas.

However, “Drawdown” offers a big picture of what we as a global society need to do to bring back a more balanced and livable environment. This means changes in lifestyle for most of us. The book emphasizes not just what we can do as individuals but also what organized groups, like MOFGA, and movements, like organic agriculture, must do, too.

Larry Dansinger, Bangor, Maine

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