When we think about solutions to global warming our most likely responses are – “electric cars, more efficient light bulbs, public transport, solar and wind power and eating less meat”. While these are all very worthwhile options, – do they stack up as the most effective measures and top priorities? Actually many don’t. And who would have guessed that refrigerant management would be No 1?
Until now no one has seriously researched and ranked all of the various possible solutions. Now a new book – “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” (Penguin Books), has been published by Paul Hawken along with a large team of research fellows, writers and advisors.
The book’s conclusions are astounding and sweep away many of the myths about which are the most effective options for not just reducing, but reversing global warming
The Drawdown book contains 80 solutions — “techniques and practices” — that are ready today, and that collectively can draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Many, if not most, of these solutions can be undertaken with little or no new laws or policy and can be financed profitably by companies and capital markets.
To qualify for inclusion, a solution must have proven to reduce energy use through efficiency, material reduction or resource productivity; replace existing energy sources with renewable energy; or sequester carbon in soils, plants or kelp through regenerative farming, grazing, ocean and forest practices.
Each solution is ranked by cost-effectiveness, speed to implementation and societal benefit. Also included is the projected savings in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the solution’s total financial cost — the amount of money needed to purchase, install and operate it over 30 years — and its net cost or benefit — how much money would be required to implement the solution compared to the cost of repeating business as usual.
Drawdown’s aggregate bottom line is shockingly affordable: When you total up the net first costs and subtract the net operating costs for all 80 solutions, the net operating savings add up to $74 trillion over 30 years.
It will surprise many – it did me – that energy solutions like solar, wind, nuclear, and geothermal are only 5 of the top 20 solutions.
Refrigerant Management Is No. 1
How many of us would have considered that refrigerant management would be the number one solution?
Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — the chemicals used in refrigerators, supermarket cold cases and air conditioning systems — have up to 9,000 times greater greenhouse gas warming potential per molecule than carbon dioxide. Creating refrigerant recovery “has immense mitigation potential,” After being carefully removed and stored, refrigerants can be purified for reuse or transformed into other chemicals that do not cause warming. It is costly and technical, but it needs to become standard practice.”
Over 30 years Drawdown calculates that 87 percent of refrigerants can be contained, avoiding emissions equivalent to 89.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide.
Women’s Work and Education
Another surprising conclusion related to Women’s work. If women smallholders get equal rights to land and resources, they will grow more food, feed their families better throughout the year and gain more household income. When women earn more, they reinvest 90 percent of the money they make into education, health and nutrition for their families and communities, compared to 30 to 40 percent for men.
Educating girls is yet another promising solution, because education correlates to higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. When girls attend school, their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished. All of which leads to reduced climate impacts.
When you add up these solutions — educating girls is No. 6 and family planning is No. 7 — empowering girls and women for addressing global warming represents the most impactful tool for achieving drawdown.
There are many other confounding conclusions in Drawdown. But what struck me as the most positive takeout is that there are many highly effective practices which we as individuals can adopt in our day to day lives, such as eating a more plant based diet and cutting down on food waste – to name a few.