by Lila Taheraly, Operations and Sustainability Associate
After learning about Project Drawdown last year, I could breathe a sigh of relief. I could finally envision an appealing goal for the world: reversing climate change. Not mitigating it, adapting to it, or solely reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but actually reversing climate change.
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming is a book which gathers 100 solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. It ranks them based on their potential carbon impacts in the next 30 years, and studies their implementation costs compared to business as usual (using fossil fuel oil, gas and coal). Published in June 2017, the book describes a possible and hopeful future.
What is Drawdown? Drawdown represents the moment when greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere begin to decline. Combined, all these proposed solutions could eliminate up to one trillion of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050 — enough to prevent the climate tipping point of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial level. These solutions would also cost less and create more jobs than business as usual.
Below are the top 10 solutions in terms of carbon impact and their potential carbon savings by 2050:
- Refrigerant Management – 89.74 GT CO2* eq.
- Onshore Wind Turbines – 84.60 GT CO2 eq.
- Reduced Food Waste – 70.53 GT CO2 eq.
- Plant-Rich Diet – 66.11 GT CO2 eq.
- Tropical Forests – 61.23 GT CO2 eq.
- Educated Girls – 59.60 GT CO2 eq.
- Family Planning- 59.60 GT CO2 eq.
- Solar Farms – 36.90 GT CO2 eq.
- Silvopasture – 31.19 GT CO2 eq.
- Rooftop Solar – 24.60 GT CO2 eq.
Beyond these 10 solutions, the real power of this book lies in the abundance of solutions and the measurement of their potential impact. These technologies all exist today, and some are scaling up right now. In the USA, in 2016, solar power employed more people than electricity generation through coal, gas and oil combined.
To reflect on this profusion of solutions, here is my selection of favorites through an award competition.
The unexpected: Educating Girls, ranked 6th.
Discovering “Educating Girls” as the 6th solution to mitigate Climate Change was fascinating! After the surprise, the explanation made perfect sense. Educated girls tend among others to have fewer and healthier children, to have higher wages and contribute more to the economic growth. In developing countries, educated women also grow more productive agricultural plots, and their families are better nourished. Today, there are still barriers preventing 62 million girls from their education rights.
The low-key: walkable cities, ranked 54th.
Walkable cities or neighborhoods favor walking over driving (thus reduce CO2 emissions but also improve health). In a neighborhood, walkability can include density of homes, offices, and stores; practicability of sidewalks, walkways and pedestrian crossings; and accessibility to public transportation. Today, demand for walkable cities far exceeds the supply. You can check the walkability of any location via applications like this one.
The never-heard of: temperate forests, ranked 12th.
We hear so much about the tropical forest degradation, than we tend to forget its sibling: the temperate forest. A quarter of the world’s forest lies in temperate zone, either deciduous or evergreen. 99% of it has been altered throughout history with timber, conversion to agriculture or urban development. This solution is to restore and protect temperate-forests on degraded land. Young temperate forests sequester carbon in both soil and biomass at very fast rates.
The most picturesque: in-stream hydro, ranked 48th.
While hydropower reminds us at huge dams, reservoirs, and big environmental impacts, in-stream hydro is defined as less than 10 mega watts hydropower technologies. They are small scale in-stream turbines. The advantage of small scale is that turbines can be designed to have a minimal impact on the environment and become accessible in remote territories like Alaska or Nepal, unlocking great potential.
The most related to our business: perennial biomass, ranked 51st.
Compared to annual crops like corn, perennial biomass grows for many years. In a climate perspective, it makes a fundamental difference. Perennial biomass throughout their lifetime requires fewer energy inputs, and prevents soil erosion, produces stable yields, supports pollinators and biodiversity. As an example, Pongamia, an oilseed producing tree, is a legume and fixes nitrogen naturally. Pongamia also grows deep roots thereby reducing water needs and increasing the carbon sequestration.
My favorite coming attraction: living buildings
Besides 80 solutions against climate change, Project Drawdown also introduces 20 “coming attractions”. One of them is “Living Buildings”. Living buildings answer the question: How do you design and make a building so that every action and outcome improves the world? For example, Living buildings could grow food, use rainwater and protect habitat. The Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, VA, completed in 2014 produces all of its drinking water from rainfall, uses 90% less water than a commercial building of the same size, and generates 83% more energy than it consumes.
Curious and inspired by Project Drawdown? You can visit their website, read the book, and come back to tell me about your favorite solutions.
*Note: 1 gigaton of CO2 (GT) = 1,000,000,000 tons of CO2.
At ambient temperature, one ton of CO2 holds on in 559 cubic meters (19,775 cubic feet), i.e. in an 8.25 m high cube (27 ft).