Getting to Drawdown

Drawdown

Book CoverDrawdown, [1] a new book edited by Paul Hawken, presents about 80 proven action areas for reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. The book and its action areas take a notably comprehensive view by including greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, and by not limiting carbon dioxide emissions to those related to energy production. Each of the action areas is well researched, with quantitative projections for future greenhouse gas emissions reductions. About 20 “coming attractions” – emerging technologies – are also presented, but, appropriately, are not considered in a quantitative sense.

Since Climate Change is a set of anticipated negative effects from Global Warming, which is attributed to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, it follows that reducing future emissions of greenhouse gases can delay those negative effects. Further, there are natural processes that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (notably, but not exclusively, photosynthesis). If annual global emissions of greenhouse gases can be reduced sufficiently, then atmospheric concentrations of those gases can reach a point where natural removal processes, perhaps augmented with new technologies, can begin to be reduced — drawn down — year over year.

The book does not present a plan for systematically implementing the several action areas on a global scale, never mind the book’s subtitle. Realistically, creating such a plan, with an objective of achieving drawdown, is certainly not a simple matter. Effectively executing that plan is likely much tougher.

Challenges

There are a number of serious and fundamental challenges that creating and effectively executing a globally sufficient plan that should be expected. Here are two of them:

>> U.S. and the World: Over the coming decades, the U.S., along with other economically developed nations, faces a vastly different set of demographics than do less developed nations. Developed nations can expect slow population growth rates, aging populations and rather static economies. Less developed nations face more rapid population growth, along with rapidly rising expectations for economic growth. [2] This chart projects greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades: [3]

IEO 2016 - Carbon Dioxide

As you can see, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to roughly correlate with population growth and economic growth, such that the U.S. cannot directly control reduction in global emissions sufficiently to achieve drawdown. Even if the U.S. were able to eliminate all of its emissions, global emissions would continue to rise. Direct control over sufficient emissions reductions to achieve drawdown lies among the many developing nations, each with its own interests and priorities. There, the U.S. can only indirectly influence emissions to some degree or another.

This does not mean that American emissions don’t matter or should not be reduced. It does mean that the U.S. alone cannot achieve global drawdown.

>> Urgent vs Important: Dr. Covey [4] taught many of us that the urgent almost always gets priority over the important. At the most zoomed out level, Climate Change competes for active attention with other potential global threats, such as global war, financial system collapse, terrorism or epidemic. Zooming in, Climate Change competes with the panoply of routine business issues – supply chains, customers, production, technology, industry issues, ad nausium — for the active awareness of business people.

Drawdown provides a ready collection of proven techniques and a rational objective: achieving drawdown. An executable plan for achieving that objective within a few decades is still needed.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.


[1] Paul Hawken, editor, Drawdown The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Penguin Books (2017)

[2] For more on this, see: Carbon, America and the World, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2017/04/01/carbon-america-and-the-world/

[3] This chart is from the 2016 International Energy Outlook, published by the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Available on-line at www.eia.gov . The  chart is restricted to carbon dioxide emissions, rather than the more comprehensive view of greenhouse gases that Downturn takes. However, it does make the point that the U.S., of itself, cannot control reaching a condition of global drawdown.

[4] Covey, Stephen, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Revised Edition, Free Press (2004)