January 30, 2023
TEDxBoston: The Drawdown Roadmap
Project Drawdown has used rigorous science to identify and characterize nearly 100 practices and technologies that, if ambitiously implemented together, can achieve drawdown—the point when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. Now, how do we scale them? The Drawdown Roadmap is a science-based framework to strategically and effectively deploy these powerful climate solutions in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The roadmap takes into account how opportunity for reduction is distributed across sectors, the relative cost (or financial benefit) of the various solutions, and where and when each might most effectively be implemented. In this TEDxBoston presentation, Project Drawdown executive director Jonathan Foley introduces the Drawdown Roadmap and outlines how this new plan for prioritizing climate action across sectors, time, and geography can “really drive change on climate change” while there’s still time. Watch “The Drawdown Roadmap: A Science-based Framework to Accelerate Climate Solutions" now.
January 17, 2023
Drawdown Science profile: Amanda Smith
This article is the second in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team. Amanda D. Smith, Ph.D., joined Drawdown Science as senior scientist, built environment, in December 2022. Amanda is a researcher and analyst with expertise in building science and energy systems modeling. Her professional career includes academic, national laboratory, and industry positions. Most recently, she served as senior energy analyst at SOCOTEC USA. She received her doctorate from Mississippi State University. Here, Amanda shares her thoughts on, among other things, the intersection of climate solutions and the built environment, life as the daughter of a nuclear engineer, and the ideal weekend. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them? A: I’m bringing more perspective on buildings and energy systems into Project Drawdown: how buildings consume energy; how large-scale energy systems work and interact with the economy, the environment, and the other human-built systems they're providing services for. I’m looking at all of that through a lens of climate solutions and improving the human experience in the world. Through research, outreach, and education, hopefully we’ll get the word out about the climate solutions that are ready to go and help people evaluate which to implement. Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join the Drawdown Science team? A: The mission really speaks to me. When the Drawdown book first came out, I had personally been discouraged by feeling like we as humans were very comfortable using resources and not valuing the planet and our fellow humans with less access to those resources. The book was inspiring, and the question was practical: We know we need to get to drawdown, so how can we do this? At Project Drawdown I have freedom to do academic research. I have opportunities to teach people. But I’m part of a small team. I feel like we’re nimble and creative, and there is a focus to our work. Even though the things we’re doing are so different, it essentially comes back to one shared vision. Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles to solving climate change, and how does your work with Project Drawdown address them? A: A lot of the obstacles are in perspectives and attitudes. I hope I can bring a wider perspective by asking questions like, “Why are we building things the way we are?” “Why are we using resources the way we are?” We have technologies that can help with this, and we should be deploying them quickly and strategically. On the technical side, we tend to look to adding more technology to “fix” issues with how our buildings affect the environment. But what I want to make sure is out in the public awareness is that there is a lot of knowledge in building science we want to take advantage of, not just new technology, and simplicity has a lot of value. For example, using best practices for designing and constructing the building envelope (like the Insulation solution) means we need less mechanical equipment to keep the building comfortable for the people inside (like the High-Efficiency Heat Pumps solution). This can also make building management simpler, conserve resources, and boost the building’s resilience to extreme weather or power outages. Q: Everybody has a superpower. What’s yours? A: Being a systems thinker—being able to ask questions outside of my discipline or go beyond the original question asked. It probably came from having a mom who was a science teacher and who encouraged me to ask questions. Q: What's a childhood toy or experience that relates to the work you're doing today? I grew up in Russellville, Arkansas. We have a nuclear plant in our hometown, and my dad worked there as a nuclear engineer. I actually got to visit the site as a kid, pre-9/11, and he talked to me about his job. You can see some of the plant’s interactions with the environment. There’s a cooling tower visible from miles away that is evaporating water drawn from the river as part of the plant’s cooling system—to a child it’s a big cloud-maker. Growing up with someone who was a power plant engineer gave me the understanding from a young age that the electricity I’m using is coming from somewhere. I don’t look at a wall socket and assume the electricity magically appears; I have always known that so much happened before that electricity got to the building. Q: If you could eat lunch with any famous person, living or dead, who would it be? A: If I can have two, I’d have lunch with Alan Watts and Chungliang Al Huang. It would be amazing to witness their interactions and get to ask questions. Their writing has changed my thinking on science, technology, intelligence, and what it means to cooperate with the natural world and recognize yourself as part of it. Q: What’s your favorite drawdown solution? A: My favorite solution actually isn’t classified as a buildings solution: It’s Plant-Rich Diets. I love eating vegan food, and I feel good about how it affects me, the broader animal community, and the wider world. Q: What gives you hope? A: A lot gives me hope. I feel like the conversation has shifted well beyond, “Is climate change happening? Should we change what we’re doing?” to a more complex conversation. We have work from Project Drawdown and lots of other places to show that there are effective actions we can take using what we know now, and they have benefits beyond the climate. My job is to get the message out about that, and to help people understand how the technology pieces come together for a better future. Having the ability to do work that is meaningful—that gives me a lot of hope. Q: Your ideal way to spend a weekend? A: An ideal weekend includes some time in a forest, and a book, and probably a walk with the dogs or a cat on my lap.
January 5, 2023
Drawdown Science profile: Paul West
This article is the first in a series introducing the new members of Project Drawdown’s science team. Paul West joined Drawdown Science as senior scientist, ecosystems & agriculture, in September 2022 after working part-time with Project Drawdown as director of special projects since January 2021. An applied ecologist, he focuses on identifying and amplifying co-benefits of climate solutions for conserving biodiversity, sustainably producing food, and enhancing the overall health of people and our planet. Before coming to Project Drawdown, Paul held leadership positions at the University of Minnesota and The Nature Conservancy. The Web of Science has named him one of the world’s most influential ecology and environmental researchers. In this interview, Paul shares his thoughts on the intersection of climate and food security, Mr. Rogers vs. Bill Nye The Science Guy, fresh pears, and more. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them? A: I’m helping find solutions to reduce our impact on climate and create a more just world. I bring scientific rigor to the conversation, assess how climate solutions also benefit people and nature, and work with others to effect change on the ground. Q: Why did you choose to join the Drawdown Science team? A: I like to be on the frontier of new science and I’m all about solutions. I’m also very practical. So Project Drawdown is a great fit for me. My work will focus on solutions that bring together my expertise and passion for reducing climate change, improving food security, and protecting nature. How do we meet all three goals? Who benefits and what are the trade-offs? Where are the hot spots that can help or hinder progress? What’s the path and who can help us reach the destination quickest? Q: Can you recall a childhood experience that relates to the work you’re doing today? A: When I was 8 or 9, we had a family friend who was passionate about hunting and fishing and hiking and such. He took me to a few places where there was a remnant prairie and talked to me about what most of that part of Illinois used to look like. It stuck with me just how much our landscape has changed. Q: What’s your favorite Drawdown Solution, and why? A: One is protection of tropical forests, because they store a whole bunch of carbon, are biodiversity hotspots, and are important areas for Indigenous peoples. Another is eliminating food waste, because it’s something everyone sees as a good idea. It’s something we’re able to do as individuals and something that has immediate impact and that we have influence over in our everyday lives. Q: What was the subject of your Ph.D. dissertation? A: I came up with new ways of quantifying how land use change, mainly from agricultural expansion and management, affects water availability and quality, habitat, and climate. Q: What superpowers do you bring to this job? A: Over time I’ve become more of a high-end generalist as compared to extremely good at a few things. That, in combination with being a systems thinker and curious, is a big one. I’m good at cutting through all the noise to find answers and doable actions. And I work well with others. Even though I’m a science guy, I’m more like Mr. Rogers than someone flashy like Bill Nye. Q: What gives you hope? A: There are so many more people, especially young people, these days who are very interested in climate change and are taking action or demanding action by others. Also, it gives me hope that we have most of the tools that are needed to solve most of the problems. Q: What is the most awesome thing you’ve encountered so far today? For breakfast I had a pear and some oatmeal, and there’s something about pears that I love. When I was a kid we had them out of tin and I didn’t like them. This time of year I love to have a fresh pear.
November 15, 2022
Project Drawdown launches world-class science team
Four world-class researchers are joining Project Drawdown as inaugural members of our new science team. Their mission: to advance the science of how to effectively implement climate solutions; to advance the public discourse on climate solutions; and to collaborate with leading companies, funders, and organizations to accelerate action to quickly, safely, and equitably halt climate change. The four, James Gerber, Ph.D.; Kate Marvel, Ph.D.; Amanda D. Smith, Ph.D.; and Paul West, Ph.D., will join Project Drawdown over the next four months. The team members will conduct frontline research on critical topics related to climate solutions, helping Project Drawdown build roadmaps for their implementation. They also will serve as public-facing subject matter experts on climate solutions, providing thought leadership to inform science-based decisions by policymakers, investors, philanthropists, corporate leaders, and others around the world.
July 26, 2022
Hitting the “emergency brake” on climate
There’s a hard truth about climate change: Meeting the Paris Accords—and limiting global warming to 1.5˚C or “well below” 2˚C—requires we stabilize emissions and then cut them nearly in half by the end of the decade. Unfortunately, we’re falling behind. And many climate solutions can’t be deployed quickly enough to help. But some can. We must identify and rapidly scale the solutions that can act as an “Emergency Brake” for climate. Addressing climate change demands that we take bold and immediate action—above anything we have done to date. It will require huge shifts in policy, capital, business, technology, and behavior. Fortunately, all of this is possible. We already have the tools we need, and more are being developed. What do we have to do? And when do we have to do it? Numerous researchers have developed scenarios to show how we might stop climate change and meet the “Paris Accords.” This would limit planetary warming to 1.5˚C or “well below” 2˚C. (We’re seeing ~1.1˚C of warming already.) While each scenario makes different assumptions about technology, economics, and policy, they have patterns in common. According to the “Carbon Law”—a framework adapted from these scenarios—we need to immediately stabilize and cut greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by the early 2030s, and reach “net zero” emissions by the early 2050s.
June 27, 2022
Project Drawdown updates & expands its climate solutions set
Five years ago Project Drawdown published a collection of “drawdown solutions,” technologies and practices that, if ambitiously implemented together, can achieve drawdown—the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. A newly released update of this landmark analysis adds 11 new solutions and confirms with even more clarity and conviction that humanity has the solutions needed to reach drawdown quickly, safely, efficiently, and equitably. The update lays the groundwork for Project Drawdown’s next major effort: developing and helping to activate strategies for implementing climate solutions that also benefit human well-being, biodiversity, and more. Businesses, funders, organizations, and individuals are encouraged to use the updated solutions set as a resource for making wise choices as to how to direct their climate solutions efforts. Currently Available, Readily Scalable To assess the possibilities for putting the brakes on climate change, experts in fields from oceanography to mechanical engineering and artificial intelligence modeled the greenhouse gas and economic impacts of adopting currently available and readily scalable technologies and practices under two levels of adoption that roughly correspond to limiting warming to 2°C and 1.5°C, respectively. They updated the existing solutions by incorporating new population growth models and new data for 16 of the solutions (all 13 Transportation sector solutions, Family Planning and Education, Plant-Rich Diets, and Reduced Food Waste). They also added 11 new solutions assessing strategies for reducing greenhouse gases related to ocean resources, food production, methane management, and materials manufacturing and use. All solutions are based on an extensive analysis of the scientific literature and sophisticated modeling and share six key traits that set them apart from other sets of climate mitigation strategies. They 1) are currently available, 2) are growing in scale, 3) are financially viable, 4) are able to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere, 5) have a net positive impact, and 6) are quantifiable under different scenarios. New Solutions The 11 new solutions are: Seaweed Farming – Seaweed farming is one of the most sustainable types of aquaculture. Expanding seaweed farming enhances carbon sequestration and boosts production of biomass that can be used for biofuel, bioplastic, livestock feed, and human consumption. Macroalgae Protection and Restoration – Macroalgae forests are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth. Protecting and restoring those habitats, enhances carbon sequestration in the deep sea. Improved Fisheries – Improved fisheries involves reforming and improving the management of wild-capture fisheries to reduce excess effort, overcapitalization, and overfishing. This can reduce fuel usage and rebuild fish populations. Improved Aquaculture – Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing animal food sectors. Because some aquaculture systems are highly energy intensive, ensuring that part of the on-site energy consumption is based on renewable resources would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Seafloor Protection – Vast amounts of carbon stored in seafloor sediments risk release by bottom-trawling fishing. Bottom-trawling bans and establishment of Marine Protected Areas can protect this important carbon sink. Improved Cattle Feed – Optimizing cattle feeding strategies can lower the methane emissions produced within the ruminant digestive system. Nutrient-enriched diets of high-quality forages, additives, and supplements aim to improve animal health and productivity. Improved Manure Management – Livestock manure produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Advanced technologies and practices for managing manure can reduce the adverse climate impact of animal agriculture. Methane Leak Management – Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is emitted during the production and transport of oil and natural gas. Managing methane emissions can reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Recycled Metals – Metals are extracted from nonrenewable ores. Recycled metals capitalize on already extracted materials—making it possible to produce goods more efficiently, reduce the need to extract new resources, and cut down on energy and water use. Recycled Plastics – Recycling plastics requires less energy than producing new materials, saves landfill space, reduces environmental pollution, and decreases demand for fossil-fuel-based raw materials. Reduced Plastics – Plastic production has grown tremendously over the past century, mainly for short-term use. Reducing the amount of plastic used in nondurable goods can significantly reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and plastic waste. Highlights Among the highlights of the update: An initial investment of US$15.6 trillion (Scenario 1) would avoid or sequester more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases between 2020 and 2050 and save nearly US$98 trillion in total operating costs over the lifetime of the solution. Bumping the investment up to US$23.6 trillion (Scenario 2) would avoid or sequester more than 1,600 gigatons of gases and save more than US$140 trillion in lifetime costs. Under Scenario 1, which aligns roughly with IPCC’s 2°C target, Food, Agriculture, and Land Use sector solutions have the greatest impact on greenhouse gases. Under Scenario 2, which aligns roughly with IPCC’s 1.5°C target, the Electricity sector jumps to the top for atmospheric greenhouse gas reductions. Updating the Family Planning and Education solution created changes across all solutions, since it replaces the previous projection of 2050 population with a lower number, creating a lower demand for the other solutions. Notably, nearly half (46 percent) of the impact of the lower population projection is attributable to more developed countries because of the higher per-capita contribution. The impact of education is hard to quantify because it affects many things besides reproductive choices (e.g., ability to implement other solutions). In the Electricity and Buildings sectors, lower functional demand due to lower population projections means fewer emissions in the baseline (business as usual) scenario, which means it’s easier to achieve climate goals. Changes in the Transportation sector are mainly due to newer and better data. We’re seeing more potential for electrification, especially in freight and public transit. Small changes in adoption can result in big impacts due to the large number of passenger miles globally. There are lots of opportunities for improvement in the Industry sector. Small increases in adoption can make a big difference because of large volumes of materials. Shifting to low-emissions-intensity materials is the source of most of the gain. Some industries (e.g., steel) can show only modest gains in energy efficiency; the biggest opportunities are for switching to new materials instead. New data on emissions for 88 commodities made a big difference in the Food, Agriculture, and Land Use sector. Plant-Rich Diets and Reduced Food Waste are now at the top of the potential impact list in Scenario 1 and are right after Onshore Wind Turbines and Utility-Scale Solar Photovoltaics in Scenario 2. Even though population estimates declined, new diet and emissions factors more than made up for the savings. Potential reductions are likely even higher than what we’re seeing here. Protecting intact coastal wetlands such as mangroves is the most effective solution in the Coastal and Ocean Sinks sector. Seaweed has high sequestration potential. Protection and restoration have many co-benefits. Fisheries improvements that increase fish stocks mean more fish die in the ocean and so more biomass is sequestered in the deep ocean. Methane reduction is important because it can produce quick, measurable results critical for reaching net zero by 2050. Methane reduction provides big opportunities for greenhouse gas reductions at a relatively low cost. Eliminating leaks from the oil and gas production sector is cost-effective and simple. Landfill methane capture is a clear win. In sum, we confirmed that the practices and technologies implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will more than pay for themselves in lifetime savings. In addition, many of the solutions have bonus benefits for reducing poverty, increasing equity, and protecting endangered animals and ecosystems. So solving the climate crisis is both a life-saving and money-saving move for future generations. Research Team Fellows and staff who played key roles in the updates include Chad Frischmann, Mamta Mehra, Mahmoud Abdelhamid, Zak Accuardi, Mohammad Ahmadi Achachlouei, Raihan Ahmed, Carolyn Alkire, Ryan F. Allard, Jimena Alvarez, Chirjiv Anand, Jay H. Arehart, Senorpe Asem-Hiablie, Jay Barlow, Kevin Bayuk, Renilde Becqué, Erika Boeing, Jvani Cabiness, Johnnie Chamberlin, Delton Chen, Wu Chen, Kristina Colbert, Leonardo Covis, Susan Miller Davis, Tala Daya, Priyanka DeSouza, Barbara Rodriguez Droguett, Stefan Gary, Jai Kumar Gaurav, Anna Goldstein, Miranda R. Gorman, João Pedro Gouveia, Alisha Graves, Martina Grecequet, Karan Gupta, Zhen Han, Zeke Hausfather, Yuill Herbert, Amanda Hong, Ariel Horowitz, Ryan Hottle, Troy Hottle, Sarah Eichler, David Jaber, Marzieh Jafary, Mel De Jager, Dattakiran Jagu, Emilia Jankowska, Heather Jones, Daniel Kane, Kapilnarula, Sumedha Malaviya, Urmila Maldvakar, Ashok Mangotra, Alison Mason, Mihir Mathur, David Mead, Aven Satre-Meloy, Phil Metz, Ruth Metzel, Alex Michelko, Ida Midzic, Karthik Mukkavilli, Sarah Myhre, Amrita Namasivayam, Kapil Narula, Rob Newell, Demetrios Papaioannou, Michelle Pedraza, Robin Pelc, Noorie Rajvanshi, George Randolph, Abby Rubinson, Adrien Salazar, Aven Satre-Meloy, Jon Schroeder, Celina Scott-Buechler, Christine Shearer, David Siap, Kelly Siman, Leena Tähkämö, Ernesto Valero Thomas, Eric Toensmeier, Shahaboddin Sean H. Toroghi, Melanie Valencia, Andrew Wade, Marilyn Waite, Ariani Wartenberg, Charlotte Wheeler, Christopher W. Wright, Liang Yang, Daphne Yin, Abdulmutalib Yussuff, and Kenneth Zame. Other Resources Two of the studies behind the new results have been released in peer-reviewed journals. Emilia Jankowska, Robin Pelc, Jimena Alvarez, Mamta Mehra, and Chad Frischmann published a report on the six new ocean-related solutions in PNAS in June. Miranda Gorman, David Dzombak, and Chad Frischmann published an article on the metals recycling solution in the September 2022 Resources, Conservation and Recycling. In addition to releasing the new solutions and updating existing ones, Project Drawdown put its research models—which help quantify the potential size and economics of different climate solutions—into the public domain. This process is still in the early stages, and many pieces of software are still under development. Interested individuals can check out the ongoing work on Github, where Python and Excel versions of the models are being worked on, along with user interfaces, data management tools, and other software tools.
December 6, 2021
The win-wins of climate and biodiversity solutions
This story was originally published by The Revelator. What’s better for plants and wildlife is better for the climate. But where do we start to accomplish the best results? The climate is changing, and species are going extinct faster than any time since civilization began. The two crises are not independent. That’s good news—it means there are solutions that benefit both biodiversity and climate. Nature is already our best defense against runaway increases of greenhouse gas emissions. Earth’s lands and waters currently absorb about 40 percent of the carbon dioxide human activity and natural processes release into the atmosphere. That can’t continue, though, without our oceans acidifying and plants reaching the limit of what they can absorb. As an ecologist, I’ve spent nearly three decades working to conserve biodiversity within landscapes largely managed for food and goods production. Now, as special projects director at Project Drawdown, I study how climate solutions can benefit the planet’s biodiversity. Through all of this work, I’ve found that many climate-friendly initiatives also help with conservation. Although some solutions can come with costs or tradeoffs to plants and animals, what’s better for biodiversity is generally better for climate. That means protecting and restoring nature needs to be a critical part of an all-of-the-above set of solutions for reducing the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Stopping or slowing habitat loss, for example, is good for biodiversity and the climate. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air to grow, and a portion of that carbon is stored in plants and soil. Habitat loss releases the carbon stored in soil and plants, so it’s a major source of emissions. Tropical deforestation alone, mostly to clear land for agriculture, accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If deforestation were a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter, trailing only China and the United States. Climate solutions can also enhance nature’s role as a carbon sink — its ability to store carbon. A complex habitat structure supports more species and stores more carbon at a greater rate. Protecting, restoring and enhancing biodiversity on managed lands all enhance sinks. In other words, protecting natural habitat both reduces production of greenhouse gases and boosts nature’s ability to sock them away. But with so many ecosystems under threat, and the climate crisis getting worse by the day, where do we start? Protect What’s Left To achieve the most benefits for both biodiversity and the climate, we must start by protecting the Earth’s remaining intact ecosystems. Protecting all remaining habitat is, of course, important, but destroying intact areas disproportionately affects species loss compared to further destroying fragmented areas. And clearing and degrading intact areas is also a double whammy for climate. The existing carbon stock is emitted and the habitat’s ability to act as a sink is lost. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving—except it keeps on taking away. And the impact compounds over time—when you include the foregone sequestration, the carbon impact over a decade of clearing tropical forest can be six times higher than the immediate emissions alone. Intact areas have more carbon in the vegetation and soils and a higher species diversity than degraded areas. Intact areas are also better carbon sinks. They store carbon at a faster rate than degraded areas. For example, nearly a fifth of the world’s forests are legally protected, yet they store more than a quarter of the carbon accumulated across all forests every year. But protection is not on pace with loss. Forest protected areas almost doubled from 1992 to 2015, from 16.6 to 32.7 thousand square miles. During that same time, nearly 200,000 square miles were deforested. If you had a gap like this between savings and withdrawals in your bank account, you would — and should — be very, very worried. We need to accelerate the rate of designating new protected areas. Protected areas need not be parks. In fact, many of them shouldn’t be parks. Indigenous communities play an essential role in protecting biodiversity and reducing the threat of climate change around the world. Areas managed by Indigenous people are commonly more intact than neighboring private and public lands. Securing land and water rights for Indigenous communities is not just good for nature. It helps protect identity and sovereignty. Restore What We Can So what about habitats that have been altered by human activity? They’re still important. Restoring disturbed lands and waters to a natural state boosts their ability to conserve biodiversity and increases their potential to suck carbon from the atmosphere and store it in vegetation and soils. Restorations generally have lower species diversity and a simpler structure than intact ecosystems and are not as effective at storing carbon. However, they’re an essential part of recovering ecosystems where only small fragments remain, such as the grasslands of North America, Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, Mediterranean forests and scrublands in North America, Europe, and Africa, and dry forests of Asia. Unfortunately, the list of endangered ecosystems is much longer than those few examples. Restorations also are less beneficial than protecting intact land from a climate perspective, since carbon accumulates slowly over decades or hundreds of years. And we can’t assume that today’s acorns will become tomorrow’s oak trees—or, if they do, that those trees will escape harvest, natural disasters or pest outbreaks long enough to serve as meaningful carbon sinks or legitimate sources of carbon offset credits. Enhance Biodiversity on Working Lands Of course, not all lands can remain natural. We need space for farms, wood production, roads, homes and businesses. Croplands and rangelands cover 38% of all land on Earth. Forests cover about another third of the land, of which 60 percent is managed for timber and other forest products. That means about 58% of all ice-free land is used to produce food and forest products. Several climate solutions that can be implemented on agricultural lands, such as agroforestry and managed pastures, also benefit biodiversity. Although these solutions may provide smaller benefits at the scale of a farm field or forest stand, a little bit of change everywhere can add up to a lot of carbon stored and locally provide species diversity, habitat structure, and ecosystem function. Ocean-based solutions exist too, and researchers are learning more about how they benefit both biodiversity and climate. Targeting Actions Each ton of carbon is equally important. The potential avoided emissions and carbon stored for several solutions are summarized in two key publications, The Drawdown Review and Natural Climate Solutions. For biodiversity, some land, water and coastlines are more important than others. How much land and water do we need to protect biodiversity? Truth is, we don’t really know. But very basic rules are true: More is better, bigger is better, more connected is better, and more geographically and climatologically diverse is better. Initiatives like the Global Safety Net lay out a roadmap for conserving biodiversity, maintaining highly productive agricultural lands, and stabilizing climate by protecting or managing 50 percent of all ice-free land on Earth. Other efforts have identified critical areas (or frameworks) for protecting marine and freshwater biodiversity. (Potentially Huge) Bonus Points Several other climate solutions can indirectly benefit biodiversity. For example, shifting to plant-based diets, reducing food waste, and sustainably intensifying food production on smallholder farms all reduce the need to expand agricultural lands, the biggest cause of habitat loss and degradation. When these solutions are implemented, agriculture’s land footprint would not only stop expanding—it could shrink. The land used for grazing or growing animal feed could instead be used to restore ecosystems or to produce fiber and fuel. Big or Small, It Takes All We need all efforts, big and small, to solve the biodiversity and climate crises. Yes, we need a concerted effort among governments, companies and investors for transformational change. But individual efforts, from managing a small fish farm in a mangrove forest to protecting tiny prairie remnants, matter too. Small changes accumulate and help shift the social norm of what we expect from our neighbors, CEOs and presidents. An all-in, all-of-the-above approach is essential. All we need are the incentive and motivation to start.
October 27, 2021
The powerful role of household actions in solving climate change
Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects. – The Dalai Lama Everyone can play a role in solving climate change. There are real actions we all can take, starting today, to get us on a pathway to real system change that benefits humanity and the planet. The magnitude of the challenge we are collectively facing requires action from all levels—from our governments, businesses and institutions, communities, and every one of us in our personal lives and homes. So where do we start? According to the most recent global surveys by Yale University on international public opinion on climate change, the majority or vast majority in all 31 surveyed countries say that they: think climate change is happening are “very” or “somewhat” worried about it think it will harm them personally either “a great deal” or a “moderate amount” need at least a little more information about it High-income countries in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region are home to a minority of the world’s population but have contributed the most climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Appropriately, citizens in those countries are more concerned than ever about their personal impact on climate change and are willing to change how they live and work, according to a September 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center. One challenge is that most of us are understandably unsure which actions are most impactful in solving climate change. Even individuals who believe they understand which actions are most impactful are often incorrect. As you join the climate action that is already underway, it’s important to understand which of your personal actions can have an impact. Fortunately, there is a science-backed, data-driven list of solutions that can guide you. Drawdown Solutions, the solutions research arm of Project Drawdown, has led years of data collection and analysis by scholars around the world to identify and characterize more than 90 currently available technologies and practices that have a direct impact on greenhouse gases, are scientifically validated, and are economically viable. Results of this work were initially published in the New York Times best-selling book Drawdown and have influenced university curricula, city climate plans, commitments by businesses, community action, philanthropic strategy, and more. The foundation of Project Drawdown’s analysis is extensive and complex mathematical modeling that uses data from thousands of scientific sources to predict the potential of identified climate solutions to reach drawdown—the point when atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases begin to decline. This analysis and modeling tell us the impact these solutions have on the atmosphere, their bottom-line financial implications, their global applicability, and what beneficial co-benefits they offer to society and the environment. Indeed, the Drawdown Solutions analysis reveals that individual and household actions have the potential to produce roughly 25–30 percent of the total emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change (>1.5°C rise). That is a lot higher than most people realize. It’s because we as individuals and households are a part of a broader economic system currently reliant on fossil fuels, from the food we buy, to the electricity we use, to the buildings we live in. While the vast majority of global emissions (70–75 percent) can be reduced directly by the decisions of those who run businesses, utilities, buildings, and governments, our choices as consumers, energy users, tenants, and voters have direct impact in their own right and can affect those decisions by sending signals across the system. So rather than being laden with blame and guilt, we should be owning our power to make change. From the more than 90 specific, definitive, science-backed solutions Project Drawdown has identified, we have distilled a list of 20 high-impact climate actions that individuals and households in high-income countries can take and that together could reduce up to 25 percent of future greenhouse gases:
October 13, 2021
Study: Slashing emissions from forests, farming, and consumer behavior
A new study led by Climate Focus environmental scientist Stephanie Roe and including Project Drawdown senior director of Drawdown Solutions Chad Frischmann among its authors provides a comprehensive guide to the greenhouse gas mitigation potential and feasibility of land-based climate solutions for over 200 countries. The study, published October 12 in Global Change Biology, analyzes 20 land-based measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. They include the protection, management and restoration of forests and other ecosystems; changes in agricultural practices; soil carbon sequestration in croplands and grasslands; use of bioenergy; and demand-side measures within food systems, such as reducing food waste and shifting to more sustainable and less livestock-dependent diets. "Our analysis shows which and how much nature-based solutions could be prioritized country by country," said Stephanie Roe, an environmental scientist at Climate Focus and the lead author of the study. "Many land-based mitigation activities are unique in that they can be rapidly implemented, provide additional environmental and socio-economic co-benefits, work in tandem with the decarbonization of other sectors—like energy, and are relatively low cost. For many countries, they also provide the largest share of the low-cost mitigation needed to reach net zero emissions by mid-century and deliver on the Paris Agreement targets." The section to which Frischmann primarily contributed focused on consumer measures critical for reducing methane emissions, including plant-rich diets and reducing food loss and waste.
May 7, 2021
Opinion: New EPA coolant rule is a no-brainer for addressing the climate crisis
This article originally appeared on The Hill. The EPA’s new rule to phase down the manufacturing and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — the coolants used in air conditioners and refrigerators — will likely be a drop in the bucket for consumers but a huge step forward on global climate action. The move is a critical step toward the Biden administration’s larger goal of reducing 55 percent of emissions by 2035. What you might not know: The climate impact of this rule could be more than doubled if it’s coupled with efforts to properly dispose of the refrigerants in the appliances already in people’s homes and businesses. Project Drawdown, the non-profit where I explore science-based solutions to the climate crisis, ranked switching to alternative refrigerants one of the top 10 climate solutions we have in-hand today. The EPA estimates that phasing down HFCs globally can avoid 0.5 degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century—a large feat with real-world benefits to every community. However, using alternative coolants in new appliances is only half of the potential benefits, as a focus on proper refrigerant disposal is critical to maximizing success. HFCs became widely used after researchers in the 1970s discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the main refrigerants used at the time, were causing a hole in the ozone layer and leading to more people getting skin cancer as a result. In a 1987 response, nations around the world created The Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting substances like CFCs. Substituting HFCs for CFCs helped heal the ozone layer, but still warmed the planet. Although HFCs and other fluorinated gases cause “only” about 2 percent of Earth’s current warming, each molecule of HFC can trap between 1,000 to 9,000 times more heat than a molecule of CO2. In short, a little bit has a big impact. The challenge continues to grow. As temperatures warm and more of the world’s population accumulates additional wealth, demand for cooling increases. There are currently 3.6 billion cooling appliances in use today, and that number is increasing at a rate of 10 devices per second. Energy demand for powering these appliances has increased three-fold since 1990 and is projected to double again by 2040. The good news: Alternative, climate-friendly coolants already exist and the transition to using them is already underway. In 2016, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol created a legally binding agreement to phase down the production and use of HFCs, with developed countries committing to an 85 percent reduction between 2019 and 2036. Despite the U.S. failing to ratify the amendment, many American manufacturers endorsed it and began phasing out HFCs to stay competitive in the global market. The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM), enacted in December 2020 as part of a COVID-19 relief package, gave the EPA new authority to phase down HFCs in accordance with the Kigali Amendment. The U.S and China indicated in April that they will join the more than 120 nations and island states that have already signed amendment. Meeting target reductions is certainly within reach—the European Union is on track to phase down HFCs by 2030. Changes in the U.S. will accelerate the global shift through our manufacturing and imports of cooling appliances. This new EPA rule puts us on a path to reduce damage caused by future appliances. But what about those 3.6 billion cooling devices that are currently in use? Or the countless more that are in salvage yards? Building a cleaner tomorrow is great, but we can’t move forward without taking care of today’s mess. Coupling the next generation of refrigerants with proper disposal and high-efficiency appliances will further advance climate benefits. In the U.S., 16 million refrigerators, freezers, window air conditioners and dehumidifiers are thrown out each year, yet only a little more than 600,000 were properly discarded through the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program. Project Drawdown estimates that removing or destroying the coolants in these appliances could more than double the impact of using alternative coolants in new appliances. Groups like Tradewater show that a market can be created for eliminating (by collecting and incinerating) the emissions in discarded appliances. Further, additional gains are possible by incentivizing high efficiency air conditioners. High-efficiency appliances are available today and there are promising new options in the near future. The Global Cooling Prize recently awarded two residential-scale air conditioner prototypes that offer five times lower impact than the standard ones used today. This policy change will make it easier for people to purchase appliances that use alternative coolants. One of the best things we as individuals can do to further reduce our energy used for cooling is to purchase Energy Star-rated appliances, using smart thermostats and insulating our homes. This carries a cost not every renter or homeowner can bear, but it’s important to keep in mind when changes can be made. Perhaps most important, proper disposal of old cooling appliances through the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program will ensure that HFCs are captured or destroyed and don’t leak into the atmosphere. Although systemic and equitable change is needed across all sectors to address the climate crisis, targeted policies like this one are necessary and will have an immediate, outsized impact. Destroying existing HFCs — the current mess we can’t avoid — and using more efficient appliances will transform this rule from good to great in a moment where big climate wins deserve fast action. Paul West is an ecologist exploring science-based solutions to help people and nature thrive on a warming planet. He is the director of Special Projects at Project Drawdown and a researcher at the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter: @coolfireecology.