If I asked you what we need to do to stop climate change, what would you say? Most people, I think, would answer along these lines: “We need to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy.”
American environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken has given us a more complete answer. Through Project Drawdown, he has gathered a coalition of experts from an array of disciplines and identified the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming, quantified by their emissions reduction potential and net cost or savings. “Drawdown” here refers to the point in time when the amount of carbon in the atmosphere begins to decline.
That coalition’s report, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (2017), was published in Japanese in December 2020 and has since been the topic of much discussion here in Japan. The Japanese translation was nominated for the fourth Yaesu Book Award sponsored by Yaesu Book Center, a book store chain that mainly operates in Tokyo.
Looking at the rankings by atmospheric greenhouse gas reduction (calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent), the #1 solution is, surprisingly, not from the energy sector at all, but from the materials sector: the refrigerants used in refrigerators and air conditioners. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), the chemicals previously used as refrigerants, were phased out of use worldwide by the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. That international agreement has been hailed as an environmental success story, but the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) developed to replace CFCs and HCFCs were later discovered to be 1,000 to 9,000 more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, adopted in 2016, will phase out HFCs. However, the HFCs in appliances already in production and use must be disposed of effectively to prevent their release into the atmosphere.
Moving down the rankings, we see the energy solutions we expected, with onshore wind turbines at #2, solar farms at #8, and rooftop solar at #10. Remarkably, three food-related solutions made it into the top 10: reduced food waste at #3, plant-rich diet at #4, and silvopasture at #9.
You might also pause and wonder about #6 educating girls and #7 family planning. According to a World Health Organization report, there are 1.9 billion women of reproductive age (15-49 years) worldwide as of 2019. Of those women, 1.1 billion have a need for family planning, but 270 million lack the necessary access to contraception.
There is a succinct formula describing the factors that determine society’s impact on the environment, known as the “IPAT” equation:
Impact = Population × Affluence × Technology
In other words, the more people there are, the more strain we collectively place on the environment. Conversely, we can reduce that strain by ensuring educational opportunities and well-being for girls and women, which empowers them to create families that are the right size for their needs.
Drawdown shows us that, to solve global warming, we need to consider the problem from all angles.
Michi Goto (Author), Translation by Stephen Jensen
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash