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‘Comprehensive Plan’ to Reverse Global Warming Saves $74 Trillion Over 30 Years

Practical steps to stabilize the planetary climate are all around us, and author/entrepreneur Paul Hawken highlights 80 of them in a new book that GreenBiz reviewer Joel Makower calls “likely the most hopeful thing you’ll ever read about our ability to take on global warming.”

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, which Hawken edited, outlines 60 practices that are ready to implement now, and another 20 it describes as “coming attractions.” Together, Makower writes, they could “collectively draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in order to solve, not just slow, climate change, by avoiding emissions or sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.”

The 80 solutions “are grouped into seven buckets,” Makower writes: “energy; food; women and girls; building and cities; land use; transport; and materials.” To make the cut, each solution had to either reduce energy use, replace fossil energy with renewables, or sequester carbon in soils or plants through regenerative farming, grazing, ocean, and forest practices. “Many, if not most, can be undertaken with little or no new laws or policy, and can be financed profitably by companies and capital markets.”

Solutions are “ranked by cost-effectiveness, speed to implementation, and societal benefit,” Makower writers, alongside information about their greenhouse gas emissions and net financial cost or benefit. The book’s top suggested solution is to proceed aggressively with the destruction of hydrofluorocarbons from refrigeration systems.

Number two is expanding wind power: “an increase in onshore wind from 2% of world electricity use to 21.6%,” the review reports, “could reduce emissions by 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide and create a net savings of $7.4 trillion from business as usual by 2050.”

Other conclusions surprised Hawken, whose previous, counterintuitively optimistic titles include Blessed Unrest—an account of non-governmental organized civil society—and his influential Natural Capitalism, co-authored with Amory and Hunter Lovins, which argued for an economy that better acknowledges the economic value of natural systems.

Starting out, Hawken told Makower, “we probably had pretty much the same list that most people come up with: solar, wind, don’t cut trees, don’t eat so much meat, and electric cars.” But after two years of research, “the only one of those that made it to the top seven solutions was wind. We had [electric vehicles] much higher than they turned out to be,” and biofuels didn’t make the list at all. “They don’t actually have any net contribution whatsoever, and that surprised us.”

Still, Makower concludes, “Drawdown’s aggregate bottom line is shockingly affordable: When you total up the net costs for all 80 solutions, the savings add up to US$74 trillion over 30 years.”

Or, as Hawken put it, reflecting on developments in the recent half-decade, “we might have crossed some threshold, where the profit that could be made from the solutions now is greater than the profit being made from the problems.”