books climate change

Book review: Drawdown

Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming is a book I’ve had my eye on since it came out in the States last year, and it’s now got a UK release. It’s quite the project – over 250 experts coming together to outline the most promising 100 solutions to climate change, study their potential impact and projected costs, and rank them in order. This extensive research is all available online, and summarised in concise and readable fashion in the book, edited by Paul Hawken.

There’s a reason why the book was the bestselling environmental title of 2017 across the Atlantic. It’s accessible, inspiring, full of fascinating ideas, and proves beyond question that climate change can be halted. My first must-read recommendation of the year.

Each solution is presented across a two-page spread, generously illustrated with photos, and with a summary at the end showing what contribution the idea could make. The book is arranged thematically, collecting together solutions on energy, transport, food, and so on. There’s lots that will be familiar to readers of the blog, with several of my favourite climate solutions profiled. Surprises abound too,  with a handful of ideas that I hadn’t come across before and lots that I knew about but hadn’t investigated at all. It’s the kind of book you could dip in and out of and read the bits that interest you most, although as a sustainability geek I read it cover to cover.

Perhaps the biggest surprises for me were in the rankings, and I’ll have to do a separate post and give you the top ten. Spoiler alert: the number one solution to climate change is refrigeration. Yes. We don’t hear about it much because we talk about CO2, and refrigeration and air conditioning uses HFCs, which are a much more powerful greenhouse gas. Correctly recycling fridges and finding alternative coolants is a much more significant intervention than I realised. Other powerful and under-reported topics include peatland restoration and regenerative agriculture, while more common solutions such as retrofitting or energy storage score far lower.

After 80 solutions, the book gives the final 20 to ‘forthcoming attractions’, where we get things like the hyperloop, ocean farming or autonomous vehicles. But the point has already been made: we have all the technologies and ideas we need not just to halt global warming, but to ‘drawdown’ atmospheric CO2 and put climate change into reverse. And that is the point here. Most climate change plans set out to reduce the impact of climate change or limit warming. This one aims to reverse it, and put in place regenerative practices that heal the earth – all quantified and costed. “Because of that,” says Johnathan Foley in the preface, “I think this is the single most important book ever written about climate change.”

Could well be, especially since all the technical details are available online if you need them. If you enjoy this blog, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Drawdown. My only disappointment with the book, and it’s entirely selfish, is that I wish I’d written it myself.

  • Find out more at Drawdown.org
  • Pick up the book from Hive, Amazon UK or Amazon US
  • I’m not being facetious with that last line, by the way. I have extensive notes for a book provisionally titled ’50 ideas to save the world’ which I shall quietly file away and forget about.

8 comments

  1. Many thanks for featuring this – another really valuable resource I feel. In my day job (for WeSET.org) I’m trying to compile priority actions on environmental footprint that schoolchildren aged 8-12 can start to take, along with their families. I feel they should be achievable but ambitious, and address the most effective impacts (following the principle that ‘every BIG helps’). I don’t want to reinvent the wheel but so far I haven’t come across what seems like a rational plan or list along these lines. Can anyone help? It seems like this Drawdown list is a good starting point, but it needs translating into ‘on the ground’ actions that ordinary people can work on. Any thoughts?

  2. Yes, Drawdown doesn’t translate very well into personal actions, especially not for children. I’m not aware of a scientifically sound list of priority actions for that age group, but I imagine it would start with eating less meat and dairy, and walking or cycling to school.

    1. Thanks Jeremy. Those measures sound good, but I think I’d put ‘switch to a 100% sustainable electricity tariff’ and ‘turn your thermostat down, preferably to about 18°’ ahead of those? Even ‘find sustainably sourced food’, since even full vegan is pretty awful if based on poorly sourced palm oil, maize etc? Of course all these would need guidance provided on how best to start going about them.

      1. They would feature higher at the houshold level, but 8-12 year olds wouldn’t have much say in choosing an energy tariff. They can nag parents of course, so it depends how much you want your list to reflect their own lives, or their famillies.

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