Drawdown, Hawken, ed. 2017

Compendium Volume 1 Number 2 March 2018

Edited by innovator and entrepreneur Paul Hawken, Drawdown is a remarkable and comprehensive work presenting eighty well-vetted solutions and twenty promising “coming attractions” to remove carbon from the atmosphere and restore planetary health.  Hawken engaged numerous scientists, modellers, advisers, artists and writers, resulting in a beautifully illustrated and comprehensive exploration of possibilities for reversing global warming.  

The impact of the book as a whole is as important as each solution: Drawdown presents a universe of actions that go far beyond what we can imagine if we consider only emissions reductions and alternative energy.  It leads to an entirely different climate conversation from the one we’re used to, and offers many threads of hope.

Drawdown has something for everyone, covering sectors of Energy, Food, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, and Materials.  Near the top of the list is Women and Girls, whose education has dramatic effects on population and is one of the most important climate positive steps we can take.  Of course technology offerings abound, but they are amply balanced by discussions of biology and social change, often sorely missing in debates on global warming.  Of particular interest in this Compendium are biological strategies; we’ll mention just three of them here.

Agroforestry in Burkina Faso

After terrible droughts in the 1980s resulted in a 20% reduction in rainfall and millions of deaths by starvation, farmer Yacouba Sawadogo enhanced a traditional practice of digging rain-capturing pits by adding manure. There were seeds in the manure and as a result trees began to grow, holding soils together with roots, protecting plantings from wind gusts that before had required frequent re-sowing, and opening channels that moved water into the soils and raised water tables.  This foray into agro-forestry spread across the rural countryside to widespread beneficial effect.

Of great significance is that the expertise, invention and community organizing were native and local, required no foreign aid or expensive soil inputs, and in terms of money cost nothing.  This is what sustainability can look like. [Hawken 2017: 118-120]

Pasture Cropping

In 1979, after a devastating fire destroyed his two-thousand acre farm in Australia, Colin Seis began to question why crops and animals couldn’t be profitably raised on the same land, effectively doubling output. Persisting through a difficult transition, Seis saw water retention improvements, decreased input costs, a virtual end to insect infestation, and measures of soil fertility and carbon content go up along with profits.  Today, pasture cropping is practiced on over two thousand Australian farms and is spreading throughout the world. [Hawken 2017: 175]

Intensive Silvopasture

Silvopasture, the most common form of agroforestry, is the practice of combining trees and woody shrubs with pasture grasses. The result is healthier plant and animal growth, including sequestering a respectable one to four tons of carbon per acre.  It is currently practiced on over one billion acres worldwide.

For remarkable next steps enter the intensive part of silvopasture, starting with a quickly growing, edible leguminous shrub, Leucaena leucocephala in Australia and Latin America (different species of shrubs are suitable in different ecosystems). Water retention improves, biomass increases, species biodiversity doubles, animal stocking rates almost triple, ambient temperatures decrease by 14 to 23 degrees F in the tropics, meat production increases by a factor of 4 to 10, and perhaps most strikingly, soil carbon sequestration rates have exceeded 10 tons per acre (conventional agriculture can claim 1 ton of carbon per acre or less, or even net carbon loss to the atmosphere). [Hawken 2017: 181]

Hawken, Paul, Ed., 2017, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Penguin Books, http://www.drawdown.org/.

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 1 Number 2 March 2018