"Drawdown" edited by Paul Hawken

book cover

There was a memorable commercial a few years ago that imagined the start of a work day in a gas-powered office -- a sleepy employee starts up the pull-cord coffee maker with its two-stroke engine; the copy machine chugs away spewing exhaust into the cubicles as employees discreetly cough into their sleeves. After reading a fewn the recently published Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, you might feel that our oil-reliant economies, transportation, manufacturing, and food production seem just as illogical and outdated as this scenario of the photocopier with a fuel tank.

Edited by Paul Hawken (who co-authored the classic Natural Capitalism along with Amory and L.H. Lovins,) Drawdown follows similar ideas – it recognizes that our economic well-being is tied to environmental sustainability and places a monetary value on the natural systems we draw from and live in. Drawdown also furthers the thought, featuring some of the groundbreaking work being done today that puts these ideas into practice.

Drawdown is a fascinating look at innovation, at what we are capable of achieving, and is an incredible work of collaboration and research from around the world. I became engrossed just flipping open this book to any page, though I quickly found I wanted to read every word. This book also provides a much-needed dose of optimism, in a sea of increasingly dire outlooks. In this valley that prides itself and depends on its epic winters, ski descents, spring runoff and beautiful summers, the threat of a changing climate is a worrying thought. In Drawdown, we see an alternative outcome; one that maintains our way of life but progresses to do so with much less impact.

In 2013, Hawken created ‘Project Drawdown’ (the name refers to the point at which greenhouse gases peak in the atmosphere and begin to decline,) in an effort to search for a blueprint for slowing or reversing global warming -- a goal, Hawken points out, that one hundred and ninety-five nations have acknowledged and have stated the need for a plan of action. But, how can we achieve this? Hawken writes that the blueprint “already exists in the world in the form of humanity’s collective wisdom, made manifest in applied, hands-on practices and technologies that are commonly available, economically viable and scientifically valid. Individual farmers, communities, cities, companies and governments have shown that they care about this planet, its people, and its places. Engaged citizens the worlds over are doing something extraordinary. This is their story.”

Among the pages of Drawdown, we learn of the amazing origins of now familiar technologies – the first solar array sitting on a New York rooftop in 1884, the proposed ‘electric automobile’ called the Edison-Ford that was imagined while Henry Ford worked at Thomas Edison’s Illuminating Company in Detroit. We read of sustainable practices that have been around for millennia – managed grazing, drip irrigation, and intercropping. We hear the story of Yacouba Sawadogo of Burkina Faso, known as “the man who stopped the desert” because of his successful experimentation of farming techniques, and the 115,000 jobs created in Bangladesh in a flourishing solar boom. More locally, Rocky Mountain Institute’s net-zero building is featured in our own Basalt, CO (pg. 84.) We also get a preview of ‘coming attractions’ in technologies that are not too far from large scale fruition -- a smart highway that generates power, microbial farming, solid state wave energy, and an artificial leaf that replicates photosynthesis.

Drawdown is truly eye-opening and an engaging read. It also makes one hopeful for our future in this great mountain town. Though, what I really hope for is that kids in thirty years will be able to experience an epic day of gnar pow, and to find out what they'll call it then...