If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Project Drawdown, which purports to “map, measure, model, and describe the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming.” I am waiting to review the book, but the website is quite comprehensive and will become even more so on May 1 when technical summaries for each solution are made available.
Led by Paul Hawken, Project Drawdown is the culmination of a multi-year effort by scholars and scientists across the globe to evaluate which global warming solutions are currently available and economically viable, have a large potential to reduce GHGs with minimal negative impacts, and can be scaled globally.
Surprisingly (because we don’t hear much about it), the largest proposed intervention is to phase out HFCs as refrigerant coolants. While HFCs do not harm the ozone layer (as opposed to the CFCs they replaced), they have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere. Replacing HFCs with propane or ammonium is estimated to reduce a whopping 89.74 Gigatons of CO2 by 2050. Other top-five solutions include Onshore Wind Turbines (84.6 GT), Reduced Food Waste (70.53 GT), Plant-Rich Diets (66.11 GT), and Tropical Forest Restoration (61.23 GT).
What really excites me, however, are solutions #6 and #7: Educating Girls and Family Planning, which have combined potential emissions reductions of 129.2 GT of CO2 by 2050. It is clear that educated women with access to family planning are more empowered and have fewer and healthier children. Globally, this could result in humanity’s population peaking with one billion fewer people, which would have massive implications for our climate.
What’s even cooler about these solutions is that they are thinking systemically and outside the box of carbon offsets. Of course it is vital that we reduce CO2 emissions as quickly and as fully as humanly possible. No one argues with that (at least no one that believes in science). What I’m saying is that reducing CO2 is a necessary, but not sufficient response to global warming.
We also need to do so much more! We need to create local and resilient food systems.We need to preserve biodiversity and wildness. We need to fight for climate justice and for those unfairly burdened by the consequences of global warming. And we need to deconstruct and replace the economic and political systems, and even the mindsets and worldviews that got us into this situation in the first place.
Even if humans completely stopped emitting CO2 today there is still enough already in our atmosphere to cause massive sea level rise, increased disease rates and extreme weather events, declining agriculture, and much more. In addition to reducing emissions, it is equally vital that we focus on resilience in the race of certain changes and educating girl and women and providing access to family planning are some of the best ways to do that.
These solutions also demonstrate the limitations of carbon offsetting. Nobody will ever be able to sell credits on the Voluntary Carbon Market for CO2 reductions associated with educating women and family planning. The impacts are not discrete and impossible to measure except, perhaps, on the global population level and, even there, I suspect Hawken et al. are using a lot of unproven assumptions.
In addition to challenges with efficiency, leakage, and additionally, offsetting constrains us to supporting only projects that are measurably mitigating emissions. This is why Earth Deeds has developed an alternative method called “onsetting”, which drops the concept of carbon neutrality, prices carbon based on the Social Cost of Carbon, and allows funding (or time!) to go to local projects that are building resiliency — such as educating women!
Project Drawdown lays out a road map for how humanity can dramatically reduce global GHG emissions by 2050. It also encourages us to think beyond emissions and to consider what got into this mess and what systemic solutions will build resiliency and healthy communities in a climate changed world.