By Keith Voos.
I’M SURE THAT MOST readers of this newsletter hold it to be true that the human race now faces the biggest threat to its survival since its near extinction in the last ice age, when the population of the earth was reduced to between 15,000 and 18, 000 people. Today, with about 7.5 billion humans alive and another two billion or so expected to come along by 2050, our existential crisis is self-caused and, ironically, a result of the over-heating rather than the under-heating of the planet.
One discouraging facet of this crisis is that even among those committed to facing it head-on, much of the discussion centers on approaches to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. Until very recently, people seemed mostly to assume that it was impossible to reverse global warming. That outlook has been radically challenged by the publication of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by the respected environmental author and “green entrepreneur” Paul Hawken.
The drawdown research project assembled a team of seventy Research Fellows with the goal of analyzing all carbon reduction and sequestration strategies currently in use anywhere on earth, with special focus on those possible of being scaled up to more effective levels. The strategies were ranked by their effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gases over a period of thirty years and in total net cost and net savings to the global economy. (For rankings and all scientific citations, go to www.drawdown.org).
The rankings in many cases surprised the Fellows. While it was not unexpected to learn that land-based wind turbines and solar farms ranked in the top twelve methods, it was a bit of news to see that six of the twelve occurred in either the food or land use sectors. Educating girls and women and family planning ranked sixth and seventh, respectively. While it has been known for some time that these initiatives are powerful drivers of poverty reduction in the global south, it was not known that they also result in a range of climate benefits as well.
After Drawdown was published in 2017, Hawken and other project figures embarked on a campaign to spread the news that reversing global warming was, in fact, possible. What was needed was for the book’s science to be translated into a global movement with immediate, mounting and verifiable results. Among others, Hawken turned to The Pachamama Alliance, a unique international organization that has for over twenty years helped indigenous people keep large tracts of Ecuadorean rainforest free from mineral extraction. The Alliance’s special strength is providing programs that inspire people around the world to take action for the environment and for environmental justice.
In less than a year, the Alliance’s educational arm, under the direction of Tracy Apple, had created and piloted a series of workshops for enabling people to engage with a carbon reduction strategy of their choice and to leave the workshop with an action plan for implementing the strategy on a personal, family, community or policy level, again at their choice.
The first such workshop in New York City occurred over five Thursdays in October and November 2018, drawing twenty three registrants from the city and surrounding area. Like most Pachamama Alliance programs, it included some direct instruction from its two conveners, in this case Elly Lessing and Keith Voos, combined with informative videos, structured group interactions and research assignments for participants to help them gradually become experts in one or two of the warming reversal methods prior to writing and beginning to implement their action plans.
Not all participants were able to complete a plan by the end of the workshop, but we had a high rate of success. Three of the action plans initiated or completed at this writing are listed below, with attention to demonstrating the range and scope of the plans and projects.
- Reduce the carbon footprint of a boutique Manhattan hotel, with the eventual goal of helping it gain LEED certified status.
- Identify retirement accounts available at a specific workplace that contain no fossil fuel investments. Create a Power Point presentation showing colleagues how to change their retirement investment preferences. (This project has been completed).
- Bring to two Sustainable Fashion Conferences in 2019 a focus in terms speakers and panels on retrofitting container ships for greater energy efficiency. (The fashion industry does a huge amount of global shipping). The Environmental Officer for Maersk Shipping, one of the world’s largest shipping concerns, is already signed for one of these conferences.
A wonderful result of the workshop was that nearly half the participants wanted to continue meeting to support the completion of all projects and to discuss founding an organization to continue the work of The Drawdown Project. This meeting took place on Jan. 10.