Project Drawdown

9 02 2018

I’m writing this, because Sustainable Living Tasmania has invited Paul Hawken, author/editor of his latest book by the same title as this blog entry, to speak in Hobart….. and I won’t be going, because all I’d end up doing is yelling and screaming at him!!

Hawken’s book lists 100 ways to ‘effectively combat climate change’. I vehemently disagree with most of this list, because in my opinion the solutions are not technical as Hawken suggest, but social. I’m really sticking my neck out challenging someone as prominent as Hawken, whose techno Utopia has obviously been universally embraced going by a quick google of the subject matter….  but at the very least, an alternative form of discussion needs to be attempted.

collage-drawdownThe book’s number one entry is refrigeration. Hawken claims, and probably quite rightly, that changing refrigerants and effectively destroying those gases at end of life could avoid emissions equivalent to 89.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide. But there’s no mention of making better insulated fridges, or fridges that last 30 to 40 years, like they used to….. nor that the current craze for enormous fridges should end. As an aside, while we were all thinking the ozone layer problem was fixed, along come the news it’s getting worse……. and scientists apparently don’t know why.  Except that some scientists might have a grip on the problem, and yes, it’s good old industrial agriculture at it again.

Number two on the list is wind turbines. Give me a break……  we need to use way less energy, not more. As I’ve stated many times on this blog, every time a turbine is built and erected, more CO2 is emitted, that said turbine will never remove in its lifetime. It’s just more consumption, period. Solar farms only makes the list at number 8.

Number three is reducing food waste. Now I’m all for that, but one of the ironies of refrigeration is that it may cause more food waste than most people realise. Even I have to confess to losing fresh produce in the back of the fridge to only be retrieved for composting purposes…… in my experience, the best way to not waste food is to grow it yourself and fit into a system where there is no waste thanks to chickens and composting. But of course the world won’t change to this until it’s all too late…

Number four is my latest pet hate…….  plant rich diet. Now there’s no denying that too much meat is consumed, but that is only because we have access to refrigeration and fossil fuels to distribute meat to abattoirs and supermarkets. For anyone to even consider we could all become vegetarian, let alone vegan, is a preposterous notion. I have made a big deal lately of the quality of our soils and what they are actually capable of producing; and a global vegetarian diet in a post fossil fuel era, which is after all what we have to strive for if we have any chance of fending off the worst case climate scenarios, is simply Utopian nonsense……  what we have to actually do is dismantle the industrial agricultural system, for both meat and fruit and vegetable production, and turn to permaculture principles.

To his credit, Hawken does in his book mention regenerative agriculture, but it’s ranked 11th, whereas I think it should be at the very top of the list…… he also separates out ‘silvopasture’, not a term I’m familiar with, but which is more or less regenerative farming and permculture. That’s ranked at 9 and should be incorporated with 11 above at the top of the list.

Deforestation at number 5 is a no brainer

The list of 100 is way too long for me to go right through and critique individually, it is literally another book in the making, and maybe someone will have a crack at it one day. I’m certainly too busy implementing my own strategies, and, worse, preparing for the future in which basically none of the things he proposes will happen because we are fast running out of time.

Hawken is a capitalist, and as such will never mention the fact we have to rid ourselves of this crazy system and the monetary setup it is supporting at any cost to preserve the wealth of the 1 to 5%…..

Fortunately, some of the very last items on the list like battery storage and grid flexibility are right where they deserve to be……. Biochar at 72 deserves way better ranking. And while I think green roofs are really cool, I have decided they are of little use wherever water harvesting from roofs will be needed. I find that the simple mention of airplanes (ranked 43) is baffling beyond words. Flying has zero future, in reality (peak oil) and in any climate strategy, period. It only proves to me, Hawken, like most people in his position, simply don’t want to give up their toys. Like electric cars at 26…. or simply cars at 49 about which the list says….:

I can’t help wondering whether that includes manufacturing emissions, mining of Lithium and Cobalt (until they run out, and soon…) or whether Hawken has considered that removing $1.76 trillion from the economy would do to it! The list even claims that the Chevy Volt does an astonishing 150MPG (sorry, but this is an American article, and Americans still haven’t joined the rest of the world and use SI units…) I googled this and could find zero mention of fuel consumption remotely close to this, because while running on petrol/gasoline, it only does 38MPG, and its non fossil fuel range is only 38 miles/70km. It’s also a measure of mass thinking that the main criticism of the car in articles I read was that it only had four seats!  But I digress…..
We have already reached critical climate thresholds. As far as I’m concerned, it’s too late already to implement any of this mostly rubbish. If we are serious about climate change, flying should be banned, car factories should be closed down, all coal fired power stations should be closed, banks should be shut up, and people need to learn to live off the already installed renewable energy, and stop having kids. The problem remains consumption, and no capitalist wants to reduce consumption, they just want to turn it green.
There you go……  I didn’t even have to write a book about it.



30 responses

9 02 2018

Thank you so much for taking a stand for reality instead of being swept along. I’m sure you’ve heard of Derrick Jensen, from whom I learned just how critically toxic our global ecological and social systems are and why they are so dysfunctional. I’ve also immersed myself in the work of Chris Martenson who in no uncertain terms goes into great depth about everything you mention here. These are the outliers in this conversation about our dystopian future. Few are listening, though more and more people are waking up. It’s still miniscule compared to what’s needed. We’re circling the drain and I find it appalling how leaders like Paul Hawken, who SHOULD be speaking about the unvarnished facts, continue to toe the technotopian line. My children and grandchildren have a grim future indeed.

9 02 2018

If you haven’t checked these out yet, you should.

They both have YouTube channels as well.

9 02 2018

I’m well aware of Derrick Jensen…..

9 02 2018
Rob Mielcarski


9 02 2018
Bruce Teakle

Good morning Mike, thanks for another post!
I haven’t read any of Project Drawdown, but I support the principle of your response. In essence, I think most responses to our range of resource and environmental crises attempt to solve the problems without challenging the paradigms that have caused them. It doesn’t take much thinking, but it takes a lot of emotional discomfort, to conclude that we can’t address our climate (and other) problems without getting poorer (in the economic sense). The evidence is insurmountable, but most discussion is based on trying to somehow keep the party going: reducing consumption without reducing consumption.
It’s been gradually dawning on me (it’s taken 20 years…) that efficiency actually doesn’t reduce energy consumption/carbon emissions at all. Here’s a recent essay which lays the efficiency problem out very well:
The reason we have made zero (actually negative) progress in reducing carbon emissions, is that we are unwilling to reduce energy consumption, because reducing energy consumption means getting poorer. In other words “The American way of life is not negotiable” (George Bush).
I think restructuring our paradigms and economies, at home and in our communities, to live well but economically poorer, is the only way to reduce emissions, and (probably more importantly) build more resilience to the economic decline we can expect regardless of our choices.

9 02 2018

G’day Bruce…… ah yes, good ol’ Jevons’ Paradox…….. and re “The American way of life is not negotiable”, dead right……. the Earth takes no prisoners…!

9 02 2018
keithaltKeith Altmann

I agree – the big omission to me is that it seems he thinks a machine like approach can be taken to get there – I cannot believe humans and particularly nation states have the governance/enforcement systems that can manage the transition required.There are too many gaps that fail to give due regard to manifold human failings.

9 02 2018
david higham

Good rant. Industrial civilisation is inherently not sustainable in the long term,
but we could have made it longer-lasting if we had implemented changes about fifty years ago. 7.6 billion people,collapsing oceans,climate disruption,the destruction of the natural world,declining fossil energy to keep
the system functioning,a largely ecologically clueless populace,etc.,spell what? The end game is this century.

9 02 2018

Longer lasting? To what end? We’d still have ended up in the same predicament, only a few more years hence and with even less of a biosphere.

10 02 2018
david higham

There is not much point in projecting hypothetical scenarios,but if there had been a gradual reduction in population
from the point we were at fifty years ago,rather than the significant increase there has been,the biosphere would be in a much less
degraded and overexploited state now.

9 02 2018

Well, I think you should go and do your yelling and screaming. It’s only by pointing out the stupidity of ideas like Hawken’s that people will be able to see it for what it is. As for refrigerators…..I was in the Good Guys yesterday and the size of some of those stainless steel monstrosities….way taller than me!

And wind turbines….anyone who can’t see the impossibility of making them without fossil fuels doesn’t have any sort of a brain, IMO.

9 02 2018

I had a read through the wiki page, I agree with you he has no foundation or reasoning for most of the book.

Reduced food waste, this will save billions/trillions. Imagine the savings if 1/3 of the food currently grown did not need to be grown(planted, watered harvested etc), shipped, bought and then discarded.
He classes this as too hard to measure, easy, total cost of current production & sales divided by 3.
There is a bit more to it than the above, but not spending it in the first place is a bonus.

As in not buying the book myself will save me another $30.

9 02 2018

You remind me of Pol Pot – everyone back to a simple rural existence.
He abolished currency.
You have no idea the extreme grinding poverty and everyday struggle it would be to turn our back on our modern industrialised society.
You are all beholden to modern society for your current wealth and comfort.

10 02 2018

Complete nonsense……. I lead “a rural existence”, and I don’t live in grinding poverty. In fact, I’ve never felt richer, in the true sense of the word, which does not involve money…. Pol Pot was a moron with no idea what he was doing.

Furthermore, you write as if we’ll have a choice in the future…….

9 02 2018

@Jeff – yes, that’s the point. It will happen anyway, it would be better to manage our way there than collapse, but, people won’t accept that it will have to happen, so, collapse it will be.

10 02 2018

90% of what you currently rely on comes from a modern industrialized society.
Your cheap grain from large harvesters, your fridge, TV, computer, solar panels, batteries, power tools, your cash savings and I could go on and on.
A simple rural society would have none of those things.
And people would generally be worn out by about 50 by the relentless hard physical labour.

10 02 2018

I don’t do grains…….. I still consume some, but only because it’s still possible. It could even be the reason at almost 66 I’m still capable of “the relentless hard physical labour”! Which BTW is not even an issue once your permaculture setup is established. And you must be young, because you’re being a bit harsh on 50 yr olds….. at 50 I used to ride 100 miles a week on my bicycle, I built a house, and setup a fully working permaculture system. Sure, a lot of obese 50 yr olds won’t make it, but that’s life….

And really, what is wrong with not having “large harvesters, fridge, TV, & computer”? My panels will probably last 40+ years, and the batteries even longer.

There’s no such things as savings either. Nicole Foss says the money you have in the bank is not your money. It’s an unsecured loan you’ve made to the bank, and in the case of a run, say goodbye to it Jeff…… which is why I’ve already spent all the proceeds from selling our last house, real wealth is not cash, it’s the USEFUL things you buy with it.

10 02 2018

But all the wealth you accumulated from a lifetime of work in an industrialised society is what is paying for the nice new house.
Which is built from materials like concrete and steel and filled with electronic goods and appliances , all only produced only in a modern industrial society.
Go to a remote village in PNG or Africa and to see what a pre industrial life is really like.

10 02 2018

No, we don’t do electronic goods either…… all I have is this 8 yr old laptop, and we’ll be cooking on a 60 yr old wood cooker……. and I haven’t worked for 24 years, so it’s only HALF a lifetime of wealth! It’s probably even less than that because I lost an awful lot in the recession we had to have……

15 02 2018
Todd Houstein

“Better insulated fridges… like they used to”? This is false. Old fridges were terribly inefficient. Take a look at how energy efficiency standards have improved fridges over the decades. This link is for the U.S., but it’s the same story in Australia and worldwide:

I’m sure Hawken would agree that having more efficient whitegoods is a good idea. It just didn’t make the cut. It’s true that fridges could be even more efficient; considerably so – especially if people were willing to compromise on convenience by having a chest fridge. But even then, if you do the math you’ll find that it wouldn’t save as much ghg as any of the top 80 solutions Hawken has laid out.

15 02 2018

Old fridges had terribly inefficient compressors, but they DID have walls 100mm thick! A friend of mine, who is a refrigeration mechanic in Qld, restored and modernised a 60 year old fridge, one of those with a convex top where the compressor was housed. He replaced the old clunky motor/compressor, and the result was fridge that consumed HALF the energy of a modern fridge the same size……. in the 1990’s, I did a Diploma in Renewable Energy Technology at TAFE in Qld, and my teacher there always said that fridge manufacturers employed people to see if they could make the inside of fridges bigger than the outside. Plus, they now do really idiotic things like putting the condensor inside the fridge walls, all for trivial aesthetic reasons.

I’m an old hand at energy efficient refrigeration…….

23 02 2018

I recently measured the actual consumption of a couple of fridges and a couple of old and modern freezers over 10 days, and to my surprise there was practically no difference. And we all know about durability of the old and new.

24 02 2018

Interesting……. but exactly how ‘old’ and how ‘new’ were the fridges? A ‘new’ fridge that’s ten years old could have already passed its use by date…. and could consume as much energy as a 30 or 40 year old fridge. The data you gathered would be interesting too.

15 02 2018
Todd Houstein

Mike, you said, “Number two on the list is wind turbines. Give me a break…… we need to use way less energy, not more. As I’ve stated many times on this blog, every time a turbine is built and erected, more CO2 is emitted, that said turbine will never remove in its lifetime.”

I’m not clear on what you’re argument is here. There are a couple of ways of reading it…

1) It could be that you are wrongly suggesting the emissions from constructing and installing a wind turbine exceed the emissions that would otherwise occur if it had not been constructed. I say wrongly because wind turbines produce far more energy than they require to be constructed (full life-cycle). There are hundreds of studies that yield similar results. See this meta-study for example: Kubiszewski et al, 2009, Meta-Analysis of Net Energy Return for Wind Power Systems:
If the same electricity produced by a wind turbine had instead been produced by a gas-fired or coal-fired electricity plant, the emissions would be far, far higher.
I read somewhere else on your blog an attempted rebuttal to the above fact, saying that lots of wind and solar has been installed and yet fossil fuel consumption has gone up. This is not evidence against wind and solar, because another possible explanation (and a much more likely one given population and economic growth) is that fossil fuel consumption would’ve increased more had it not been for the rise of wind and solar.

2) The other possibility is you’re making a more convoluted argument, really comparing installing wind turbines and using the electricity they generate to not using that amount of electricity at all. While I agree that reducing consumption is *much* more preferable, unless you’re going to get to zero consumption, you’re going to need electricity generation of some kind, and that should be a form that produces no or low greenhouse gas emissions. Wind turbines are the best we’ve got at the moment. i.e. Wind turbines are crucial in the struggle to secure a stable climate.

It is interesting though that Drawdown’s top 80 solutions don’t include more about frugality and reducing consumption. To be fair, there are ones that focus on reducing waste and water, and being more efficient with our buildings, ride sharing, and so on; but I do feel there could and perhaps should be more. I wonder if it’s a matter of them being put in the ‘too hard basket’. I’ll ask Hawken during his visit.

15 02 2018

My argument here is that emissions are CUMULATIVE….. so every time we build ANYTHING, be it a house, a car, a fridge, or a wind turbine, more CO2 goes up, just at a time when, as far as I am concerned, ALL emissions should end…. we are almost certainly already past serious climate repercussions – because even if we stopped all emissions tomorrow, the climate would worsen.

Furthermore, the installation of all this renewable energy has not stopped the growth in emissions. CO2 concentrations are still rising exponentially, and at least some of those emissions are due to building renewables.

15 02 2018
Todd Houstein

Finally, on meat…

I’ve read arguments from the vegans that say animal products are to blame for a huge proportion of global emissions. A lot of those figures are grossly exaggerated, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water… Below are some more trustworthy figures, being those reported by the Australian Government through the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. They are plotted here (excluding emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry emissions sector):

“Enteric fermentation” (the burps and farts of cows and sheep) account for >20% of Tasmania’s reported scope 1 emissions. There are further big chunks of reported emissions, adding up to about 4%, for categories relating to animal agriculture such as manure management, urine and dung deposited by grazing animals, and nitrogen leaching and run off from manure. There’s a further 1.3MtCO2-e/y from the conversion of forest to grassland not included in the linked chart, which I presume is largely to make way for animal agriculture.

While there are issues with the methodology for calculating these emissions, I trust they are accurate enough to be in the right ballpark (there is a lot of science and rigour underlying the methodology).

No doubt some of these emissions could be eliminated (or near eliminated) through better farming practices, but not enteric fermentation – you can’t stop a cow from burping, it’s part of their nature – and this is the lion’s share of animal agirculture’s emissions. There is some hopeful experimentation with changing the diet and/or gut flora of livestock that may significantly reduce enteric fermentation, but while there are large numbers of cows and sheep, it will be a big contributor to greenhouse emissions.

I’ve read arguments from the paleos, permies, etc that these emissions can be more than offset by the increase in soil carbon through different agricultural practices. I’m as sceptical of these claims as I am of the vegans’. That’s not to say I’m not open to the possibility they are true, just that I’m yet to see anything of rigour, just unsupported assertions from those who wish dearly to uphold their pre-existing beliefs.

I want to see rigorous evidence of how much carbon can be sequestered into soils through, for example, holistic agriculture. This needs to happen not just as a once off restoration from depleted levels to a higher and healthier static level, but in perpetuity, as that is what would be required to offset the emissions from enteric fermentation.

As a permie, you may appreciate thinking in terms of elemental cycles. A farming system that pulls as much carbon down out of the atmosphere into plants as goes up into the atmosphere from animal burps and farts would be in balance from a carbon perspective, but still a large net greenhouse gas emitter – because the carbon going up is in the form of methane, which is approximately 20 times more potent on the greenhouse effect than the carbon going down, which is in the form carbon dioxide. So, a greenhouse neutral farming system would need to pull down far more carbon into soil than it emitted to the atmosphere, and it would need to do this in perpetuity. Is this possible? I don’t know. But I’m highly sceptical of unsupported claims that it can be. If you know of any evidence with any rigour, links to it would be greatly appreciated. Cheers.

15 02 2018

I have seen first hand, twice, how in five years soil can be built up by a good 75mm……. the first time was when a friend of mine, whose place on Judd’s Hill in Geeveston I can see from here, was complaining about how rocky his farm was. By strip grazing just half a dozen heads of cattle over five years, all the rocks where the cows have been have completely disappeared. Then when I recently did a Small Farm Planning course run by the NRM, we visited another local Geeveston farmer who told the story about his father complaining about rocks beginning to appear everywhere they pulled up apple trees and switched to grazing. With the help of NRM, Simon switched to strip grazing, and lo and behold, the rocks there disappeared too under new soil created by flattening grass and cow manure…. and you can tell by the black colour of the soil that it’s full of carbon (the soil in this area is definitely not black……)

The other thing I learned on this course is that without fossil fuel inputs, 95% of the land in Tasmania (and the rest of Australia for that matter) is simply not capapble of growing anything but meat. When affordable/viable oil vanishes, and it has to if we have any chance of solving the climate crisis, absolutely nobody will have any option but to eat meat, or simply starve. For every ten calories contained in modern food, 9 come from fossil fuels…… you work it out.

27 02 2018
Chris Harries

I attended the chockablock Paul Hawken dinner at MONA.

On the plus side, the extensive work that his movement has done on working out priorities for global carbon abatement is very worthy. Importantly, it totally upends the populist belief that it’s all to do with renewable energy. Education of girls and empowerment of women were placed much higher, for instance.

There was a lot of hyperbole in the speeches and comments about how sustainability and economy are not necessarily at odds with each other and can work hand-in-hand. At the extreme end you could just describe this as shallow green capitalism. But it is true that at this juncture in history most businesses that are engaged in ‘sustainability’ are doing very well, in classic profit terms, as opposed to those sectors that are in decline. For people who are into money this is a temporal investment opportunity… while it lasts.

Hawken doesn’t engage much at all on the political level. So although their calculations on carbon abatement are insightful and useful, how to deliver on them is somewhat threadbare – keeping in mind that as soon as society tries to take substantial action the capitalist machinery that controls the world quickly moves in to stomp it out.

I won’t decry Hawken, and others, who are clearly deeply concerned about the state of the world and doing everything they can to give hope and direction. But have to agree that, alas, the horse has already bolted. His calculations still apply largely to a post-collapse society, so it’s not all irrelevant.

* * * * *

On a slightly amusing side, catering at MONA brought out lavish plates of food, much of it red meat. I’m not a vegetarian and noticed that nearly all of the attendees helped themselves generously to the meat on hand. But also, at every table there were plates piled with meat left over, sitting in front of everyone at each table while the presentations were being made. This gross over supply was in embarrassing contrast to the hard focus on frugality and sustainable food production. One suspects that the caterers were not given any instruction on what to dish up, though must say it was all done with impeccable cookery and hospitality.

27 02 2018
Todd Houstein

Did you also attend the Richard Jones Lecture, Chris? As MC, I asked the first question about why none of the Drawdown solutions tackled frugality (as opposed to efficiency, which many of the solutions focus on, and no/low emissions technologies, which the majority of the remainder focus on). His response was basically that there is no credible data, no way of knowing how effectively it could be scaled up, etc. Using only trustworthy data and scientific rigour is central to Drawdown’s approach in order to maintain credibility. And so they couldn’t include that in the book. Same goes for political action.

But while it’s not part of the Drawdown approach, Hawken clearly states that political action and frugality are important. He doesn’t poo-poo any particular approach, he says we need them all, and I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, he was privately critical of another notable person in the area for their being critical of their past as an activist, and their narrow focus on corporations being the source of change.

More importantly, I think, was how clear Hawken made it that *the solutions contained in Drawdown are not enough*. The total expected emissions reductions and sequestration from them will not bring atmospheric GHG concentrations down to a safe level.

Finally, a mea culpa for the overserving of meat yesterday. I had assumed there would be significantly smaller proportion of meat served. While it was a bit embarrassing for us, on the plus side it drove home Hawken’s points about a plant-rich diet and avoiding food waste!

27 02 2018
Chris Harries

Thanks Todd.

I agree, Hawken’s calculations are fascinating and important for what they are and he is unabashedly honest about stating its limitations.

Paul started his activist career very early, when we had much more scope to avert bad things happening, so his focus has always been on ebullient “Yes, we can!” empowerment messages.

My view is that we now have to straddle this necessary up-beat rhetoric with the current hard reality that our civilisation is so seriously into overshoot that at least a portion of our work now has to focus on trying to help steer society in the midst of mad disruption. But maybe that is a discrete role for some people to take on, rather than everyone. There are some already doing this work.

Don’t apologise for the excessive meat, Todd. As you say it was a neat educational illustration of where our society is at. None of us can control what society-at-large is apt to do beyond our purview.

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