May 21, 2019 4 min read

Drawdown: 3 Surprising Solutions to Global Warming

While many of us are acutely aware of the worrisome number of things that are going wrong with the environment – from the loss of forests and biodiversity to plastic in the ocean and increasingly unsustainable ways of generating energy – what we often lack are genuine public conversations about solutions.

That’s exactly why Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, is a must-read for anyone craving the sweet relief of evidence-based, inspiring, and entirely possible ways to address these issues.

Drawdown offers the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world. While this is certainly a book, it’s more like the most reader-friendly collection of research articles you’ll ever read – mixed with history, hard data, stories, and bold ideas that might just work if given half a chance – broken up into digestible chapters with plenty of visuals to keep your mind alert and your imagination engaged. 

And though you probably know us for our love of reforestation and all things sustainability, we are also fans of highlighting cutting-edge ideas that have the power to change everything. That's why we couldn't resist bringing a few of these solutions to the forefront. 

Here are 3 surprising takeaways from Drawdown to address the climate crisis 

refrigerator with colorful photos

1. Refrigerators.

Oh yes you read that right. Better management of the thing that keeps our food cold could actually help to cool the planet! Spoiler alert: the #1 solution, as ranked by potential CO2 removal capacity, is “refrigerant recovery” which means the safe removal, storage, and transformation of chemicals found in refrigerators, such as CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFC’s (hydrochlorofluorocarbons).

Now if you know your refrigerant history you may recall that CFC’s and HCFC’s were phased out after the 1987 Montreal Protocol to address the depletion of the ozone layer, however all of those chemicals are still in circulation, and their replacements – HFC’s (hydroflurocarbons) – are less damaging to the ozone layer but are unfortunately 1000X-9000X more warming for the atmosphere. Oops! Hence the recovery process having an estimated potential to reduce 89.74 Gigatons of CO2 (though it would be a costly and technical process). We definitely need more people talking about… refrigerators!

2. Women and Girls.

Also very high on the list are the related practices of family planning and educating girls. Over 200 million women in lower-income countries say they want the ability to choose whether and when to become pregnant, but lack access to contraception and family planning services to do so, resulting in millions of unwanted pregnancies every year. Overpopulation then puts a heavy strain on the planet’s resources, as well as on individual families.

Furthermore, women with more years of education have fewer, healthier children, and help create more resilient natural systems in their communities – managing food, soil, trees, water, and other resources – by combining inherited traditional knowledge with new information accessed through the written word. The combined impact of these approaches could reduce an estimated 119.2 Gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Open Drawdown book on a grassy forest floor, open to the pages about managing peatlands to address global warming

3. Peatlands

We already know that reforestation and forest conservation are essential to carbon absorption, but if we can look beyond that – and if we’re not afraid to get a little messy – we might find ourselves in a different type of plant ecosystem. Peat is a thick, mucky, waterlogged substance made up of dead and decomposing plant matter that develops over hundreds, even thousands of years. It is a mix of wetland moss, grass, and other vegetation slowly decaying beneath a living layer of flora with very little oxygen. Given enough heat, pressure, and time, peat would eventually become coal – and it can sequester a lot of greenhouse gases!

Holding up to ten times more carbon than other ecosystems, restoring peatlands is a relatively affordable solution, though it would take some thoughtful planning. Where peatlands have been drained or damaged (typically for things like palm oil or pulpwood plantations, grazing, or timber) peat can be restored by retaining water and raising the water table, then cultivating biomass to protect and regenerate peat. It can even sustain some water-loving crops.

This could remove 21.57 Gigatons of CO2 and potentially lock up 1,230.38 Gigatons of CO2 with ongoing protection.

Let’s reframe the conversation and create a future full of possibilities.

There are many more solutions to explore, such as reducing food waste, regenerative agriculture, electric vehicles, forest restoration, green rooftops, retrofitting, the list goes on and on. If we can, collectively, shift the conversation from whether or why to HOW and consider the many options we have to re-imagine the world and our place in it, that’s when sparks fly and big ideas start to become not only possible, but inevitable.  

We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?

by Diana Chaplin

Canopy Director & Eco-Storyteller