August 23, 2023
The End of Normal: Understanding—and correcting—Earth’s troubling climate trajectory
The planet is now more than 1.1°C warmer than before the Industrial Revolution—and it shows. This summer, we’ve experienced punishing heat waves, devastating floods, and toxic levels of wildfire smoke filling our skies. As temperatures climb, the risk of extreme weather rises, too. And we’re facing an even hotter, more dangerous future. Humans are conducting an unprecedented experiment on the entire planet, and no one is sure exactly how bad it will turn out. But there is hope. Most of the solutions we need to stop climate change and avoid the worst-case scenarios are already here. Join Kate Marvel, senior climate scientist at Project Drawdown, as she draws on her own experiences as a scientist and vocal advocate for climate solutions to explore the science behind current climate changes and future projections. In this webinar recording, Marvel discusses in easy-to-grasp terms the science of attributing extreme weather events to our warming climate, the different ways humans affect climate, and the things science doesn’t yet understand. This webinar is part of Project Drawdown’s new monthly Drawdown Ignite webinar series. Drawdown Ignite provides information and inspiration to guide your climate solutions journey. Updates on future webinars can be found by visiting drawdown.org/events
August 22, 2023
Many maps, many routes—one destination
A roadmap is an incredibly useful tool for getting from one place to another. It shows you where you’re heading and the various routes to get there. Even more useful, however, is a customized version – a roadmap that shows in detail which route to take if you want to get from where YOU are to YOUR destination in the most efficient way possible, given the resources (time, money, transportation options) available. Similarly, the Drawdown Roadmap is invaluable for showing in a general way how we can achieve a climate-stable future. But it doesn’t necessarily lay out the best path for those focusing on a specific sector, such as electricity, industry, transportation, buildings, or food, agriculture, and land use. Enter Drawdown Roadmaps – with an “s.” Where the Drawdown Roadmap describes how to strategically mobilize solutions across sectors, time, and place; engage the power of co-benefits; and recognize and remove obstacles, Drawdown Roadmaps will offer specific recommendations customized to solutions or solutions categories, allowing companies, philanthropies, investors, development banks, and policymakers to select the route that best fits their circumstances. First up, in the early part of 2024, will be a Drawdown Roadmap for Food, Agriculture, and Land Use. This tool will apply the Roadmap framework to food systems to identify “emergency brake” solutions that will lead to rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It will highlight which solutions can be implemented quickly and have the biggest bang-for-the-buck in specific regions around the world. Other areas of focus we’re hoping to develop as funding allows include buildings and win-wins for nature and climate. For each customized roadmap, reports, infographics, fact sheets, videos, and map layers will allow users to align considerations such as suitability, feasibility, impact, and co-benefits to identify the best path forward under their unique circumstances. Eventually – again, as funding allows – we hope to produce interactive web-based apps that enable users to design a roadmap around their specific circumstances to help their company or organization reduce their emissions quickly. We’ll share more as our work develops. Do you have suggestions for specific Roadmaps that might be of most use to you and your colleagues? Interested in helping to fund the Roadmaps initiative? Please let us know at email@example.com.
August 16, 2023
Stop giving Big Oil a carbon fig leaf
The Biden Administration is backing industrial carbon capture schemes that overwhelmingly benefit Big Oil – bolstering their bottom lines and extending a PR lifeline that ensures they can continue polluting – all under the guise of climate action. Record heat waves. Widespread fires. Devastating storms. The tragic toll of climate change is becoming more evident every day. To avoid even more severe impacts in the future, we must quickly and dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions – largely caused by fossil fuels. Fortunately, the tools we need to cut emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and beyond are growing quickly, becoming better and more affordable over time. We will also need some “carbon removal” in the future – where we use nature (with trees or soils) or industrial processes to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, sequester it, and keep it from adding to our climate woes. In the last few years, more attention has focused on industrial methods, because they can bury carbon in permanent, geologic reservoirs, unlike trees and soils that can burn down or be plowed up. In principle, this makes sense. But in practice, industrial carbon removal is wildly expensive, far too energy- and resource-intensive, and only removes pathetically small amounts of carbon. It’s nowhere near being a viable solution to climate change. For the foreseeable future, cutting emissions is the most feasible means of addressing climate change. And whatever carbon removal we might eventually develop should only be used to address the final, hard-to-abate emissions left after fossil fuels are phased out. Most of all, carbon removal should never be used as a substitute for cutting emissions, or to help delay phasing out fossil fuels. So why is the federal government doing exactly the opposite – putting big money behind dubious carbon capture projects, in ways that specifically benefit Big Oil and help delay climate action? Last week Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced $1.2 billion in new funding for “Direct Air Capture” projects, including a giant project led by Occidental Petroleum. Unbelievably, we will be giving tax dollars to an oil company – as Big Oil makes record profits – to try to mop up some of the pollution they created. And this is only part of a $3.5 billion DOE commitment to Direct Air Capture projects, and a much larger portfolio of government funding and tax breaks that reads like a love letter to the fossil fuel industry. (This is on top of the estimated $20 billion in other annual subsidies the government already gives Big Oil.) But this isn’t new. Previous administrations also funded Big Oil’s industrial carbon capture schemes, including ridiculous “Clean Coal” and Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) projects that claimed they would reduce carbon pollution from fossil power plants. Of course, the projects flopped and wasted billions of tax dollars – even prompting a rebuke from the Government Accountability Office. While these projects were spectacular failures – financially, technologically, and operationally – they did serve one powerful purpose: They provided a fig leaf to the fossil fuel industry. These projects distracted the world with greenwash and helped delay policies intended to phase out dirty fuels. And that’s exactly what they were intended to do. Now, the Biden Administration is repeating this move. But it’s a mistake, for six big reasons. First, industrial carbon capture is still far too clunky and expensive – costing thousands of dollars per ton – to put on the taxpayer’s dime. By comparison, cutting emissions through energy efficiency or renewable energy is far cheaper, and saves taxpayers money in the long run. Instead of billion-dollar Big Oil boondoggles, the government should invest in proven climate solutions while funding smaller, more innovative R&D projects that explore cheaper, scalable ways to capture carbon. Second, industrial carbon removal is comically undersized. Even the largest projects only sequester seconds worth of our annual emissions, at tremendous expense. And no meaningful scaling of this technology – to a size needed to help address climate change – is in sight. Basic physics, and common sense, tells us this is exceptionally challenging.
June 27, 2023
Drawdown Science Profile: Tina Swanson
This article is the sixth in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s science team. Tina Swanson joined the Drawdown Science team as a visiting scholar in June 2023. An environmental scientist with a background in cross-disciplinary research and engagement at the science/policy interface, she is passionate about applying science to benefit society. Tina comes to Project Drawdown with more than two decades of experience in the environmental nonprofit arena, including with The Bay Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Here, Tina explains why Project Drawdown is the perfect next step in her long and illustrious career, describes how she once found herself clinging to a ship’s mast high above the ocean, vouches for the therapeutic value of punching clay, and more. Q: What is your role with the Project Drawdown Science team? A: I bring to Project Drawdown a very broad expertise and knowledge base, and I hope one of the values I offer is to help periodically identify some of the cross-connections and synergies that my teammates may not have yet considered. I want to complement their expertise, which is very deep and very impressive, with some of my experience with how the policy arena works in its intersection with science. Q: Why Project Drawdown? A: I have been a scientist working at the intersection of science and policy for more than 20 years. I went into it as a very deliberate professional decision after a number of years in academia because I wanted to be in a position to say, “This is what the science says, and based on what the science says this is what you should do.” When I left NRDC, I was not quite ready to retire. Climate change is such an urgent and existential problem that I felt an obligation to stay engaged. I was drawn to Project Drawdown because it’s a science-based organization devoted to the solutions rather than just defining the problem. I think we need to apply more science to the solutions—not just what they should be, but how to get them into the world. Q: Do you have pets? A: I do! A dog, Griffin, half German shepherd and half Dutch shepherd. A cat, Tess, and a splendid horse, Shiloh. I have a fish tank, too. I’m a fisheries biologist, so I always have a fish tank. I can’t imagine life without them. Q: What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done on purpose? A: When I was in college I did a semester-long program at Woods Hole and spent six weeks on a 100-foot-long topsail schooner in the Caribbean and Atlantic. I’m afraid of heights, and one of the things I made myself do is climb up the shrouds to the working platform on the mainmast. It was really high above the ocean and swayed sickeningly as the ship sailed. Once was enough! Q: What superpower(s) do you bring to this job? A: I think what I bring is a result of decades of experience working in this arena—an interest and ability to see the big picture and an understanding of where the various knobs and levers are for being able to effect change. Another really important thing is a sense of both humility and humor. Q: What gives you hope? A: What gives me hope is being able to work with people at Project Drawdown as well as other organizations that are working really, really hard to solve the problems we have and to do it in ways that work. The best solutions are the ones that will solve the problems and also provide other useful co-benefits. I have hope that we can solve this. I do not underestimate how much of a challenge it's going to be, but I have hope. Q: What makes you crazy? A: The thing that makes me the craziest is the increasing ability of people to ignore and resist factual information. As a scientist, that maddens me because all of my training and personality are like, “Figure out how something works based on the facts, and respond in kind.” I’m maddened when people instead rely on magical thinking designed to support their preconceived notions. Q: Do you have a happy place? A: Out in the California countryside riding a horse. Q: Tell me about your artwork. A: I started taking classes in ceramics sculpture when I was at UC Davis, partly to counterbalance the intense research, analysis, and number crunching part of my life. I use a technique called handbuilding to sculpt human and animal figures, vessels, and tiles. I’ve sculpted a lot of fish. I find working with clay very therapeutic, both physically and mentally. To push and mold and smack and craft it into shape is very satisfying. It’s an exercise in three-dimensional thinking. I would recommend it to anybody.
June 12, 2023
Net Zero is bigger than any one building, but every building can help us get there
It’s Net Zero Buildings Week! Time to celebrate the progress we’ve made in making buildings better for people and for the rest of life on this planet. And time to get real about where the net zero concept is useful and where it’s not. At Project Drawdown, we count net zero practices among our proven solutions in the buildings sector. We advocate moving toward a future where buildings support human communities and the communities of life outside of them—and where everyone has a building they can call home. So it might seem like an odd time to tell you that pushing for every individual building to be net zero is not how we get there. Net zero is a story about what we want for the world—and in particular the atmosphere that wraps around the Earth. We want an atmosphere to support both people and all of the flora, fauna, and funga that make up the web of life. To protect and preserve life on Earth, we have to quit dumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere so quickly that they hang around and cause havoc. The global net zero concept is simple: We’re currently emitting greenhouse gases much faster than nature or humans are able to take them out of the atmosphere. We’ll reach net zero when natural and manmade systems remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as fast as we emit them. That means the current sources of emissions shrink down until they’re no bigger than the existing sinks. Project Drawdown illustrates this system with the rainbow graph below. (Happy Pride Month!)
January 30, 2023
TEDxBoston: The Drawdown Roadmap
Project Drawdown has used rigorous science to identify and characterize nearly 100 practices and technologies that, if ambitiously implemented together, can achieve drawdown—the point when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. Now, how do we scale them? The Drawdown Roadmap is a science-based framework to strategically and effectively deploy these powerful climate solutions in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The roadmap takes into account how opportunity for reduction is distributed across sectors, the relative cost (or financial benefit) of the various solutions, and where and when each might most effectively be implemented. In this TEDxBoston presentation, Project Drawdown executive director Jonathan Foley introduces the Drawdown Roadmap and outlines how this new plan for prioritizing climate action across sectors, time, and geography can “really drive change on climate change” while there’s still time. Watch “The Drawdown Roadmap: A Science-based Framework to Accelerate Climate Solutions" now.
January 17, 2023
Drawdown Science profile: Amanda Smith
This article is the second in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team. Amanda D. Smith, Ph.D., joined Drawdown Science as senior scientist, built environment, in December 2022. Amanda is a researcher and analyst with expertise in building science and energy systems modeling. Her professional career includes academic, national laboratory, and industry positions. Most recently, she served as senior energy analyst at SOCOTEC USA. She received her doctorate from Mississippi State University. Here, Amanda shares her thoughts on, among other things, the intersection of climate solutions and the built environment, life as the daughter of a nuclear engineer, and the ideal weekend. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them? A: I’m bringing more perspective on buildings and energy systems into Project Drawdown: how buildings consume energy; how large-scale energy systems work and interact with the economy, the environment, and the other human-built systems they're providing services for. I’m looking at all of that through a lens of climate solutions and improving the human experience in the world. Through research, outreach, and education, hopefully we’ll get the word out about the climate solutions that are ready to go and help people evaluate which to implement. Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join the Drawdown Science team? A: The mission really speaks to me. When the Drawdown book first came out, I had personally been discouraged by feeling like we as humans were very comfortable using resources and not valuing the planet and our fellow humans with less access to those resources. The book was inspiring, and the question was practical: We know we need to get to drawdown, so how can we do this? At Project Drawdown I have freedom to do academic research. I have opportunities to teach people. But I’m part of a small team. I feel like we’re nimble and creative, and there is a focus to our work. Even though the things we’re doing are so different, it essentially comes back to one shared vision. Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles to solving climate change, and how does your work with Project Drawdown address them? A: A lot of the obstacles are in perspectives and attitudes. I hope I can bring a wider perspective by asking questions like, “Why are we building things the way we are?” “Why are we using resources the way we are?” We have technologies that can help with this, and we should be deploying them quickly and strategically. On the technical side, we tend to look to adding more technology to “fix” issues with how our buildings affect the environment. But what I want to make sure is out in the public awareness is that there is a lot of knowledge in building science we want to take advantage of, not just new technology, and simplicity has a lot of value. For example, using best practices for designing and constructing the building envelope (like the Insulation solution) means we need less mechanical equipment to keep the building comfortable for the people inside (like the High-Efficiency Heat Pumps solution). This can also make building management simpler, conserve resources, and boost the building’s resilience to extreme weather or power outages. Q: Everybody has a superpower. What’s yours? A: Being a systems thinker—being able to ask questions outside of my discipline or go beyond the original question asked. It probably came from having a mom who was a science teacher and who encouraged me to ask questions. Q: What's a childhood toy or experience that relates to the work you're doing today? I grew up in Russellville, Arkansas. We have a nuclear plant in our hometown, and my dad worked there as a nuclear engineer. I actually got to visit the site as a kid, pre-9/11, and he talked to me about his job. You can see some of the plant’s interactions with the environment. There’s a cooling tower visible from miles away that is evaporating water drawn from the river as part of the plant’s cooling system—to a child it’s a big cloud-maker. Growing up with someone who was a power plant engineer gave me the understanding from a young age that the electricity I’m using is coming from somewhere. I don’t look at a wall socket and assume the electricity magically appears; I have always known that so much happened before that electricity got to the building. Q: If you could eat lunch with any famous person, living or dead, who would it be? A: If I can have two, I’d have lunch with Alan Watts and Chungliang Al Huang. It would be amazing to witness their interactions and get to ask questions. Their writing has changed my thinking on science, technology, intelligence, and what it means to cooperate with the natural world and recognize yourself as part of it. Q: What’s your favorite drawdown solution? A: My favorite solution actually isn’t classified as a buildings solution: It’s Plant-Rich Diets. I love eating vegan food, and I feel good about how it affects me, the broader animal community, and the wider world. Q: What gives you hope? A: A lot gives me hope. I feel like the conversation has shifted well beyond, “Is climate change happening? Should we change what we’re doing?” to a more complex conversation. We have work from Project Drawdown and lots of other places to show that there are effective actions we can take using what we know now, and they have benefits beyond the climate. My job is to get the message out about that, and to help people understand how the technology pieces come together for a better future. Having the ability to do work that is meaningful—that gives me a lot of hope. Q: Your ideal way to spend a weekend? A: An ideal weekend includes some time in a forest, and a book, and probably a walk with the dogs or a cat on my lap.
January 5, 2023
Drawdown Science profile: Paul West
This article is the first in a series introducing the new members of Project Drawdown’s science team. Paul West joined Drawdown Science as senior scientist, ecosystems & agriculture, in September 2022 after working part-time with Project Drawdown as director of special projects since January 2021. An applied ecologist, he focuses on identifying and amplifying co-benefits of climate solutions for conserving biodiversity, sustainably producing food, and enhancing the overall health of people and our planet. Before coming to Project Drawdown, Paul held leadership positions at the University of Minnesota and The Nature Conservancy. The Web of Science has named him one of the world’s most influential ecology and environmental researchers. In this interview, Paul shares his thoughts on the intersection of climate and food security, Mr. Rogers vs. Bill Nye The Science Guy, fresh pears, and more. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them? A: I’m helping find solutions to reduce our impact on climate and create a more just world. I bring scientific rigor to the conversation, assess how climate solutions also benefit people and nature, and work with others to effect change on the ground. Q: Why did you choose to join the Drawdown Science team? A: I like to be on the frontier of new science and I’m all about solutions. I’m also very practical. So Project Drawdown is a great fit for me. My work will focus on solutions that bring together my expertise and passion for reducing climate change, improving food security, and protecting nature. How do we meet all three goals? Who benefits and what are the trade-offs? Where are the hot spots that can help or hinder progress? What’s the path and who can help us reach the destination quickest? Q: Can you recall a childhood experience that relates to the work you’re doing today? A: When I was 8 or 9, we had a family friend who was passionate about hunting and fishing and hiking and such. He took me to a few places where there was a remnant prairie and talked to me about what most of that part of Illinois used to look like. It stuck with me just how much our landscape has changed. Q: What’s your favorite Drawdown Solution, and why? A: One is protection of tropical forests, because they store a whole bunch of carbon, are biodiversity hotspots, and are important areas for Indigenous peoples. Another is eliminating food waste, because it’s something everyone sees as a good idea. It’s something we’re able to do as individuals and something that has immediate impact and that we have influence over in our everyday lives. Q: What was the subject of your Ph.D. dissertation? A: I came up with new ways of quantifying how land use change, mainly from agricultural expansion and management, affects water availability and quality, habitat, and climate. Q: What superpowers do you bring to this job? A: Over time I’ve become more of a high-end generalist as compared to extremely good at a few things. That, in combination with being a systems thinker and curious, is a big one. I’m good at cutting through all the noise to find answers and doable actions. And I work well with others. Even though I’m a science guy, I’m more like Mr. Rogers than someone flashy like Bill Nye. Q: What gives you hope? A: There are so many more people, especially young people, these days who are very interested in climate change and are taking action or demanding action by others. Also, it gives me hope that we have most of the tools that are needed to solve most of the problems. Q: What is the most awesome thing you’ve encountered so far today? For breakfast I had a pear and some oatmeal, and there’s something about pears that I love. When I was a kid we had them out of tin and I didn’t like them. This time of year I love to have a fresh pear.
November 15, 2022
Project Drawdown launches world-class science team
Four world-class researchers are joining Project Drawdown as inaugural members of our new science team. Their mission: to advance the science of how to effectively implement climate solutions; to advance the public discourse on climate solutions; and to collaborate with leading companies, funders, and organizations to accelerate action to quickly, safely, and equitably halt climate change. The four, James Gerber, Ph.D.; Kate Marvel, Ph.D.; Amanda D. Smith, Ph.D.; and Paul West, Ph.D., will join Project Drawdown over the next four months. The team members will conduct frontline research on critical topics related to climate solutions, helping Project Drawdown build roadmaps for their implementation. They also will serve as public-facing subject matter experts on climate solutions, providing thought leadership to inform science-based decisions by policymakers, investors, philanthropists, corporate leaders, and others around the world.
July 26, 2022
Hitting the “emergency brake” on climate
There’s a hard truth about climate change: Meeting the Paris Accords—and limiting global warming to 1.5˚C or “well below” 2˚C—requires we stabilize emissions and then cut them nearly in half by the end of the decade. Unfortunately, we’re falling behind. And many climate solutions can’t be deployed quickly enough to help. But some can. We must identify and rapidly scale the solutions that can act as an “Emergency Brake” for climate. Addressing climate change demands that we take bold and immediate action—above anything we have done to date. It will require huge shifts in policy, capital, business, technology, and behavior. Fortunately, all of this is possible. We already have the tools we need, and more are being developed. What do we have to do? And when do we have to do it? Numerous researchers have developed scenarios to show how we might stop climate change and meet the “Paris Accords.” This would limit planetary warming to 1.5˚C or “well below” 2˚C. (We’re seeing ~1.1˚C of warming already.) While each scenario makes different assumptions about technology, economics, and policy, they have patterns in common. According to the “Carbon Law”—a framework adapted from these scenarios—we need to immediately stabilize and cut greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by the early 2030s, and reach “net zero” emissions by the early 2050s.