This article looks at Paul Hawken’s latest work, an edited book which claims to be: “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” One thing is for sure, is that if this book even gets close to achieving its stated aim, it will be a masterpiece.

Introduction cover

The work that Paul Hawken is best known for is his seminal work, The Ecology of Commerce. This is a major contribution to the literature in defining what businesses role is in society. Paul Hawken fights for a robust version of sustainability where the triple bottom line is fully implemented and adhered to. I know reading The Ecology of Commerce marked a major turning point in how I viewed businesses. But there are countless others, such as Ray Anderson of Interface carpets who have read The Ecology of Commerce and had their lives changed. I was really excited when I heard that a new Paul Hawken book was being released especially based on all of the promotional material that I had seen before its release. Let’s see if it lived up to the hype.

About the book

First of all, in terms of aesthetics, the book is stunningly well produced, with many exquisite pictures and a good layout. I don’t know if it was because it is designed to be a coffee table book, but I do think that bearing the subject matter in mind, the design could have been slightly smaller and more in keeping with sustainability. Again, I only pick up on this because of the nature of the message that the book is intending to communicate, but I could not find a FSC or PEFC logo anywhere on my edition of the book. If it is the case that it has been printed on paper which was not sourced responsibly, then that is regrettable.

In terms of language, the book has a noble vision. It states:

Our goal is to present climate science and solutions in language that is accessible and compelling to the broadest audience, from ninth graders to pipe fitters, from graduate students to farmers.

I would say on reflection that despite the tough and quite complicated and technical subject matter that they have done a pretty good job at making it accessible to a wide range of audiences.  The book also avoids the use of military language, something which I find interesting. Words such as combat and slash have become commonplace in the language of climate change. When I read about their pledge at the beginning of the book I wondered how they would manage this, but throughout the book, no military language can be found. I have to say I think this a good thing, if you can get your message across using non-violent language then that has to be better.

The book pulls together some fantastic figures, such as the Swedish statistic that for every tonne of general waste incinerated, there is a 1,100 pound CO2 saving compared to if it was landfilled.

I found the piece on distributed energy storage particularly interesting, which came in at number 77 in the Drawdown 100. Its role as a facilitator of other renewable energy sources is certainly vital.

The section on food was my favourite. Eating a plant-rich diet came in at number 4, reducing food waste came in at number 3, silvopasture came in at number 9, regenerative agriculture came in at number 11, tree intercropping came in at number 17, conservation agriculture came in at number 16, tropical staple trees came in at number 14 and managed grazing came in at number 19. It is truly remarkable that out of the top 20 solutions to climate change 8 come from within the food sector. This has to be an area where more attention is focussed so that we don’t accidentally sleepwalk past an important area where the solutions are located.

The buildings and cities section was also interesting. Walkable cities came in at number 54. There was the incredible statistic that in low-income countries, 70% of urban transportation budgets go towards car oriented infrastructure, but 70% of trips are taken by foot or mass transit. This miss allocation of capital needs to change for sustainability to become a reality. The piece on bike infrastructure was good and this solution came in at number 59. No surprises there, areas with bike lanes tend to find that a lot of people cycle. This needs to become commonplace in cites around the world and not merely in a few isolated islands of cycling progress. The segment on LED lighting was also moving, which came in at number 33 for households and 44 for commercial. I found the statistic that more than 1 billion people are still left in the dark when the sun sets hard to fathom. It makes it clear the need to make considerable cuts to emissions in developed countries as there are those in developing countries who have yet to taste prosperity and must be lifted out of poverty and into a lifestyle that will no doubt entail more carbon emissions than in their present state. My personal favourite solution, heat pumps came in at number 44. I was expecting it to be a dark horse and perhaps make the top 10 or 20. That being said the book is a breakdown of the top 100 solutions, they are all needed and they are all important if we are to build a better world. I thought the section on retrofitting was particularly well written as well as the Rocky Mountain Institute solution to make retrofitting cheaper by doing select areas simultaneously and all with the same proven technologies.

The land use section was also wonderful. Forest protection came in at number 38, tropical forests came in at number 5 highlighting their role as the world’s most valuable ecosystem. I was thrilled to see bamboo come in at number 35, its role as a species that works on degraded land and provides useful products with carbon benefits was highlighted. Peatlands came in at number 13, temperate forests came in at number 12 and afforestation came in at number 15. I thought it was instructive that in the afforestation piece, it was demonstrated that to afforest an additional 204 million acres of marginal land by 2050 would cost $29 billion, but that the plantations would yield a net profit of over $392 billion and reduce CO2 by 18.06 gigatons. When the money that is spent on other things and the money that is sloshing around the international system is taken into account, $29 billion is a small investment for such dramatic results.

The transport section was also really good. Mass transit came in at number 37, there were many good arguments put forward in the high speed rail piece, which came in at 66. Electric vehicles came in at 26, electric bikes came in at 69 and telepresence came in at 63.

The materials section also had a lot of useful information as well as the number 1 solution. Household recycling came in at number 55 and industrial recycling at 56. The number 1 solution was refrigeration, which came in with an 89.74 gigaton reduction in CO2. It is clear that more attention must now be placed on this pertinent area. Recycled paper came in at 70 and bioplastic came in at 47, whilst home water saving came in at 46.

There was also a future facing section that detailed 20 solutions that were in various stages of development but were not ready to scale globally just yet. In this section there was an excellent segment on how autonomous vehicles are needed to save urban areas from the motor car, but that these vehicles mush have a high occupancy rate for their full benefits to be revealed. The piece on living buildings was excellent and set out a vision for buildings that contribute to the greater good and not just be less bad. The section on hydrogen-boron fusion was also stunningly well written as well as thought provoking. The section on the hyperloop was very interesting; this is an emergent technology with many pros and cons. The section on industrial hemp also brought up a number of interesting points that I had not thought of such as its cost. I thought it was strange to include building with wood in the futurology section as there are a great many wooden skyscrapers being built as we speak, but this item was also well written.

What you need to know

This is a really important contribution to the climate change literature. When it is combined with the other work that will be updated on http://www.drawdown.org/ what they have created is a very important piece of work.

My only criticisms would be that perhaps a layout where it was numbered 100-1 would be better. Also, the content of the book is stunning, but I don’t know whether it was because it is a compilation of writers work, but it felt less joined up than I anticipated it would be. That being said, what Paul Hawken and his colleagues at Drawdown.org have managed to put together is a masterpiece. If you are interested in sustainability, worried about climate change or just want to build a better world but don’t know what to do, buy this book.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you liked this book review and would like to see more articles like this, comment at the bottom or you can also find me on social media.

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I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby



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