Project Drawdown: Putting the Future in Our Hands
Updated: Apr 22
As the decade draws to an end, my generation is forced to look back on society’s accomplishments and failures, especially those relating to the very future of our planet. Through this crucial retrospection we have come to the disappointing realization that the past ten years have been marred with disappointment and backward steps. Between the election of our 45th President and our exit of the Paris Climate Agreement, America’s role in the fight against climate change looks increasingly ineffective and the future of our planet increasingly bleak. We are forced to question the government whose mandate it is to represent its citizens interests; for in this era of hopelessness and frustration, many politicians seem to only be looking back at their nostalgia-ridden past, ignoring our impending future. So, what can we students do to fight for the continued existence of our planet in an era of radically divisive partisanship and frustrating bureaucracy? The answer to that lies in one of the few beneficial actions of this decade taken to counter climate change: Project Drawdown.
Considered to be “the most comprehensive plan ever to reverse global warming,” Project Drawdown is the product of American environmentalist, Paul Hawkins’ genius. Hawkins, age 73, studied at several prestigious universities including USC, Berkeley, and SFSU. However, it is not Hawkins relation to these respectable institutions which makes him respected by climate advocates, but rather the Drawdown concept itself. The project enumerates climate issues as they are right now and provides solutions to the imminent threat. One hundred practical solutions are listed, solutions we can, and should, all adopt. The majority are so-called “no regret” actions. In Hawkins' own words, they are “actions that make sense to take regardless of their climate impact since they have intrinsic benefits to communities and economies.” Often the argument against taking proactive climate actions is that it is not economically beneficial. This reasoning is used today by the likes of Brazilian President Bolsonaro, who defends his irresponsible authorization to deforest the Amazon, by claiming it is for his country’s economic benefit. Hawkins gives us alternatives. He outlines many economically beneficial and climate friendly actions, that citizens, corporations, and even governments can take to fight climate change. It would be foolhardy for governments to dismiss the growing Drawdown movement, especially as politicians need to develop a younger base.
Personally, I am especially impressed by the Drawdown’s Refrigeration Management Solution. Refrigeration is an afterthought in the developed world’s psyche, something so ingrained in everyday life that it is all too easily forgotten. Both air conditioners and refrigerators contain chemicals which release heat to facilitate refrigeration. Initially, refrigerants like CFC and HCFC had devastating effects on the ozone layer. These chemicals were phased out in 1987 thanks to the Montreal Protocol, however, their replacement, HFC, proved incredibly damaging as well. According to Project Drawdown, HFC chemicals have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In October 2016, 176 countries met in Kigali and produced an amendment deciding to phase out HFCs in favor of natural alternatives like propane and ammonium. Scientists estimate that the Kigali Amendment will lower global warming by 1 degree which is wonderful news. It is worth noting that we must also consider the disposal process of chemicals carefully, as discarding HFCs will be extremely harmful 90% of refrigerant emissions are produced at the end of their life. Every action must be followed by a thoughtful and prudent reaction. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is considered by Hawkins himself as the #1 most effective way to reduce carbon emissions, and deservedly so.
As climate advocates, we will constantly be dismissed by our elders who claim our dreams and ambitions are idealistic, even utopian. Hawkins’ Project Drawdown gives our generation the much-needed ammunition to tackle the issue of climate change. As the decade comes to an end, we have reached a critical turning point where we are tasked with taking the baton from our predecessors and becoming the drivers of the future. Meanwhile our elders have become so accustomed to their way of life that they shutter at the idea of change, losing themselves to nostalgia and a past long gone. Hawkins estimates that the Refrigerant Management Solution would reduce 89.74 gigatons of CO2 emissions while also saving 902.77 Billion in net operational savings.Thus, this is a simple and positive action we can take which abides by Benjamin Franklin’s famous principle of “doing well by doing good,” and should be heard by those who brush us off because of our youth and assumed lack of experience. Today, the Thunberg effect is spreading across the globe, inspiring the young (and old) with an insatiable desire to create real change. Although it sounds like a cliché, the future belongs to us. Come 2020, those who beckon in the new millennia may hardly recognize what the world looks like. It is us, a fresh-faced, hopeful, passionate generation -unburdened by the past- who will be the changemakers of this new century. Step aside Donald, Greta’s coming.
-Nicholas Von Perfall