It's drawdown or game over - environmental activist

The only environmental goal that makes sense anymore is to reverse and not just mitigate global warming, says globally renowned environmental activist Paul Hawken.

Yet, he adds, this approach is not being taken often enough.

The American environmentalist, entrepreneur and author was one of the speakers at the 12th Green Building Convention hosted by the Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA) in Cape Town this week.

Since the age of 20, according to his website, he has dedicated his life to sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment.

His new book is called Drawdown - The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.

What drawdown means

Hawken explained that applying the scientific term "drawdown" would mean getting greenhouse gases to actually decline after a historical peak.

Hawken said the human species has not lived on earth before at the levels of carbon being experienced since 1950s.

"So, to anyone who says: 'let’s mitigate' climate change, I want to point out that 'mitigate' means to reduce the seriousness of something,” emphasised Hawken.

“If you are going down a road and it is the wrong way, merely slowing down means you are still going down the wrong way. Yet, this has been the rhetoric around global warming."

That is why he is putting strong emphasis on actual drawdown and not just mitigating the pace of global warming.

In his view, 99% of people in the world are totally disengaged from the climate change issue. That is why he does not think scaring people is the best approach. That will only make them feel numb, he argues.

"It is either about probability or possibility. Repeating a problem over and over does not solve it. No solution can be applied in isolation. You can either accept this is how we will end, or you can get started on doing the math and solving one problem after another,” he said.

“We must ask how we can meet the current human needs, then you are on the pathway to bringing people together in a way that makes sense to them and seeing working with them as education opportunities."

Drawdown or game over

In order to find measurable solutions to prevent what he calls "game over", Hawken managed to bring together a community of scientists and scholars to work on a practical model to establish drawdown in global warming.

"What surprised us were the solutions. We determined hundreds of solutions and calculated the savings," he said.

One of the solutions is afforestation. This is the process of planting trees or sowing seeds in spaces where it has not been done before.

Other solutions relate to buildings, cities and transport as well as the use of wind energy (both onshore and offshore) and rooftop solar panels.

Another solution is to support indigenous people in their efforts to manage their land and protect it from "exploitation" by big companies.

The restoration of farmland which has been abandoned due to the soil being degraded is a solution. The challenge here, however, is obtaining the finance needed. Supporting women smallholders is important in this regard.

The research proposes eating a plant-rich diet - it is in fact the solution that would have the fourth biggest impact.

"I am not saying don't eat meat but eat mostly plants. By breeding so many animals in captivity and force-feeding them, we are destroying the world," said Hawken.

The solution found that will have the 6th biggest impact is educating girls - combined with family planning - in order to empower them.

The number one solution found is the sustainable management of the refrigerant used in air conditioning.

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