What Does The Environmental Movement Need Right Now? A conversation with Paul Hawken.
Moving the Climate Movement from Hopefulness to Fearlessness.
Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author. Since the age of 20, he has dedicated his life to sustainability and improving the relationship between business and the environment. As one of the inspirations for the launch of this magazine, Hawken answers a few questions about his hopes for the climate movement and his latest endeavor, Project Drawdown.
Q: Your work played a pivotal role in the creation of The Regeneration Magazine — it’s an honor to be speaking with you. You’ve done some incredible work on issues like environmental justice and civil rights. How have you seen the largest movement on Earth change over the years?
A: That makes me happy. I believe the world will awaken soon to regenerative development as the only path that can restore our atmosphere, seas, land and society. In fact, it’s the subject of my next book.
The nature of the “largest movement” is that it cannot be seen … by anyone. It is so vast, diverse and widespread. It mutates and evolves constantly. There is no way to track it. My sense is that as certain issues become prominent, it may seem that [the movement] is shifting, but I tend to doubt that. I think what happens is that as new issues arise and become more commonly undertaken, we hear about them more. More layers are being added, like tree rings, but nothing is forsaken.
Are you worried about the current stance the U.S. government is taking and the message it sends to the rest of the world about our inaction on climate change and the Paris Agreement goals?
I am very concerned about the current administration, because it is taking a wrecking ball to America in every way possible. The new president does not understand his job or the oath he took. I am not so worried about the Paris Agreement, however. Most Americans did not understand the Paris Agreement until Trump showboated his non-support.
So, that was a big plus. It has awakened the responsible institutions — states, cities, corporations, universities, churches, as well as individuals — to double down on their commitments. Further, J.P. Morgan announced that because the price of renewable energy continues to plummet, the U.S. will meet its Paris commitments regardless of Trump. He has no say in how Americans respond. In this, he is powerless.
The environmental movement needs strong leaders. It has always been the sum of its parts. Who and/or what organizations do you see at the helm of progress right now?
Actually, I do not see any organization at the helm. I am not sure there is a helm, to be honest.
What are you hopeful about?
I am not sure hope is a useful emotion. Hope is a condition that depends on fear. If you are not worried or apprehensive about something occurring or not occurring in the future, there is nothing to be hopeful for. In essence, hope is the pretty face of fear, and what we need now is fearlessness, not hopefullness. Science has created excellent problem statements, from global warming to ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and more.
Our job is not to fret and cling to threads of hope; our role is to solve the problems. Blame, demonization of others and hand-wringing waste our time and energy. We need to focus on actions that reverse global warming and regenerate all living systems, including human society.
When did you realize you wanted to write “Drawdown”?
The idea occurred to me in 2001, when the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Third Assessment came out. Like all assessments before and since (except the first), it was more pessimistic than the prior. Because it is “consensus science,” the IPCC has a bias toward moderating the predictions of future impacts of global warming.
Countries with large fossil fuel resources played down what the best climatologists were saying. There is no such thing as consensus science. Science is evidentiary.
Later in 2001, Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative came out with its famous eight global wedges made up of 15 solutions that, if adopted, could achieve stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gases by 2050. Eleven of those 15 could only be accomplished by very large energy, utility or car companies. But all 11 were deeply underwater and unaffordable. In other words, to solve emissions, the boards of directors of conservative companies would have to vote to spend down their balance sheet, if not go out of business. Of those 15 [solutions], the only thing you and I could do was put a solar panel on our roof and drive less. There was no mention of agency — what cities, communities, neighborhoods, small business, provinces, states or farmers could do.
And that is when I started to suggest to friends at big environmental NGOs that we/they should make a list of all the top extant solutions, do the math on carbon, calculate the costs and determine whether the solutions, if scaled, could achieve drawdown in a reasonable amount of time. What I also suggested is that we name the goal: drawdown, the point in time when greenhouse gases peak and go down on a year-to-year basis. The goal then and now has been reduction, mitigation, stabilization — and that too did not make sense to me. There is no stability at 450 to 500 ppm. Those levels of CO2 in the atmosphere bring about climate chaos.
In any case, my friends either shrugged or said they did not have the expertise, and neither did I, so [I] forgot about it until 2012/2013. During that time a series of articles came out, including Bill McKibben’s “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” that shocked people, including friends. I began to hear people say “game over,” that all was lost. I had a different take, that maybe it was “game on” now. So, I decided to create an organization and do the research, even though there was virtually no money or support for it.
Can you tell me about Project Drawdown and the goal of the book?
The organization, Project Drawdown, consists of a small staff, 70 research fellows from 22 countries, over 120 prominent and knowledgeable advisors and several dozen outside expert scientific reviewers.
The goal is to map, measure and model the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming. It is fascinating that although we have had public discourse about global warming for over 40 years, no one had measured the top 100 (or 25, 50, etc.) solutions to climate change, until now. I do not know why. Eighty of the solutions analyzed are in place, well understood and are scaling. What our 70-person global research team did was measure the impact the solutions would have if they continued to scale in a rigorous but reasonable way, and what the cost and profits would be. All carbon data was based on peer-reviewed science.
Could we reverse the buildup of greenhouse gases with techniques and practices already underway? We didn’t know. The goal of the book was to present the findings, describe the solutions in ways that fascinated and informed, and accompany them with images that enlivened and inspired.
Can you take me through an average day of work at Project Drawdown?
Until the final draft of the book was submitted Feb. 12, we were consumed with hundreds of details pertaining to the text, imagery, licenses, credits, numbers (models), harmonizing impact statements and more. We were tying together two and a half years of work. The months of March through mid-April focused on website design and content, pre-publication interviews, publicity coordination, event scheduling and social media outreach, commencing with the publication on April 18.
Until now, the team at Drawdown has been a bit overwhelmed in its effort to respond to incoming queries, comments, requests, talks, seminars, webinars and offers.
Since that time, the research team has been fully occupied with preparing the descriptions of the research for publication on drawdown.org, including technical assessment summaries, sector summaries and upgraded models. I think all of us would welcome an “average day.” Haven’t seen one yet.
How do you feel this book fits into the context of your other work?
It might be too soon to evaluate how it fits. My intention has always been to look at possibility, to honor the true nature of humanity — its kindness, brilliance and goodness — and to do so through a matrix of biology and living systems. I have never been interested in polemics or right-left political divisiveness.
I see the science of climate change as a gift, not a curse. Global warming is feedback from the atmosphere. The earth is a system, and any system that does not incorporate feedback fails. This is true of our body, ecosystems, social systems, and business and economic systems. Global warming is creating huge breakthroughs in energy, transport, agriculture, housing, urbanization, materials and more.
If it wasn’t for the science of climate change, we would be destroying the Earth faster than we already are. I wanted to bring this point out into the open. Focusing repeatedly on the problem does not solve the problem. The science of what will happen if we do not act has been here for a long time. Because there is a perception that society is not taking sufficient action, there has been a tendency to focus mainly on the serious impacts of global warming. Ninety-eight percent of the media stories on climate change are about loss and damage. I wanted to change that emphasis.
How can people get involved or purchase a copy?
Depends on where they are. For some reason, although we are published by Penguin U.S., Penguin U.K. has hesitated to publish. And those are the editions that would naturally go to Commonwealth countries. Their thinking is the same as Penguin in the states, that books on climate and the environment do not sell. The U.S. publisher was hesitant. The good news is that “Drawdown” became a New York Times best-seller its first week (number nine), something no climate or environment book had done for over 25 years. It can be purchased through Amazon at least, but it would be so much better if it was available in bookstores.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
My wife, Barry Lopez, Byron Katie, Jane Jacobs, Janine Benyus, Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Margaret Atwood, William Merwin, Henry David Thoreau, Pema Chödrön, Doris Lessing, Stephen Mitchell, David James Duncan, Arundhati Roy, Mooji Baba, Jane Goodall and Alexander von Humboldt.
What are some things you do to reduce your impact?
Honestly, no matter what I do I will have an outsize impact, because I travel to speak and teach about “Drawdown.” At home, we eschew meat and dairy, buy local and organic, pay close attention to food waste. We have solar electricity, one car, a bike for commuting, a cooperatively owned organic farm and more. But mobility is significant. And we do not watch TV.
This interview is featured in Issue №2 of The Regeneration Magazine. You can preview it, order it, or subscribe on our website.
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