UCSF Sustainability Stories

Kailyn Klotz, Sustainability Fellow, 2018

Drawdown: Finding Opportunities through Climate Change

It’s easy to feel helpless about the current state of our global climate. In the media, stories of record high temperatures, devastating hurricanes, and winter wild fires paint a picture of unavoidable future doom that leaves us in fear. All the while, the war against climate science has left many of us shaking our heads in confusion.

“Fear and confusion leads to apathy or indifference of the status quo,” said Chad Frischmann, Vice President and Research Director of Project Drawdown, a project focused on promoting the best available information on climate solutions. For decades, the dialogue around climate change has been built around these negative notions but, in order to reverse global warming, Project Drawdown believes we first must reverse the way people think about it. “We have to change that discourse to one of opportunity and optimism,” explained Frischmann.

For Paul Hawken, Executive Director, the inception of Drawdown was largely influenced by the negativity that has been emerging through climate change discourse over the past twenty years. Thus, one of the driving concepts of the project is to counter the fear and confusion, to remove apathy, and to make room for optimism and provide opportunities.

We don’t have to play victim to what is happening around us. “If climate change is happening to us, we become victims. If it is happening for us, we can be agents of change,” stressed Frischmann.

Project Drawdown is a non-profit organization backed by a coalition of advisors and research fellows across the globe working to extract the best climate change solutions already in existence. Since its start in 2014, the project has published the #1 Best-Selling Environmental Book of 2017, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming .

Frischmann explained, “It is not a technical manual. It’s not overwhelming. Solutions are presented as narratives and stories. The reason Drawdown has become so well received is because it is the kind of book you can take to the park on Sunday and have a good day. You can read it before bed and not have a nightmare.” The book highlights 100 of the top solutions to reverse global warming based on the research of over 65 fellows in 22 different countries. It’s through these and other emerging solutions that we should seek optimism and opportunities.

In an effort to reach “drawdown”, or the “point in time when the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases begins to decline on a year-to-year basis”, each solution is measured and modeled in order to determine its carbon emissions, net cost to society, and total lifetime savings over the course of the next 30 years. Drawdown is emphasizing that through a set of technologies and practices to reduce consumption, improve technological efficiency, change behavior, replace existing energy infrastructure, and create carbon sinks, we can remove carbon and reduce greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Doing so is the only way we know how to reverse of global warming caused by human activity.

Common solutions like electric vehicles and solar farms can be found in the book, however, you might be surprised to learn that refrigerant management is the number one solution for greenhouse gas reduction, or that walkable cities could result in a lifetime savings of over 3.2 trillion dollars.

In fact, much of the list is made up of ‘no regrets’ solutions. In the book, Paul Hawken writes, “Almost all of the solutions compiled and analyzed here lead to regenerative economic outcomes that create security, produce jobs, improve health, save money, facilitate mobility, eliminate hunger, prevent pollution, restore soil, clean rivers, and more.” There are cascading benefits when we work to reduce emissions and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. 

As chief architect of the methodology and models used, and director of the Drawdown research teams, Frischmann stressed the importance of having a diverse collection of researchers and advisors behind the project. “The team represents a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds; we’re not just a group of data modelers, but also scientists, architects, economists, human rights lawyers, farmers, business professionals, public health educators, etc. We like to think of the fellows as the future generation of climate leaders, as Drawdown Ambassadors,” explained Frischmann.

Having a coalition of individuals from a wide variety of fields brings a lot of advantages to the table. A diverse research team not only reduces bias, promotes a systemic approach, and captures international perspectives, but also presents technologies and practices based on different scales and sectors from direct experience. It is important to Drawdown that they are presenting solutions that all individuals have a choice to act on.

For example, whether or not to use LED lighting in a household is a homeowner’s decision, while decisions about farmland irrigation are the responsibility of a farmer or landowner. Ultimately, all of the Drawdown solutions are a collection of individual choices that must be made across all scales in order to move toward drawdown. Climate change is too big of a problem to be solved as individuals on our own- too big of an opportunity.

Through this sort of collaboration Drawdown will continue and produce accelerated positive effects. Frischmann described the project as ‘living.’ “If it becomes static, then it becomes meaningless. We have to keep it up to date and current our audiences,” he said. Drawdown 2, or D2, is a compilation of 60 “Coming Attractions” or game changing technologies and practices that have yet to emerge. The project plans on moving forward by advancing communication, partnerships, and educational efforts, as well as expanding research and publishing additional books as more solutions arise.

That’s why, beginning this month, the UCSF Office of Sustainability will be highlighting one or more Drawdown solutions per month in our newsletter and on our website. You can keep updated by signing up for our listserv.