Book Review: Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Climate Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Title: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Editor: Paul Hawken

Publisher: Penguin Books

Year Published: 2017

Price: $17.31

When this book arrived in the mail I was shocked. I was not expecting a book with coffee table dimensions. It is a wonderfully designed book. The solutions are well organized, the writing is accessible to all readers and the pictures are eye-catching.

The genesis of this book came from Hawken’s realization that there is not a comprehensive checklist of technologies and solutions for climate mitigation and climate adaptation. After several years of looking for this list and not finding one, he decided he would need to bring together and work with the top climate experts in the world to come up with a list of solutions that have the greatest potential of reducing emissions and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The outcome is the Drawdown organization and this book. The book is just the beginning. It is anticipated that this will be a living plan with regular analysis and updates from Drawdown and found at www.drawdown.org 

The Foreword is provided by Tom Steyer, Founder of NextGen Climate. Here he discusses the importance of identifying innovative solutions to climate change, and particularly not just technological solutions but solutions that work in tandem with natural systems. Steyer sees Drawdown as a roadmap with a moral compass that finally provides a vision that allows all of us to work together to build a cleaner and better world.

In the book over 80 solutions are identified and ranked based on the greenhouse gas reduction potential out to the year 2050. Of the top 20, reductions in the food, energy and the land-use sector are the most commonly seen. The number one solution identified is refrigeration. The problem is the proliferation of refrigeration using hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). HFCs were adopted to replace the ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC). In October 2016, in Kigali, Rwanda, the Montreal Protocol was amended to start the phase-out of HFC. However, with an anticipated 700 million air conditions being in circulation by 2030, many using HFC, this will be quite a monumental task to reign in the use of HFC.

The book provides a concise review of each of the 80 options taking into account reductions in GHG potential, net costs and the net savings of taking action. The authors do a nice job of bringing in real world examples of struggles, as well as success stories of communities and governments implementing these solutions. The solutions are broken into categories of energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land-use transportation and materials. There is also a wish list presented at the end of the book of high value, but not yet fully scaled solutions such as smart highways, the hyperloop, marine permaculture and the artificial leaf.

Solutions are plentiful, both those that are already being implemented, as well as those that have some near-term potential of scaling. The book does a nice job by bringing together high impact solutions to one place for easy access and evaluation. That being said, I would not call the book a comprehensive plan. At the most a comprehensive list, but not a comprehensive plan. It is definitely a call to action. It is inspirational and provides hope and optimism that there is a way to salvage our planet through cost effective emission reducing solutions. But at the end of the book, I was still asking myself what is the plan? Maybe that is asking too much. This book takes a global approach to identify a list of solutions. We probably should not expect it to provide an actual plan to implement these measures at a national or sub-national level.

I believe the book does provide local planners and officials a better idea as to what solutions may be viable, but there still needs to be considerable work at the federal, state and local level to turn the list of solutions into a workable plan. Stakeholders must be engaged and priorities must be identified and set. Communities need to conduct cost benefit analysis to see what is economically practical. Regulations and policies must be changed that would allow for proper valuation and inclusion of these solutions and remove the barriers to their adoption. Finally, for any solution to work or plan to implemented, there needs to be funding. I was hoping this book would begin to present these funding solutions but none are identified. Fortunately, there is growing interest by institutional investors and the market in general to push more funds to climate solutions. 

To sum, it is a great list of solutions. It is well researched and well laid-out. It should be a must-read for any planner, government official or policy maker. For anything to happen in reducing greenhouse gases, it is vital that these solutions are known, quantified and ranked and the book does just that. Learn more at the image below.

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Book Review: Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Title: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Editor: Paul Hawken

Publisher: Penguin Books

Year Published: 2017

Price: $17.31

When this book arrived in the mail I was shocked. I was not expecting a book with coffee table dimensions. It is a wonderfully designed book. The solutions are well organized, the writing is accessible to all readers and the pictures are eye-catching.

The genesis of this book came from Hawken’s realization that there is not a comprehensive checklist of technologies and solutions for climate mitigation and climate adaptation. After several years of looking for this list and not finding one, he decided he would need to bring together and work with the top climate experts in the world to come up with a list of solutions that have the greatest potential of reducing emissions and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The outcome is the Drawdown organization and this book. The book is just the beginning. It is anticipated that this will be a living plan with regular analysis and updates from Drawdown and found at www.drawdown.org 

The Foreword is provided by Tom Steyer, Founder of NextGen Climate. Here he discusses the importance of identifying innovative solutions to climate change, and particularly not just technological solutions but solutions that work in tandem with natural systems. Steyer sees Drawdown as a roadmap with a moral compass that finally provides a vision that allows all of us to work together to build a cleaner and better world.

In the book over 80 solutions are identified and ranked based on the greenhouse gas reduction potential out to the year 2050. Of the top 20, reductions in the food, energy and the land-use sector are the most commonly seen. The number one solution identified is refrigeration. The problem is the proliferation of refrigeration using hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). HFCs were adopted to replace the ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC). In October 2016, in Kigali, Rwanda, the Montreal Protocol was amended to start the phase-out of HFC. However, with an anticipated 700 million air conditions being in circulation by 2030, many using HFC, this will be quite a monumental task to reign in the use of HFC.

The book provides a concise review of each of the 80 options taking into account reductions in GHG potential, net costs and the net savings of taking action. The authors do a nice job of bringing in real world examples of struggles, as well as success stories of communities and governments implementing these solutions. The solutions are broken into categories of energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land-use transportation and materials. There is also a wish list presented at the end of the book of high value, but not yet fully scaled solutions such as smart highways, the hyperloop, marine permaculture and the artificial leaf.

Solutions are plentiful, both those that are already being implemented, as well as those that have some near-term potential of scaling. The book does a nice job by bringing together high impact solutions to one place for easy access and evaluation. That being said, I would not call the book a comprehensive plan. At the most a comprehensive list, but not a comprehensive plan. It is definitely a call to action. It is inspirational and provides hope and optimism that there is a way to salvage our planet through cost effective emission reducing solutions. But at the end of the book, I was still asking myself what is the plan? Maybe that is asking too much. This book takes a global approach to identify a list of solutions. We probably should not expect it to provide an actual plan to implement these measures at a national or sub-national level.

I believe the book does provide local planners and officials a better idea as to what solutions may be viable, but there still needs to be considerable work at the federal, state and local level to turn the list of solutions into a workable plan. Stakeholders must be engaged and priorities must be identified and set. Communities need to conduct cost benefit analysis to see what is economically practical. Regulations and policies must be changed that would allow for proper valuation and inclusion of these solutions and remove the barriers to their adoption. Finally, for any solution to work or plan to implemented, there needs to be funding. I was hoping this book would begin to present these funding solutions but none are identified. Fortunately, there is growing interest by institutional investors and the market in general to push more funds to climate solutions. 

To sum, it is a great list of solutions. It is well researched and well laid-out. It should be a must-read for any planner, government official or policy maker. For anything to happen in reducing greenhouse gases, it is vital that these solutions are known, quantified and ranked and the book does just that. Learn more at the image below.

Hurricane Harvey: Loss Recovery is not Sustainable with Climate Change

With Hurricane Harvey’s arrival, I felt it was important to continue the discussion on the

hurricane-harvey-nasa-master675
NASA

increasing vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding due to climate change. Particularly, what cities should be doing to shift from the business as usual reactive strategy of loss recovery and hunkering down, to a more proactive move toward land-use strategy and green infrastructure investment that will reduce climate risk vulnerability.

The science is pretty clear that with the warming of the climate, storm intensity and flooding are likely to increase, particularly along the Gulf Coast. This was well documented in a recent study by NOAA that covered the 2016 1,000 year flash floods in Louisiana. With Harvey, there are estimates of 20 to 25 inches of rain. This is significantly above what our storm water infrastructure can manage. If projections remain as they are as of the writing of this post, the Gulf Coast is going experience flooding levels that it has rarely seen. This will result in significant property damage and a very large number of flood claims being made to the insurance industry, at least by those who have flood insurance. Unfortunately a good portion of residential and commercial properties are under insured or not insured at all.

The insurance industry can cover only so many claims and participate in so many loss recovery events before it stops insuring areas or the premiums become so high properties are not able to purchase adequate coverage. This concern was recently discussed in the Yale Climate Connections podcast titled “Waters Rise, and so does the Cost of Coastal Insurance.” In this podcast, Larry Filer with the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency at Old Dominion University, discussed the rising costs of insuring properties along coastal areas and how with current infrastructure that cannot adequately manage stormwater, insuring these properties is not sustainable. One of the more harrowing remarks made by Filer was “The biggest fear and the biggest concern is that you wake up one day and you realize in your city that you have a large swath of properties that are uninsurable.”

To add to the decreasing ability of insurance companies and programs being unable to adequately insure properties along the Gulf Coast, the federal government, beyond the Federal Flood Insurance program, is also pushing back a bit. According to new FEMA Director Brock Long, local communities need to take more responsibility in reducing natural disaster risk and be less dependent on the federal government to bail them out due to poor land use and infrastructure planning. The Trump appointed Director is actually pushing an idea that was started with the Obama Administration. The thought is to have state and local governments take greater responsibility and pay more for natural disasters, particularly when floods and hurricanes hit. In a recent Bloomberg News report, Long stated ““I don’t think the taxpayer should reward risk going forward…We have to find ways to comprehensively become more resilient.” Here he means the federal taxpayers should not subsidize the risky behavior of local communities. Environmental groups have been pushing for this approach for years. By reducing FEMA’s role in loss recovery, cities and counties will be pushed to take more risk mitigating action, such as adopting and enforcing resilience standards, retreating from flood prone areas, implementing more effective and robust storm water infrastructure and low impact development.

There is little excuse for Cities not to take a greater role in reducing their climate risk. The writing’s on the wall. First, the insurance industry and federal government are saying that can’t sustain the current level of loss recovery payouts and rebuilds. Second, the climate models are not painting a pretty picture of what the future holds.

The time has come for cities to take a more serious look at mitigating climate risk, i.e. floods, droughts, extreme heat, etc. I have discussed in previous blogs about ways that Cities can pay for resilient infrastructure. (here and here) There are also resilience standards that Cities can start putting in place. (here and here) But a first step is to determine risk and start developing a plan. A great free resource is the US Resilience Toolkit. It is a very helpful tool that presents a climate planning framework, tools to identify risk and opportunities and case studies of what other communities are doing. There are organizations around the country that are trying to get communities to become more resilient and should be engaged by local coastal communities to determine options. Also, you can check out Boswell et al’s book on Local Climate Action Planning. It has been out a few years, but is a good primer to get things started.

As I sit here in Houston, just witnessing 2 inches of rain in a 40 minute period, watching water coming over the curb, and with a forecast of another 20 inches by Wednesday, I look to our community leaders and ask when they will move from business as usual reactive strategy of hunkering down and loss recovery, to a more  proactive approach of investing in the appropriate infrastructure. The storms will continue to come, but the possible damage and loss these storms bring is not inevitable, if the right steps are taken.

Hurricane Harvey: Loss Recovery is not Sustainable

With Hurricane Harvey’s arrival, I felt it was important to continue the discussion on the

hurricane-harvey-nasa-master675
NASA

increasing vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding. Particularly, what cities should be doing to shift from the business as usual reactive strategy of loss recovery and hunkering down, to a more proactive move toward land-use strategy and green infrastructure investment that will reduce climate risk vulnerability.

The science is pretty clear that with the warming of the climate, storm intensity and flooding are likely to increase, particularly along the Gulf Coast. This was well documented in a recent study by NOAA that covered the 2016 1,000 year flash floods in Louisiana. With Harvey, there are estimates of 20 to 25 inches of rain. This is significantly above what our storm water infrastructure can manage. If projections remain as they are as of the writing of this post, the Gulf Coast is going experience flooding levels that it has rarely seen. This will result in significant property damage and a very large number of flood claims being made to the insurance industry, at least by those who have flood insurance. Unfortunately a good portion of residential and commercial properties are under insured or not insured at all.

The insurance industry can cover only so many claims and participate in so many loss recovery events before it stops insuring areas or the premiums become so high properties are not able to purchase adequate coverage. This concern was recently discussed in the Yale Climate Connections podcast titled “Waters Rise, and so does the Cost of Coastal Insurance.” In this podcast, Larry Filer with the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency at Old Dominion University, discussed the rising costs of insuring properties along coastal areas and how with current infrastructure that cannot adequately manage stormwater, insuring these properties is not sustainable. One of the more harrowing remarks made by Filer was “The biggest fear and the biggest concern is that you wake up one day and you realize in your city that you have a large swath of properties that are uninsurable.”

To add to the decreasing ability of insurance companies and programs being unable to adequately insure properties along the Gulf Coast, the federal government, beyond the Federal Flood Insurance program, is also pushing back a bit. According to new FEMA Director Brock Long, local communities need to take more responsibility in reducing natural disaster risk and be less dependent on the federal government to bail them out due to poor land use and infrastructure planning. The Trump appointed Director is actually pushing an idea that was started with the Obama Administration. The thought is to have state and local governments take greater responsibility and pay more for natural disasters, particularly when floods and hurricanes hit. In a recent Bloomberg News report, Long stated ““I don’t think the taxpayer should reward risk going forward…We have to find ways to comprehensively become more resilient.” Here he means the federal taxpayers should not subsidize the risky behavior of local communities. Environmental groups have been pushing for this approach for years. By reducing FEMA’s role in loss recovery, cities and counties will be pushed to take more risk mitigating action, such as adopting and enforcing resilience standards, retreating from flood prone areas, implementing more effective and robust storm water infrastructure and low impact development.

There is little excuse for Cities not to take a greater role in reducing their climate risk. The writing’s on the wall. First, the insurance industry and federal government are saying that can’t sustain the current level of loss recovery payouts and rebuilds. Second, the climate models are not painting a pretty picture of what the future holds.

The time has come for cities to take a more serious look at mitigating climate risk, i.e. floods, droughts, extreme heat, etc. I have discussed in previous blogs about ways that Cities can pay for resilient infrastructure. (here and here) There are also resilience standards that Cities can start putting in place. (here and here) But a first step is to determine risk and start developing a plan. A great free resource is the US Resilience Toolkit. It is a very helpful tool that presents a climate planning framework, tools to identify risk and opportunities and case studies of what other communities are doing. There are organizations around the country that are trying to get communities to become more resilient and should be engaged by local coastal communities to determine options. Also, you can check out Boswell et al’s book on Local Climate Action Planning. It has been out a few years, but is a good primer to get things started.

As I sit here in Houston, just witnessing 2 inches of rain in a 40 minute period, watching water coming over the curb, and with a forecast of another 20 inches by Wednesday, I look to our community leaders and ask when they will move from business as usual reactive strategy of hunkering down and loss recovery, to a more  proactive approach of investing in the appropriate infrastructure. The storms will continue to come, but the possible damage and loss these storms bring is not inevitable, if the right steps are taken.

Houston and Detroit – Twin Cities?

Why is Texas letting the clean energy transition move ahead without it? There are a lot of people asking this question. The new head of the Greater Houston Partnership affiliate Center for Houston’s Future, Brett Perlman was recently  asked this question by the Houston Chronicle. He suggested that if Houston does not get its act together, the City may no longer be a relevant player in the energy industry as the transition moves forward.

Why is it important to ask this question? Because the transition is real and it is enginehappening at a pretty decent clip. In the latest issue of the Economist there is an article about the coming demise of the internal combustion engine due to recent technological breakthroughs of electric vehicle battery technology.  Battery prices have gone from $1,000 per kWh in 2010 to $130-$200 per kWh today. With this reduction in pricing it is anticipated that by 2025 EV’s will make up 14% of total global car sales, per the Economist article. This number of EV’s may continue to raise as more countries and automakers make statements of going fossil fuel free by 2040 and shifting resources to EV R&D and production. How much of this is greenwashing, time will tell. However, with decreasing technology costs and changing consumer attitudes we may be close to that uptick in s-curve.

Houston is a bit vulnerable to the oil and gas roller coaster as has been demonstrated time and time again. This vulnerability was demonstrated during a time when oil and gas was the only game in town. Granted there was some really expensive hydrogen options, some very short range EVs and a bunch of compress fossil fuel options. However, now there are some true alternatives and these alternatives are quickly coming to price parity with our traditional transportation fuels and their range is becoming just as good as the internal combustion option.

A recent University of Houston Bauer College of Business Institute of Regional Forecasting report presents a good picture of how the Houston economy is still very much dependent on the oil and gas market and one can draw some interesting conclusions on what may happen to the Houston economy if prices remain low or go lower. in reality we are already in a long-term low price market. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden predicted we are in a “lower forever” oil price environment. This is at a time when demand for transportation fuel has been increasing due to growing transportation demands. So what happens if demand starts to fall due to EV’s?

Much of this oil and gas activity has some tie to Houston and Texas. Oil and gas is  a global industry but Houston has some involvement at some point whether it is R&D, refining, transportation, manufacturing, oil field services, financial/transactional, etc. We are responsible to some degree for the 36.9 quadrillion BTU’s of petroleum production in the US and make much of the 27.9 quads used in transportation. See the LLNL chart below.
Energy_US_2016

Houston is a major player in the transportation market due to our position in the production of oil and gas and refining fuels. So, why not build on this, extend a bit beyond fossil fuels. The City has the engineering expertise and the industrial base to play an active role in making a clean energy transition. If we do not do so, we face a double climate risk. Risk from physical climate change and risk from an economy that is stuck in time and being left behind. I discuss this in an earlier blog post

There is no definite timeline for when this transition will really ramp up and significantly reduce demand for fossil fuels. There is plenty of skepticism among if and when this will actually happen. However, different from the past, the technology is quickly becoming cost competitive with traditional fossil fuel transportation options. The infrastructure needs to be built out, attitudes and perceptions of electric vehicles will need to be changed, costs will need to continue to come down, etc.

Much of it appears to be dependent on battery storage. The deployment of EVs is anticipated to increase significantly as the price points, size and weight of batteries decreases. The intermittency problem of renewables also is largely dependent on battery and other physical storage options.