How can we reverse global warming? That question needs many answers, and the best approach is in “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming”. I found that one action is missing.
The book format of Drawdown is well written and easily understood. It lists 100 actions that an individual, corporation or government can take to decrease carbon emissions. The first 80 topics are based on well-established science and technology, while the final 20 are speculative. The actions are put in categories and ranked by effectiveness in decreasing atmospheric CO2. The website www.drawdown.orghas less narrative, but includes links to references, a technical summary and a way to ask questions.
Heartwood Cohousing, the community where I live, just installed a rooftop solar array which will generate most of the power for 2 community buildings. That is why I choose Drawdown’s action, Rooftop Solar, to use as an example. It is in the “Energy” category and is ranked #10 overall. The 2 pages devoted to this subject have pictures of a Guatemalan family outside their straw home, the mother polishing a solar panel, and also of the first rooftop solar array. Guess what year that was built. (1884!)
I was surprised to learn that the action that ranked #1 is Refrigerant Management. As the climate heats up there are concerns that the demand for air conditioning will increase—which will be a vicious cycle. More AC will draw more power, causing more CO2to be released if it is generated using fossil fuels. In addition, the refrigerants (chemicals which absorb and release heat) used now are terrible greenhouse gases when released into the atmosphere. Freon, which is no longer used, destroyed the ozone layer. It was replaced with improved chemicals that are kind to the ozone, but are thousands of times worse than CO2 as greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, a safe alternative to these refrigerants has yet to be found. If one can be found, it will be a major aid to slow climate change.
Drawdown puts huge value put on education and reproductive health. In the category Women and Girls we find two of the top ranking actions–#6 is Educating Girls. Education has the potential to prevent the emission of 59.6 gigatons of CO2. Family Planning, #7, is tied with #6 in the amount of CO2it could reduce. If you combine these two, together they would save ~120 gigatons, which is much more than #1, Refrigeration Management at only 90 gigatons! (A gigaton is 1 billion tons—that’s a lot of CO2!) Had Education and Family Planning not been separated they would have been #1 by a landslide.
The description of the impact of Family Planning states: “Increased adoption of reproductive healthcare and family planning is an essential component to achieve the United Nations’ 2015 medium global population projection of 9.7 billion people by 2050. If investment in family planning, particularly in low-income countries, does not materialize, the world’s population could come closer to the high projection, adding another 1 billion people to the planet. We model the impact of this solution based on the difference in how much energy, building space, food, waste, and transportation would be used in a world with little to no investment in family planning, compared to one in which the projection of 9.7 billion is realized. The resulting emissions reductions could be 119.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, at an average annual cost of $10.77 per user in low-income countries.”
What is missing in Drawdown? At the International Conference on Population and Development 25 years ago I heard demographer John Caldwell say that 3 things were necessary before people would limit their family size: educating girls and women, making modern contraception available to all, and reducing the number of childhood deaths. The under-5 mortality, he said, needed to be under 13%, which seemed terribly high to me. That year the global figure was terribleat 28%! That figure has dropped to a small fraction of what it had been, thanks to huge international efforts—it is less than 4% now.
Let’s celebrate the amazing reduction in the number of children dying globally each year. It has been reduced by a factor of 7, but 4% is still too high. This step is wonderful from a humanitarian and ethical standpoint, and also has removed a barrier to small families. I am delighted that it is no longer necessary to include reducing childhood mortality as a requirement for slowing population growth.
© Richard Grossman MD, 2019