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Paul Hawken

Voices and Action

Paul Hawken

On September 11, 2001, I watched the second tower go down on live TV. The event was horrific, a weird human experience. I tried to step back and look at 911 in an archetypal and fundamental way. What had just happened? Rather than seeing it as an act of Islamic fundamentalism fighting against colonial hegemony, I saw it as concentrations of power clashing with concentrations of power. Saudi Arabian citizens, residents of a country with the largest reserves of fossil fuels,  commandeered a plane full of explosive Jet A fuel and demolished the greatest aggregation of financial power on Earth, the World Trade Center.

The idea for both Drawdown and Regeneration arose then. I asked myself a question: How could I be helpful to the unknown world that would follow? I decided to gather descriptions and data about the most impactful climate solutions, create a database, and make it accessible to people who wanted to know what to do about the looming impacts of a warming planet.

The Ukraine invasion is similar to 911. Once again, concentrations of power wreak havoc. As with the fall of the twin towers, the full meaning and impact of the tragic Russian onslaught remains to be seen. My takeaway from 2001 was to do whatever I could to break up the concentration of fossil fuel power vested in companies, countries and dictators. What to do is obvious. Swap out our energy infrastructure to decentralized renewable sources worldwide.

In a recent Guardian piece, McKibben underlined a strategy that has been shunted aside and not taken seriously in the West: To defeat Putin, get off oil and gas. The EU is greatly dependent on Russian oil and gas to power its economy and heat its homes. You cannot fight Russia if it powers your economy, has the greatest number of nuclear weapons, and is controlled by a leader whose sanity is in question. The country itself is not doing well. McKibben makes the point when he asks how many things in your home say “Made in Russia.” The country is on shaky economic footing and depends almost entirely on oil and gas to support itself. Dismantling its power means not being a customer, and that in turn requires a significant decrease in consumption of oil and gas and a concomitant increase in the production of renewable energy. To solve the problem of concentration of power we need to go upstream. Change the sources of power to renewable energy—decentralize its production, distribute it regionally, and democratize access.  In the past week, ministers throughout the EU are calling for exactly that.   

Another clear voice is Saul Griffith, physicist extraordinaire, MacArthur Award winner, and your basic genius. His thesis is summarized in Regeneration under “Electrify Everything,” and is amplified in his book Electrify.  In a recent interview in the Atlantic, Griffith points to the clearest path forward: accelerate the demise of carbon fuels by electrifying everything…fast. At Regeneration, we researched the growth of renewable energy to determine when we could plausibly replace coal, gas, and oil and achieve net zero emissions. We put aside predictions by McKinsey Global and the International Energy Agency (IEA). Both had underestimated the reduction of cost and the growth of wind and solar for 20 consecutive years. We used a different set of data. We took the exponential growth curves of solar and wind energy for the past two decades and projected them forward. It showed that we could power the world with renewable energy by 2040. Griffith believes that date is 2037 and his scenario includes nuclear. Can we do it? According to Griffith, “We have invented all of the things that are necessary. More invention might make it cheaper or easier, but we do have everything we need already.”

Many people, young and old alike, believe that the path to reversing global warming is either hopeless, no longer possible, and that a full-blown climate crisis is unavoidable. A fair point. Writing in the Washington Post, Mark Hertsgaard, Saleemul Huq and Michael Mann take exception. All three are world-renowned experts in the science of climate. We were told for decades by climate scientists that even if we were able to achieve net zero emissions, the planet would continue to rise in temperature for decades, beyond the lifetime of anyone alive today. It was a bleak projection. Where was the incentive? Climate scientists now know different. At net zero emissions, temperatures will stabilize within three to five years, and if we are sequestering significant amounts of carbon in our farms, forests, mangroves, seagrasses, grasslands, salt marshes, and kelp farms at that time, the temperature will begin to fall. This is drawdown, that moment when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and start to go down. It is enabled by the regeneration, renewal and restoration of all living systems.

So, how do we change our minds and the mind of others about the climate crisis?  According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford, don’t try. It is your behavior that changes your mind, and the minds of others, not the other way around. Neuroscience has identified the precise chemical pathways in the brain that shows this to be true. The most effective way to exist in a world that is heading the wrong way is to act, institute, implement, construct, and enable the practices, techniques and pathways that dramatically reduce our impact on living systems and each other, and that regenerate life on earth. This is our work here at Project Regeneration. We are building the largest database in the world of climate solutions and challenges in order to end the climate crisis in one generation. It is vitally important to know what can be done. It is crucial to know how we can accomplish and implement these solutions as individuals, communities, classrooms, schools, cities, companies and more. All aggregations of human beings are relevant to the task at hand and our work is to offer you the broadest palette of human brilliance, gumption, and, know-how. Thank you for being connected to us. We will do our best to stay connected and serve you.   Paul Hawken