No more wringing of hands

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of participating in online coursework presented by Cornell University’s Institute for Climate Smart Solutions. The free, three-week course, titled “Climate Change Science, Communication and Action,” attracted participants from all over the United States and Canada and around the world, including Latin America, the Caribbean, India, Indonesia, Guam, the Philippines and Australia, all seeking to discover and share strategies for understanding climate science and organizing meaningful actions in their communities. Teachers, scientists, local officials, community volunteers, retirees and recent graduates, we were a mixed bag of knowledge, experience, perspectives and expectations, and the online dialogue has proven to be an energizing source of insight and esprit de corps.

The Cornell coursework introduced me to a very inspiring resource called “Project Drawdown,” a non-profit organization, book and online compendium of actions, policies and technologies that, taken together, can solve the climate crisis. The project represents a worldwide collaboration of scientists and academics, business people, policy makers, engineers, designers and architects and climate advocates. They have taken a systematic approach that has focused on identifying and vetting the top 100 actions we can take to achieve “drawdown,” which the team defines as “that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.”

Each potential action was evaluated and modeled using criteria based on five questions: Is the technology to achieve this action available and scalable? Is it economically viable—can a “business case” be made for its broad implementation? Does it have the potential to reduce GHG emissions by at least 50 million tons over the next 30 years, either by avoiding emissions or by sequestering emissions already generated? Are there any potential negative results and, if so, do the positive benefits outweigh the possible negative effects? Do we have sufficient data to model the measure on a global scale?

The 100 chosen actions have met these criteria and been given a comprehensive literature review. Finally, they have been ranked as to their potential effectiveness and their relative importance to the overall effort of averting the worst effects of climate change.

The result can be described in many way: a database, a clearinghouse for proven technologies and policies, and an ongoing laboratory that will continue to track and evaluate climate initiatives as they unfold. Eighty of the top 100 identified actions have already been implemented and are expanding. And most of them are “no-regrets” solutions, meaning that they would improve our lives even if they did not have beneficial climate impacts. They are actions that just make sense economically, environmentally and socially, and in the context of job creation, global security, resiliency, public health and community vitality.

I urge you to visit and spend some time exploring the wealth of climate solutions available to us and the inspiring actions underway around the world. The project’s systematic approach leaves little room for despair or hand-wringing. It is a bold roadmap for practical achievable action.


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