Everyone from policymakers to your next door neighbor is trying to pitch ideas for ways to help find solutions for the planet’s biggest existential crisis: climate change.
A team of writers and researchers led by American environmentalist Paul Hawken has just published Drawdown, a comprehensive plan to scale back the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The book offers hope that real solutions within reach.
Drawdown ranks 100 areas of climate change action according to their potential to avoid emissions between today and 2050, as well as associated costs and savings. The impacts are astounding; the best solution alone would prevent the equivalent of nearly 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That’s nine years worth of global emissions at the current rate.
Here are the 10 most important things for humanity to tackle in order to ensure a bright future for ourselves on this planet.
#10 Rooftop Solar
Way to go Elon Musk for staying ahead of the curve. Tesla solar roofs really are the future, and they hold a great deal of potential to keep the planet cooler. Musk has proved that rooftop solar power can cost less than a traditional roof over its lifetime for North American consumers, which should be enough to bring a number of people on board.
In the developing world, meanwhile, solar power is completely transforming how electricity is delivered to consumers. Places where it doesn’t make economic sense to run a grid are getting access to small scale, pay-as-you-go solar systems that let people charge their cellphones during the day and run a light bulb at night, all for less that what they’d otherwise spend on energy and light.
In all, the Drawdown team estimates that 24.6 gigatons of CO2 emissions can be avoided by 2050 by ramping solar up from 0.4 to 7 percent of electricity generated worldwide. This would, in turn, save housholds $3.4 trillion in energy costs. Not a bad chunk of change.
#9 Forest Cows
Cattle ranching is everyone’s favorite climate change baddie. First you cut down vast swaths of rainforest to make way for open fields, then you fill those fields densely with cows that fart methane all day long before finally feeding said cows a high-calorie diet of corn that takes enormous amounts of energy to grow. It’s a recipe for global disaster.
There’s hope, though, in a practice called silvopasture — literally forest grazing. It’s gaining popularity in Central America because it’s a better way to raise cattle. Planting trees in pasture land provides some physical protection to cows from the elements, as well as promoting just a healthier environment for the animals to grow up in. Farmers, in turn, get a diversified income stream since they can sell tree byproducts like wood, fruit, or syrup.
Growing silvopasture from 351 million acres to 554 million acres by 2050 would save 31.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide globally.
#8 Solar Farms
Solar power has become affordable shockingly quickly in recent decades, and the future is almost certainly full of vast solar panel farms, supplying energy to traditional grids and replacing fossil fuel burning.
These photovoltaic harvesters could grow from 0.4 to 10 percent of worldwide electricity generation by 2050, saving 36.9 gigatons of CO2 emissions.
#7 Family Planning
United States President Donald Trump’s greatest climate crime to date just might be his order that no U.S. money fund international organizations that mention abortion in their programing. If humans are going to continue to exist on this planet, we’re going to have to limit our numbers, which means providing accessible family planning services, especially in developing nations where birth rates remain high.
The better access to reproductive health care, the more babies survive. With more control over family size decisions, women choose to have fewer children who are healthier and better resourced overall. Investing enough in family planning to keep the world’s population to 9.7 billion by 2050 would save 123 gigatons of emissions compared with a scenario where reproductive health is ignored and the population hits 10 billion.
#6 Educating Girls
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is a climate change hero. When she advocates for her right to go to school, she advocates for a world where women have economic opportunities. When women have economic opportunity, they tend to delay having children and have fewer.
Lifting the developing world out of poverty seems like a counterintuitive climate change solution, since people with more wealth consume more energy. And yet, the sooner people around the globe gain a decent standard of living, the sooner the planet’s human population will stabilize, and the sooner our fossil fuel addiction will be brought into check.
Coming up with $39 billion in additional annual funding to make sure girls can safely go to school could save 82.6 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050.
#5 Restoring Tropical Forests
Humans have been really, really, really terrible for the world’s forests. These ecosystems have been reduced from covering 15 percent of Earth’s land to just five. Fortunately, restoration is not only possible but vital to healthy people, ecosystems, and economies.
In Indonesia, for example, smoldering peat fires have been sparked by the widespread draining of mangrove ecosystems to make way for cash crop plantations. For a period in 2015, the fires were emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere than the entire United States, while blanketing the region in a deadly haze.
Restoring 435 million acres of these vital forest ecosystems would sequester 61.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.
#4 Just Say No (To Meat)
The problem is as big as it is hard to solve. People in rich countries, in particular, consume way more food than they need, and more meat in particular. If just half the people on Earth limited their daily calories to 2,500 and reduced their meat intakes, we’d avoid 39.3 gigatons of emissions, and the world would be a healthier place.
#3 Reduce Food Waste
A third of the food grown on the planet doesn’t end up in the mouth of a human or animal. There might not being any one thing as emblematic of the waste of the modern world than truckloads full of fully edible food that pile up in garbage dumps. People are catching on to the idea, though, that food doesn’t have to be pretty to taste good. Cutting global food waste in half would avoid 26.2 gigatons of CO2 emissions.
#2 Wind Power
Wind power will truly change the face of this planet. Thanks to technology that has become dramatically cheaper and more efficient, turbines could supply more than a fifth of global electricity by 2050. “Ongoing cost reduction will soon make wind energy the least expensive source of installed electricity capacity, perhaps within a decade,” the authors write. With onshore and offshore turbines combined, nearly 100 gigatons of emissions could be avoided, at a cost of $1.8 trillion and savings of $7.7 trillion
#1 Refrigerant Management
Here’s the surprise, sleeper hit: the world’s top climate change solution is inside your refrigerator and your air conditioner. The chemicals that keep food and buildings cools, specifically chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, don’t poke holes in the ozone layer like their predecessors, but do contain enormous potential as greenhouse gases — they are between 1,000 and 9,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Properly disposing of these refrigerants is the single most important thing we can do to limit future global warming.
Fortunately, there is already a plan. The international community gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, last year to hammer out a deal that sets targets and timelines for phasing out the use of these chemicals in favor of climate-friendly alternatives, and for disposing of the ones already in circulation. The deal is mandatory, with trade sanctions for those who fail to comply. The global cost of this action is $900 billion, but it will prevent the equivalent of 89.74 gigatons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.