Sea-level rise, the Arctic melting, burning forests have all accelerated and exceeded experts’ forecasts. Not to mention that the past two decades have included 18 of the 20 warmest years since record-keeping began in 1850, and emissions are still climbing. On our current trajectory, sustaining human life on Earth will become an enormous challenge, if not impossible.
We already have solutions to curb global warming, many of them. We just need to implement them. And fast. But which solutions are the most effective? (That is, apart from transferring our personalities to a digital reality)
The following solutions are tested, ready to scale and ranked by their greenhouse gas reduction potential by 2050. They come from ‘Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming’, by Paul Hawken. They provide hope. “Drawdown”, in atmospheric terms, is the moment when greenhouse gases peak and start declining. The book was written by a coalition of 70 researchers from 22 countries and reviewed by a prominent and diverse 120-person Advisory Board. Let’s go.
1 – Refrigeration
Every refrigerator, supermarket case and air conditioner contains chemical refrigerants, such as HFCs. HFCs have substituted previously-banned chemicals for their role as ozone destroyers. While HFCs do not affect the ozone layer, their capacity to warm the atmosphere is 1,000 to 9,000 times greater than that of CO2. They keep your fridge cold, but warm everything else (And that’s not cool). Their emissions mostly happen after disposal, which, if not appropriately done, causes the chemicals to escape into the atmosphere and heat the planet.
With 86% of U.S. homes having systems to cool air, and the rest of the World quickly installing air conditioning, refrigeration systems are increasing exponentially. Global warming leads to more air conditioning, which heats the planet: it’s a dangerous feedback loop. In 2016, officials from 170 countries decided to begin phasing out HFCs out of use starting from 2019. This accord alone will reduce global warming by nearly 0.6°C degrees. If you think it’s no big deal, read my article on why every degree of global warming matters by clicking here, and get ready to be shocked. Seriously, every inch of warming matters.
2 – Wind Turbines
Producing electricity from onshore wind is now cheaper than from fossil fuels. The reduction in costs in the last decade has been impressive, and more cost reductions are coming. Why the heck are we still burning coal? The efficiencies are new, and the fossil fuel subsidies are at $5 trillion per year. This enormous societal cost doesn’t even include the cost of burning fossil fuels concerning air quality, health, pollution, damage to the environment, and global warming. We need to shift those subsidies towards renewables, or at least make it a fair game and remove them altogether.
Wind turbines have small footprints, typically using no more than 1% of the land they sit on. Their low footprint enables grazing, farming, recreation or conservation simultaneously with power generation. In addition to costing less, being renewable and not consuming much land, wind power uses 99% less water than fossil fuel-generated electricity. Coal, gas and nuclear power require massive amounts of water for cooling, withdrawing more water than agriculture. Consider that by 2025, two-thirds of the population might suffer from water shortages due to climate change. Water will be one of the critical resources in the future. Wind will help alleviate the problem.
3 – Reduced food waste
1/3 of food is wasted, contributing to roughly 8% of global human greenhouse emissions. Wasted food also entails the misuse of seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, labour, capital. It contributes to deforestation. And it’s unnecessary.
In low-infrastructured countries, bad roads, lack of refrigeration or storage, heat and humidity contribute to upstream unintended and structural losses. Improving infrastructure here is essential to reduce food waste.
In more developed countries, the problem lies in retail and consumption. Supermarkets reject so much food based on aesthetics. There’s a massive issue of discrimination: while so many ugly apples rot in dumps, there is one costly Apple worth $1 trillion! Regulation can forbid supermarkets from trashing unsold food, requiring that they pass it to charities or livestock or composting companies instead. Also, we overestimate how much we eat in a week. We toss out milk that has not gone bad and forget we have food leftover in the back of the fridge. Solutions include standardizing the “best before” labels, which are primarily unregulated and confuse consumers, and campaigning and eating “ugly” food to raise awareness. While it’s true that you are what you eat, eating an ugly fruit won’t make you ugly. I promise.
4 – Plant-rich diet
Beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per protein than common plant-based proteins. Cattle, if it were a nation, would be the 3rd most emitting country on Earth. And the World is shifting towards consuming more meat and more calories per capita. Imagine if almost 1.5 billion Chinese ate the amount of meat we do in the West. Goodbye forests, goodbye Earth.
And much of the meat we eat is unnecessary. Every single region on Earth overconsumes proteins. In the U.S. and Canada, people almost eat double the recommended protein intake. Part of this overconsumption is funded by government subsidies, with $53 billion in 2013 going to the livestock industry. Subsidies distort prices. Buying plant-based proteins is much cheaper.
Change starts at the dinner table
Shifting to a vegetarian diet will more than half your land use and emissions from agriculture. It will prevent further deforestation. And it will make you healthier. Even deciding to cut your meat consumption has a positive impact. Misconceptions that plant-based diets won’t provide enough proteins are bullshit. Athletes like Tom Brady, Mike Tyson, Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams, Lionel Messi and Kyrie Irving eat a mostly plant-based diet. There are also vegan bodybuilders, and they’re huge. With a balanced vegan diet, you only lack vitamin B12, which you can usually get through soymilk and cereals, as it is added on purpose.
Making meat substitutes from plants, like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are doing, is critical in transitioning to plant-based diets with minimal disruption. Fast-food chains are introducing plant-based burgers all around the World. They taste the same, feel the same, and help the planet when compared to burgers.
5 – Tropical Forests
Tropical forests have shrunk from 12% of the world landmass to 5%, and the destruction is ongoing. Tropical forest loss alone is responsible for almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. Agriculture fields for animal agriculture are replacing forest ecosystems. Monoculture then destroys the soil quality, and lands get abandoned. But restoration can invert this process.
When tropical forests are restored, carbon is absorbed by vegetation and soil. Other vital benefits include supporting the water cycle, conserving soil, protecting the habitat, providing food, medicine, landslide prevention and flood control. They also boost development, as forests are a source of income from timber to tourism. The majority of restoration opportunities are in low-income regions in the tropics, where the countries themselves cannot afford restoration. Help should come from abroad, as we all benefit from tropical forests. Help now by planting a tree in the tropics with Onetreeplanted. It’s only $1.
6 – Educating Girls
Today, more than 60 million girls are denied the right to attend school, due to lack of family funds and the need to work to fetch water, work a market stall or a plot of land. Theories that women have to stay at home rather than go to school still exist. Other impediments include schools being away from home, which increases the risk of being targeted and attacked. Helping girls get proper education means giving them a fundamental right and empowering them to lead independent lives. When women flourish, society benefits with more impactful citizens.
Solutions for improving women’s education include making schools affordable and suitable for girls, improving girls’ health, reducing the time and distance to get to school (e.g., provide girls with bikes), and establishing schools in refugee camps.
Girls’ education also has a significant impact on global warming. Educated women have fewer, healthier children and actively manage their reproductive health. The child difference between a woman with no schooling and one with 12 years of education? 4 to 5 children per woman. As controversial as it sounds, part of the global warming solution is fewer people in the first place, and family planning is also part of it.
7 – Family Planning
The best thing about this solution is that emissions reductions are a by-product, not the primary goal. Far too many women today have unintended children, with 74 million unwanted pregnancies every year. In the U.S. there are an astonishing 45% of unexpected pregnancies. Improving family planning would have positing impacts on health, welfare, and life expectancy of both women and their children. It leads to women’s empowerment, gender equality and well-being.
Every person has a carbon footprint, and population growth is already placing a strain on limited resources. By 2050, the U.N. estimates we’ll be almost 10 billion. Without investment in family planning, particularly in low-income countries, an additional 1 billion people could be added. A condom has never been so important.
Compliments for reading the whole article. Now that you know which solutions are best to fight global warming, go out there and change the World. Bring these solutions to scale. Or develop new ones, in exciting fields such as Hyperloop, fusion, or artificial leaves technology. Do what suits you. And do it for everyone’s benefit.
Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming – Paul Hawken.
Wind power costs less than fossil fuels – International Renewable Energy Agency
Fossil fuel industry subsidies – IMF
Water withdrawal from energy industry -FAO
Sustainable Diets: What You Need to Know in 12 Charts – World Resources Institute