Environmentalist Paul Hawken wants climate action rather than hand wringing and he has the steps to prove it | AspenTimes.com

Environmentalist Paul Hawken wants climate action rather than hand wringing and he has the steps to prove it

Paul Hawken is author of 'Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.' He is speaking in Aspen Saturday night.
Terrence McCarthy/courtesy photo

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Paul Hawken’s presentation at Paepcke Auditorium on Saturday evening is sold out. For a thorough look at the 100 solutions Hawken and his team compiled for reversing global warming, go to www.drawdown.org.

The irony of having airline flights canceled because of a heat wave in Italy as well as a weather front on the U.S. East Coast and missing a speaking engagement in Aspen on Thursday night wasn’t lost on environmental activist and author Paul Hawken.

He finally made it to town Friday morning and will speak tonight at Paepcke Auditorium. The presentation, which is sold out, is being co-hosted by Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and the Aspen Institute. He missed giving the keynote speech for ACES’s 50th anniversary celebration Thursday night.

Hawken said his travel troubles are demonstrative of one of the less glaring implications of global warming.

“You’ve got the glaciers, you’ve got the drought, you’ve got the famine — we get the big headlines,” Hawken said. “I don’t think we realize a lot of planes won’t be able to travel, put weather aside, just from heat alone. Combine that with extreme weather and you have what the stewardess said yesterday on United Airlines: ‘This is the worse year that the airline has ever seen in decades and decades, maybe ever in terms of weather and flights,’” he said.

Hawken wrote the best-selling book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

He and his team highlight 100 steps that are being taken around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, ease global warming. The 100 methods aren’t theoretical. They are in practice and proven to work.

Hawken is on a mission to share those 100 steps. He isn’t a handwringer about global warming. It’s a condition that humankind created, so now it’s a problem that must be solved, he said.

Aspen Times: Your presentation Saturday night sold out some time ago so we know Roaring Fork Valley residents are receptive to this discussion. What’s it going to take to inspire people on a mass scale — not climate deniers but folks who are either ambivalent about climate change-global warming or are unaware?

Paul Hawken: It’s a really important question, not just a good question but it’s an important question because I say the same thing you just said but in a dark way. After 40, 45 years of global warming-climate change being before the public in newspapers, magazines, increasingly so now but it’s been around for the long time, 99 percent of the world is disengaged, doesn’t understand it, doesn’t relate to it, doesn’t see why they should do something or how.

I don’t question the science or the scientists but the science communication, with all due respect, was inept on a large level. It just lit up the amygdala, which is the fight or flight or fear or whatever, and as soon as that lit up, the brain prefrontal cortex shuts down. This goes back ten of thousands of years in our brain. We respond to immediate threat not to future existential threat.

So the communication is bad about if we don’t do this now, then in the future at some point, this may or will or is going to happen. We’re not sure when or which place, how severe it will be, whether the ocean will rise this much or that much — all this sort of stuff, speculating on how things are going to go wrong.

The human brain isn’t wired that way. We’re wired for current needs, current threats. We haven’t spoken to that. What I’m saying is we have to completely shift that focus to reverse global warming and address myriad environmental issues that are all interlinked. (We must) address them on current human needs. Never have so many people had so many needs as right now because there are so many people here. And never have so many people been marginalized as they right now, whether they are working or not.

Aspen Times: The challenge seems so daunting. Are we just trying to limit the damage of global warming at this point?

Hawken: The inertia of global warming is overwhelming. It actually changes very slowly and that buffering, that resiliency (of the Earth) has lulled us to sleep in some way — ‘I don’t see any global warming, we’re fine.’

The odds are really long. My answer is OK, that’s the odds. That’s not going to stop me, that’s not going to make me go into despair. I’m going to go do something. I’m going to act. I’m going to work. I’m going to invent. I’m going to write. I’m going to teach. I’m going to do everything I can because that’s what gives my life meaning.

If enough of us do that, there’s no question we can reverse emissions and return our climate to something that approximates the last 10,000 years in terms of stability. That is true. That’s good data.

What’s missing is the will. If you just look at the news and the predictions of what’s going to happen, it’s easy to fall into a funk, to stay in depression and I think people are. That makes it all the more imperative that we come together and figure out what to do in such a way that we accelerate the rate of our behavior.

Aspen Times: Your organization has released 100 solutions to reverse global warming — is that the right phrase, reversing or offsetting?

Hawken: The first thing I wanted to do is name the goal. Nobody has named the goal. Mitigating is not a goal. Fighting, combating, tackling climate change is not a goal. All these verbs you read about, these are male sports and war verbs and metaphors. We have to stop using that. It’s just stupid. You can’t fight climate change anyway, it’s supposed to change. It makes Don Quixote look like a pragmatist. That’s just a silly way to talk to each other about it.

The goal is drawdown, which is the first time on a year-to-year basis where greenhouse gases begin to go down. That’s our goal, to reduce global emissions, which in turn will reverse global warming.

Can we do it in time? No one knows. Are we going to wait until we find out? No.

What we did is mapped, measured and modeled the 100 most substantive solutions to reversing emissions thus global warming.

(To do that, his team worked with a diverse array of scientists and experts around the globe that are actually taking steps on reducing emissions, not just studying how to do it.)

Everything in Drawdown that we measured and modeled is scaling, it’s here, it’s in place, it’s growing, we’re doing it, we know how to do it. We measured the economic costs and savings, which are enormous.

So what we’re trying to hold is a mirror to the world to say this is who we are.

The fact is every problem is a solution in disguise. This is the most gnarly, super-wicked problem that we’ve ever encountered. Therefore, the way to look at it is it contains a plethora of extraordinary, transformative solutions. The question is, are we on it, do we identify them, are we doing something about it, are we coming together, are we communicating in such a way that is inclusive, are we listening to each other? These will enact a larger movement toward addressing what’s happening on Earth.”

Aspen Times: What is the role of businesses in the climate fix and what needs to be done to get businesses to think beyond their footprint and into scale solutions?

Hawken: The good news is, a lot of businesses are asking that question of themselves, particularly the bigger, responsible companies. You can’t really keep your social license today in business, and I would say for many small ones too, unless you’re aware and you’re acting in a way that’s responsible, meaningful and directed with regard to climate, environmental and social justice. That’s changed in the last twenty years.

Still, I would say even the most responsible corporations are making things that have so much impact and aren’t really necessary.

You do see this sort of split where corporations and even foundations who are giving money away and are trying to address these issues, they should really look at their portfolio. How are they making this money? How is this extra money being made? What are these companies doing?

I do work with some of these large companies and I will say some of these people really care. They’re just people there. They’re like you, me and everybody else. They’re not any different. … They see what’s happening to their favorite fishing hole. They see what’s happening in terms of extreme weather and they’re just as concerned as everybody else.

They also have these big, unwieldy organisms called multi-national corporations and they’re doing the best they can with it. It’s good news, bad news. The good news is that now the literacy in big companies is extraordinary in respect to climate and the environment. But the capacity to act in a quick, meaningful way is curtailed by the fact that there are shareholders and analysts and they have to report out quarterly, they have to grow, they have to increase their sales and profitability or they lose their job. And that is a big, big obstacle to real change.

Aspen Times: Let’s end on a positive note. Pick an example in the 100 solutions and explain how it’s being applied in a meaningful way, in a way a layperson can understand.

Hawken: Probably the one that most people get surprised about is educating girls, which is the number six solution in terms of ranking. In the past people would say what are you doing about climate — well, wind and solar, Elon Mush and electric cars and things like that.

(He explained how the rankings process removed any personal bias by the staff and used scientific data to compile the list.)

The most surprising one was girls’ education. There are 145 million girls who are forced to leave school (annually) because of circumstance — fathers and sometimes mothers want them to leave school so their brothers can go to school, or early marriage …. Their education is being terminated and they have an average of five-plus children. A girl who is supported in her education to reach our equivalent level of high school has an average of two-plus children. It’s replacement rate.

But not only that — she’s educated, she earns more, she puts more resources into fewer children rather than an impoverished girl becoming a woman putting fewer resources into many children.

The difference between the high and median United Nations population projections by 2050 is 1.1 billion people. That’s almost entirely due to family planning. So educating girls is one pathway to family planning.

Somebody once asked me, ‘What do we do about population, how do we control population?’ I said you’ve got the wrong verb. It’s how do we empower girls and women because they will make really brilliant decisions if they are empowered but if they are forced to do things against their will then they make very different decisions because those decisions are made for them.

To have 1.1 billion people is a huge difference by 2050. It’s a very significant impact on global emissions and deforestation for food, etc. etc.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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