Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project: how we sequester CO2 from the atmosphere

Pulling CO2 out of the air. Drawdown. Carbon removal. Carbon capture. Negative emissions. Sequestering carbon. This child has many names. Some see it as ‘the climate change cure’, while others say it is but a cloudy distraction designed to move focus away from the fact that we need to wean ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels.

Rescope: A special two-part podcast with Paul Hawken

An in-depth conversation with one of the world’s most influential figures in sustainability

Paul Hawken continues to influence heads of state, CEOs, activists and people from all walks right around the world. He was in Australia for a few weeks in February 2018 touring new best-seller ‘Drawdown – The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming’ and was kind enough to spend some time with Rescope.

This resulted in a special opportunity to explore his highly influential life and thinking (Podcast Part 1, Rescope episode 13) and then engage in a broad sweeping exchange on Drawdown (Podcast Part 2, Rescope episode 14). Rescope has also podcast his powerful and uplifting keynote from the National Sustainable Living Festival (Rescope episode 15). And a special extra.

Paul Hawken in conversation part 1: his life, the growing movement & human change

Keynote address in Melbourne

Paul Hawken’s powerful keynote on Project Drawdown: At the 2018 National SLF Festival in Australia

Paul Hawken’s sold out keynote address and Q&A from the National Sustainable Living Festival 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of Project Drawdown. There hasn’t previously been anything like it. So this keynote packed a real punch.

It builds on a scathing critique of science communication, ‘big agriculture’, and the limitations of the Al Gore and Elon Musk phenomena, to present a comprehensive, holistic and uplifting outline of the ‘top 100 solutions to reverse global warming’ that feature in his new best-seller ‘Drawdown’.

The Drawdown EcoChallenge: From 4 to 25 April 2018, individuals and teams from around the world took part in simple daily activities to reduce their carbon footprints and delve into the world’s most substantive solutions to global warming.



On Purpose – Bank Australia’s podcast:

Project Drawdown aims to reverse global warming

“22 countries, 120 advisers and many others have put their expertise together to produce the “most comprehensive plan ever to reverse Global Warming”. We speak to the founder and Executive Director of Project Drawdown, Paul Hawken during his tour to Australia.”



Alternative Technology Association:

Drawdown: a plan to reverse global warming

Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project brings together peer-reviewed science on the “top 100 solutions to climate change”, highlighting the benefits and costs of each. ATA member Tom Hunt met with him recently in Melbourne.

By Tom Hunt

In February, I was privileged to meet Paul Hawken in Melbourne while we were both touring Australia. I was merely on holidays while the US environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author was presenting the Drawdown project to a large and enthusiastic audience at an event organised by Sustainability Victoria at RMIT.

Drawdown, the book, is Paul Hawken’s latest bestseller, but it is far more than a well-illustrated and readable tome. It represents the combined work of 70 scientists and researchers, and tells an inspiring story of the most important things we can do to combat climate change. It calculates just what we can achieve in terms of greenhouse gas emission reduction by applying the technologies and knowledge already at our disposal. The book is supported by the website, which also presents the data in a very accessible way, gives more information on the methodologies and updates the results as research continues.

Deciding what’s important
So what is the most important thing to focus on in the battle to combat climate change? Is it more important to replace coal with wind turbines, to put solar on every rooftop, to switch to electric vehicles or just to stop eating meat?

This is the type of question many people have posed, but few have properly explored. Back in 2001 Paul Hawken started asking the experts: “Do we know what we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?” But the experts had no overall picture, only the knowledge within their own spheres of expertise.

Greenhouse gases are at an all-time high. In 2013 Paul was so concerned by talk of the unthinkable ‘game over’, he decided to pull together all the experts he could and work out, for us all, just where we stand on global warming with the options we have.

» Read the full article in ReNew 143



Read more

» Project Drawdown:

» Paul Hawken’s home page


» Act on Climate:
Paul Hawken weighs in on Victoria’s Emissions Reduction Targets



Carving in on carbon capture

“After a year of reporting, through visits to large and small carbon-capture plants around the world, and conversations with more than 100 academics, entrepreneurs, policy experts, and government officials, I’ve come to a conclusion: Carbon capture is both vital and viable. Its mass deployment remains a challenge, but not for the reasons that many environmentalists commonly cite. Clearing up those misunderstandings could offer hope in a world full of doom-and-gloom climate stories.”
~ Akshat Rathi

» Quartz – 4 December 2017:
Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that



Humanity nowhere near a solution

“Although rarely mentioned by policymakers, ‘negative emissions’ technology — the idea of sucking carbon dioxide out of the air to bring global temperatures down — is essentially built into the models that scientists use to explore different climate scenarios. Meeting a 1.5-degree temperature target almost certainly relies on it, even with aggressive emissions reduction efforts starting now. And many modeling scenarios assume that a 2-degree threshold may require negative emissions, although it might be possible to reach that goal with heavy-handed mitigation efforts.

A major problem is that the technology isn’t developed enough to be useful on a global scale. In fact, scientists disagree on exactly what methods could be used. Some have suggested a future in which machines are used to chemically scrub carbon dioxide out of the sky. But while some projects have demonstrated this type of technology on a small scale, it’s nowhere near ready to be deployed at the levels required.

Other experts have proposed combining bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology, an approach nicknamed ‘BECCS’. Under this strategy, trees would soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow and then be harvested for fuel. The bioenergy power plants they feed would be equipped with carbon-capturing technology to trap the emissions. Even this approach may have its shortcomings. Multiple studies in the last year or two have indicated that it’s not feasible to grow enough trees, even on plantations…”

Read the full article:

» Scientific American – 30 November 2017:
How Much CO2 Will the World Need to Remove from the Air?
“Scientists increasingly agree that the world may need negative emissions to prevent catastrophic warming.”



Don’t be so positive

Nobody knows how to get rich simply by removing greenhouse gases

“Fully 101 of the 116 models the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses to chart what lies ahead assume that carbon will be taken out of the air in order for the world to have a good chance of meeting the 2°C target. The total amount of CO2 to be soaked up by 2100 could be a staggering 810bn tonnes, as much as the world’s economy produces in 20 years at today’s rate. Putting in place carbon-removal schemes of this magnitude would be an epic endeavour even if tried-and-tested techniques existed.

They do not. A few power stations and industrial facilities capture CO2 that would otherwise end up in the air and store it away underground, a practice known as carbon capture and storage. But this long-touted approach to cutting emissions still operates on only a very small scale, dealing with just a few tens of millions of tonnes of CO2 a year. And such schemes merely lower emissions; they do not reverse them.

What might? One option is to plant more forests (which act as a carbon sink) or to replace the deep-ploughing of fields with shallow tillage (which helps soils absorb and retain more CO2). Another is to apply carbon capture and storage to biomass-burning power plants, stashing the carbon sucked up by crops or trees burnt as fuel. Fancier ideas exist. Carbon could be seized directly from the air, using chemical filters, and stored. Or minerals could be ground up and sowed over land or sea, accelerating from aeons to years the natural weathering process that binds them to CO2 to form carbonate rocks.

Whether any of these technologies can do the job in time is unknown. All of them are very expensive and none is proven at scale. Persuading Earth’s swelling population to plant an India’s worth of new trees or crops to produce energy, as the climate simulations require, looks highly improbable. Changing agricultural practices would be cheaper, but scientists doubt that this would suck up enough CO2 even to offset the greenhouse gases released by farming. Direct air capture and enhanced weathering use less land, but both are costlier. Though renewable energy could profitably generate a fair share of the world’s electricity, nobody knows how to get rich simply by removing greenhouse gases.

When the need is great, the science is nascent and commercial incentives are missing, the task falls to government and private foundations. But they are falling short…”

Read the full article:

» The Economist – 16 November 2017:
Negative-emissions technology: What they don’t tell you about climate change
“Stopping the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is not enough. It has to be sucked out, too.”


» The New Yorker – 13 November 2017:
Going Negative
“Can carbon-dioxide removal save the world?”



Carbon negative technologies

“The challenge is enourmous.”
Dr Tim Flannery on “Carbon Negative Technologies” in Australia in Al Gore’s ‘24 Hours of Reality’ show in 2016.


“We produce 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide each year, and we’re on track to cross a crucial emissions threshold that will cause global temperature rise to pass the dangerous 2°C limit set by the Paris climate agreement.

But, in hushed tones, climate scientists are already talking about a technology that could pull us back from the brink. It’s called direct-air capture, and it consists of machines that work like a tree does, sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out from the air, but on steroids —
capturing thousands of times more carbon in the same amount of time, and, hopefully, ensuring we don’t suffer climate catastrophe.”

» Quartz – 12 October 2017:
The world’s first “negative emissions” plant has begun operation—turning carbon dioxide into stone


» Ted Talk – April 2017:
Can we stop climate change by removing CO2 from the air?
“Could we cure climate change? Geoengineering researcher Tim Kruger wants to try. He shares one promising possibility: using natural gas to generate electricity in a way that takes carbon dioxide out of the air. Learn more – both the potential and the risks – about this controversial field that seeks creative, deliberate and large-scale intervention to stop the already catastrophic consequences of our warming planet.”


Sequestering carbon in soil

“The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.

The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.

Now scientists are documenting how sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields.”

» The New York Times – 2 December 2017:
Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet