Skip to main content

Drawdown - Paul Hawken (Ed.) ***

When I was at university there was a book (sometimes classed as a magazine) I often thumbed through in Heffers, though I could never bring myself to buy a copy as it was too expensive. It was called The Whole Earth Catalog, and combined ecological articles with reviews of products, many of them for living an independent lifestyle. I find it hard to believe that it's accidental that the look and feel of Drawdown, with its large format, coarse paper covers and heavily illustrated interior, very different from a typical Penguin paperback, is so reminiscent of The Whole Earth Catalog.

So apart from the gimmick of the appearance (as it makes it very clumsy to read), what does the book provide? We are promised 'the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming', which sounds promising. What we get is a range of 80 solutions, each presented as a separate article, plus a collection of (sometimes more interesting) articles on what are described as 'coming attractions' which range from nuclear fusion to the Hyperloop.

There's a lot that's quite interesting here, but there are two big problems. One is the format. This kind of edited collection of essays is very difficult to get the big picture from. It's not really giving us the plan it promises, so much as the building blocks for a plan. If you were to encounter one of the individual articles in a magazine it would be interesting. But 80 of them are mind numbing enough to be unreadable. There are a couple of short sections pulling it all together, but they don't give us enough. The other problem is what's missing. There's nothing about active technological solutions to reduce the impact of climate change other than a couple of articles in the futures section, where some of them could have made a huge difference by 2050 - what we're given is all about doing what we do differently, which leaves an awfully big hole. It also shows its colours when it comes to nuclear - the numbers look impressive (especially with a misprint that gives the cost of nuclear to 2050 as $.88 billion) but it's the only section that has so much negativity. 

Overall, the result is frustrating. There are snippets that are fascinating - I would never have guessed, for example, that improving refrigeration disposal would have the biggest possible impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There's a lot of work gone into this book but the format makes it more like struggling through a charity's report and accounts (only 20 times longer) than reading a comprehensible narrative. It only real works as a reference book, and even then, the structure makes it difficult to get the big picture. 

I would have much rather the book had been presented in well-written, narrative form that gave us a better overall picture. It feels to be written by committee. And that's a shame.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under

Regeneration - Paul Hawken **

This is a really big book. I don't mean big in the sense of important, but physically enormous for what it is - it's roughly the size of a children's annual, though a lot thicker. Interestingly, the format appears to be a Paul Hawken speciality - he did it with his previous title, Drawdown ,  though that was far less glossy. Paul Hawken's aim is to put forward a solution to climate change driven from humans rather than from the science. The tag line on the back of the book reads 'The climate crisis is not at science problem. It is a human problem.' And that itself is a problem. It's not that climate change isn't a human problem, but rather that it's both a human problem and a science problem - requiring human and science-based solutions. But the approach taken in this book is anything but scientific. It's a bit like saying the Covid-19 pandemic is a human problem, not a science problem. The pandemic is indeed a human problem, but if we'd tr