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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.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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