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Don’t call it climate change

Takeaways from an inspirational evening around opportunities to help reverse global warming.

On Thursday, April 20, we welcomed best-selling author, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and climate advocate Paul Hawken to present Drawdown, his long-awaited new book that chronicles over 100 creative solutions for addressing global warming. While Hawken is the editor of the book, he emphasized its diverse authorship: more than 70 researchers and scientists from 22 countries, and a 120-person advisory board contributed to identifying, mapping, and modeling the most promising ideas from across the globe.

A big thanks to the more than 300 people who joined us to take part inspiring conversation at the Natural Capital Center last week. For folks who weren’t able to attend in person, we wanted to share a few insights we found particularly important, inspiring, thought-provoking — or simply very cool.

Land use is the only way to draw down carbon

“If you’re going the wrong way, you need to stop and turn around. Slowing down just means you’re going the wrong way more slowly.”

When he said this, audience members laughed, and Hawken smiled, but he was serious. He was talking about the need to not only arrest greenhouse gas emissions, but the equally important goal of pulling them out of the atmosphere. This is what the term “drawdown” refers to — the point where atmospheric greenhouse gases peak and begin to decline year-by-year as more carbon is sequestered back into the earth.

The normal functioning of natural, healthy ecosystems pulls carbon from the air and stores it in soil or biomass. Most people know that trees store carbon, but perhaps not everyone is aware that grasslands and wetlands also do so, sometimes even to a greater degree.

man standing in front of slide of young woman farmer
Engaging solutions around women and girls, including women farmers, to mitigate global warming was a key finding of Project Drawdown.

Still, forests are a crucial part of the picture. Drawdown found that restoring the world’s temperate rain forests could result in nearly 23 gigatons of carbon sequestration by 2030. These are the rain forests here at home. Forests in Oregon, Washington, and California alone store 6.8 billion metric tons of carbon a year. The carbon sequestered on EFM properties is equivalent to the yearly emissions from 30,000 cars.

A huge surprise – food is a greater solution than energy

Eight of the top 20 most effective global warming solutions found by Drawdown researchers were food-related. Solutions three and four — reduced food waste and a plant-rich diet, respectively — exist on the consumption end of the spectrum. But every other of the eight — silvopasture, intercropping, and more — are related to how we produce our food.

Regenerative agriculture clocked in at #11, with managed grazing at #19. These land management strategies are two of the top 20 practices Ecotrust is actively supporting in eastern Oregon. If adopted globally, these two practices together could harness a carbon savings of 30 gigatons and provide financial returns of over $3 trillion by 2050.

A full house attended paul Hawken's presentaiton on Project Drawdown at the Natural Capital Center on April 20.

What we talk about when we talk about climate: notes on language

Throughout the talk, Hawken noted the confusion of terms that swirls around the topic of climate: decarbonization, negative emissions, climate change, global warming. There’s a need for an accessible, simple vocabulary, Hawken said, and also a need to move away from the typically violent rhetoric that surrounds the topic: the war on carbon, slashing emissions, combating global warming.

“Any time you have a military metaphor, you’re saying there’s an enemy or other,” Hawken said. “That’s dualistic thinking; that got us exactly where we are.”

Plus, Hawken noted, you can’t “battle” climate change. The climate is always changing in response to chemistry on earth, and always has. When we refer to “climate change” as the problem, we are talking about its dramatic changes on a planet warmed by excessive greenhouse gas emissions in a very short period of geologic time.

In summary: We want to reverse global warming to reduce the effects of drastic climate change. (Final answer.)

“What if global warming is not an obstacle but an opportunity to innovate and reimagine everything we make and do?”

There’s one more language issue: the generally guilt-inducing and apocalyptic tone that much climate writing assumes. Often, popular articles present global warming as an evil force we are unwittingly causing every day just by existing in the systems of our society, or as something happening to us that we are powerless to affect. This strips people of both agency and responsibility, unintentionally forcing readers into a victim role, simply through language.

“When you put gloom and doom together with guilt, you get apathy,” Hawken noted. “Which precludes seeing global warming as an opportunity.”

What if global warming is not an obstacle but an opportunity to innovate and reimagine everything we make and do? This was a thought Hawken voiced near the conclusion of his speech. What if we viewed our circumstances not as daunting, but as a worldwide cue that it’s time for something different?

“Climate change isn’t a curse,” Hawken said. “It’s feedback.”