Renewables focus not the most important says leading environmentalist

23 February 2018

Paul Hawken

Renewables focus not the most important says leading environmentalist, Paul Hawken

The visiting American writer and environmentalist, Paul Hawken, made people sit up and pay attention in Melbourne this week when he said there’s no point having hope. 

Yes. They’d heard him right. 

The author of Drawdown - the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming argues that many things need to be done, each with specific benefits, but building to a big payoff. 

The Drawdown project brought together researchers and scientists from around the world and began with a tiny budget and oversized ambitions, Hawken says. And while the book’s title initially made him uncomfortable, he soon accepted that being the first comprehensive plan, does indeed make it the most comprehensive. 

The Drawdown team gathered comprehensive lists of potential solutions, did the maths, and winnowed them down to a point where those with the greatest potential to reduce atmospheric carbon or storing it were ranked.

Despite its high profile renewable energy isn’t the main objective. In fact, in Hawken’s top 20 actions (the book covers 100) only five are energy-related and three are in the top 10. 

Wind turbines come in #2 with solar farms and rooftop solar at eight and 10, respectively. Trailing back at 19 is geothermal and nuclear energy is at 20. 

Tucked in and around the renewable energy options are higher-priority matters. 

Refrigerant management is #1, reducing food waste and a plant-rich diet are at three and four. 

Before we even get to the first of the two solar options, we’ve got protection of tropical forests, educating girls and family planning. The rest of his top 20 actions have a strong agricultural and land-use focus.

So much to be done

Most of us know that reducing food waste and a plant rich diet is good, but refrigeration? 

Didn’t we sort that out with ozone-depleting CFCs in the ‘80s?

Apparently not. 

Until only the last few decades, air conditioning was a luxury. Now, right across the world, it’s a common household item. 

CFCs and HCFCs used as refrigerants and dating back to before the Montreal Protocol that banned their use, are still in countless refrigeration appliances. 

While their replacement hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) doesn’t damage ozone, it warms the atmosphere 1000 to 9000 times more than CO2 depending on the type. 

Thanks to the 2016 Kigali Accord there are plans to phase out HFC use from next year, but it’s a long-term program, and with an estimated 700 million air conditioning units coming-on worldwide by 2030, safe disposal of end-of-life refrigerant is essential, not to mention the energy used refrigeration appliances.

As they say on Facebook, “It’s complicated”, but that’s Hawken’s point. There is no one solution. 

Says Hawken, “Almost all of the solutions identified in the Drawdown program leads to regenerative outcomes.” 

“They are ‘no regrets’ solutions. initiatives we would want to achieve regardless of their impact on emissions or climate as they are practices that benefit, society and the environment in multiple ways. 

“They produce security, jobs, improve health, save money, facilitate mobility, eliminate hunger, prevent pollution restore soil, clean rivers, and more.” 

Sustainability Victoria CEO, Stan Krpan said there’s no such thing as a small action. 

“Whatever it is that motivates you – saving the planet, making changes so you, your kids and grandkids have a better life, improving your health or just saving money, helps.” 

“Everything you do counts.”

*Paul Hawken spoke to members of Sustainability Victoria’s TAKE2 pledge program which encourages companies and groups and individuals to take action and reduce the impact of climate change. Find out more about TAKE2 at