Find Climate Web Founder, Dr. Mark Trexler, on The Costa Report

Listen to Rebecca Costa’s interview with The Climate Web’s director and founder, Dr. Mark C. Trexler, on her nationally syndicated radio show, The Costa Report. Costa is the author of the new On the Verge, an exploration of futures, foresight, and predictions, and the 2010 The Watchman’s  Rattle, a book that explores the difficulties in solving complex problems. In the radio interview, Dr. Trexler talks with Rebecca about the wicked problem of climate change, what’s stopping us from addressing it effectively, and how the Climate Web can help us make progress.



keep climate web open access with patreon button

A Climate Change Circular Firing Squad

climate web background what's your climate story words

There’s a lot that’s new with the Climate Web!

First, please visit and subscribe to our brand new Climate Web YouTube Channel. It’s already a great resource for getting introduced to the Climate Web and for exploring it in depth — and it will get much better. Since the Climate Web points you to more than 100 climate-relevant YouTube channels, and more than 1,500 YouTube videos, it may help serve as a climate gateway into YouTube.

If you’ve followed my work over the years on topics like Climate Chess and the 1,000,000 piece Climate Change Jigsaw puzzle, you’ll know I’m not overwhelmed by the way in which climate advocates organize and coordinate their efforts in order to tackle climate change. But we rarely see the kind of circular firing squad that Chris Mooney reported on this week in the Washington Post. Stanford’s Mark Jacobson has actually filed a libel suit against the authors of a peer-reviewed article that challenges some of the assumptions in Jacobson’s work in which he suggests that we can “immediately” transition to a 100% renewable energy mix. There’s plenty of room for technical debate on this topic; in fact, you can dig deep into all of the associated issues through the I:100%RenewablesCase Index Entry in the Climate Web. But for one climate advocate to sue other climate advocates over disagreements regarding modeling assumptions? Really?

One of the things we obviously need more of when it comes to tackling climate change is dialogue of all kinds. And there is an I:ClimateDialogues Index Entry in the Climate Web. But we recently came across some great work in this area by Kimberly Nicholas of the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. Check out her “We Can Fix It World Café” page.

Last item for today — I’ve always been intrigued by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. We’ve just added this Doomsday Clock Animation video to the Climate Web. Check it out — it’s worth the two-minute view!

I hope you find this week’s additions to the Climate Web as interesting (and frustrating) as I do. Again, please visit the Climate Web’s new YouTube channel! Suggestions welcome!

Climate Fiction Daily Doorway

TheBrain software - Climate Web

I mentioned in our last What’s New earlier this week that we’ve started building Doorways into the Climate Web to facilitate access to topics of cross-cutting interest. We just published today’s Climate Web Doorway focused on Climate Fiction. I’ve always been a Sci-Fi buff and so Cli-Fi was a natural extension of my interest. It so happens that the first Cli-Fi book I read, James Powell’s 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming (2011) remains one of my favorites. But Cli-Fi is a fascinating topic overall. Is it primarily a catharsis for writers? Is it intended to influence public opinion and climate change outcomes?  Is every book describing the weather now going to be considered CliFi (Godzilla was called a CliFi movie for reasons I’ve never figured out).

Let’s say you’re a climate change advocate interested in the topic. Or a journalist discovering Cli-Fi as a genre. Or a writer concerned about climate change. Or a Sci-Fi buff trying to figure out what this new genre is about. Or a teacher wanting to integrate Cli-Fi into your writing course. Where do you go? Sure, you can read one of the dozens of newspaper stories about Cli-Fi, and start digging from there. But we’ve been collecting Cli-Fi relevant material for years, and it’s all in the Climate Web. Today’s Climate Web Doorway simply surveys that information, and I think it points out what our new Doorways can help accomplish. Spend a few minutes at the Doorway (watch the Doorway Help Video if you haven’t before), and you’ll come away with an understanding of Cli-Fi and the conversations around Cli-Fi that otherwise would have taken you hours (and let’s be frank, you probably never would have spent the time).

But since we’ve pulled it all together, why not spend a few minutes perusing today’s Climate Web Doorway of the Day – Climate Fiction. If you’re REALLY not interested in Cli-Fi, remember that we have several other Doorways of the Day open right now, covering Electric Vehicles, Great Non-Climate Books Important to Understanding Climate Change, and Oregon and Climate Change. You can get permanent access to any of these topical Doorways, 100 other Doorways, or your own Personal Doorway, through our Patreon Project.

What’s New in the Climate Web: Climate Doorways

Lots of new additions to the Climate Web recently!

We’ve added Climate Liability News to the 100 or so websites in the Climate Web focused on climate change. The idea of assessing liability for GHG emissions is VERY challenging, but now there’s a site tracking the idea day to day.

The Climate Web has been comprehensively tracking the topic of hurricanes and climate change as Harvey and Irma hit the U.S. You can find that coverage at the index entry I:HurricaneHarvey, and we recommend you watch our video trying to make sense of the conversation.

Check out this fun Climate Change Coloring Book project.

Take a look at this innovative 97 Hours of Consensus graphic at Skeptical Science. Can you find the 3 outliers? I found 2, and I’m pretty sure I know who the 3rd is likely to be, but couldn’t find her!

It’s still a work in progress, and early stage at that (in terms of the detail in the Climate Web), but if you want to see the 190 arguments that climate doubters tend to bring up (based on Skeptical Science), here’s the list of arguments in the Climate Web. It’s an interesting list, and we’ll be grouping the arguments in the Index, and then linking information to them so you can quickly survey the best available information from multiple sources.

Last but not least, and reflecting a huge amount of work in recent weeks, take a look at our new Doorways into the Climate Web. The idea is to point users to basic collections of relevant information they can use to understand a topic, without having to tackle the massive amount of related information in the Climate Web (unless one wants to, of course!). Here’s a short video introducing the idea and goal of Climate Web Doorways.  We’ll be issuing “Climate Web Doorways of the Day” on all kinds of topics. Our first Doorway of the Day dealt with electric vehicles, while today’s provides a snapshot of Oregon and Climate Change. Individual Doorways of the Day will be up for about 3 days and then cycle to another topic, but as explained here it’s easy to get permanent access to more than 100 standardized Doorways into the Climate Web, not to mention your own personal doorway. Check them out!

support climate web on patreon red background

I hope you’ve seen something interesting to you, and that you’ll check it out in the Climate Web! Please consider supporting our Climate Web Patreon Project, and thanks to our existing supporters!



Creating Climate Knowledge for You on Patreon

I have been working on responses to climate change and climate change decision-making for almost 30 years. I’ve served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but most of my career has been spent working with organizations around the world on everything to do with climate change.

Whether calling it climate change or global warming, almost all climate scientists characterize as dangerous our departure from the “climatic normal” human societies have evolved within over the last 10,000 years. But if it’s that dangerous, why haven’t we done more to prevent it?

One reason is the enormous gap between our collective knowledge about climate change and individual decision-making when it comes to climate change, as reflected in Carla O’Dell’s “[I]f only we knew what we know” quote. Notwithstanding and to some extent because of virtually unlimited collective knowledge regarding the science, risks, and solutions to climate change, individuals rarely spot the “actionable knowledge” that would significantly influence their decisions as concerned citizens, business executives, or policy makers.

Inadequate access to actionable climate knowledge is the biggest barrier we face in tackling climate change, and it is only getting harder every year. Your social media streams do little but confirm your current views. Google almost any climate-relevant search term or question and you’ll get millions of hits. How many do you look at? How much of the information do you remember a month later?

Based on our 20+ years working on climate change, and a longstanding interest in knowledge management, about six years ago my environmental lawyer wife and I started building an “actionable knowledge” solution for climate change. We call it the Climate Web. It uses TheBrain® software to organize information in ways that make it accessible to anyone interested in climate change, from concerned citizens and philanthropists to business executives and policy makers. It starts by linking more than 40,000 books, reports, journal articles, news stories, videos, and websites, with new materials added almost daily. But the Climate Web also does much more, extracting and linking together thousands of individual ideas and powerful graphics that can help deliver knowledge that can influence perceptions and decisions.


In the process of building the Climate Web I suspect we’ve read more climate-related literature, visited more climate-related websites, and watched more climate-related videos than any other two people on the planet. The Climate Web has turned into a massive resource that we’re confident can help make a difference on climate change.

We have gone to great lengths to make the Climate Web an open-access resource that anyone can use. Want to learn about climate science, how to communicate climate change, or what experts are forecasting when it comes to a low-carbon transition? It’s in the Climate Web. Want to find out what experts are saying about carbon pricing and cap-and-trade policy? It’s in the Climate Web. In fact, if there is an answer to climate change it’s probably in the Climate Web! The Climate Web can save you hours, days, or even more of your time. It can point you to great resources you would never otherwise see. It can help you think about climate change or climate change solutions in a completely new way. It can provide you with all kinds of new resources for communicating with or teaching others about climate change.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can find in the Climate Web. Its sheer size is the biggest challenge users face in using the Climate Web. After investing 16,000 hours in building the Climate Web, this Patreon project has two goals: 1) to help us keep the Climate Web open access; and 2) to help users more easily access their specific actionable knowledge in the Climate Web.

The solution is Climate Web Doorways:

  • Audience Doorways lead to curated collections aimed at the needs of particular user audiences, from “Concerned Individuals” to “Corporate Risk Managers” and “K-12 Teachers.”
  • Topic Doorways lead to curated collections that help you understand and track important climate topics, from a “2oC Climate Target” to the “Water-Food-Energy Nexus” and “Extreme Events.”
  • Personal Doorways lead to curated collections customized for individual users, and can include an eclectic collection of nodes from all over the Climate Web.

Doorways mean you don’t have to try and keep track of where you saw great resources in the Climate Web, and retrace your steps every time you go in. You can jump there instantly through your URL-based personal doorway!

Watch a video that helps you select the Doorway(s) of most value to you:

All supporters of our Patreon project will receive customized access to Climate Web information. Take a look at the different levels of support, and pick the one that best suits your interests. Choose your preferred Audience, Topic, or Dashboard Doorways, or contents for your Personal Doorway, from this list (which replicates what you just saw on the video)!

support climate web on patreon red background

We believe that the Climate Web can help thousands of individuals and organizations be more effective in advancing their climate change goals, and advance our collective goal of slowing climate change and accelerating a low-carbon transition. Will you help us continue to use our time and expertise to build and expand the Climate Web as an open access resource, and give anyone who’s interested a 16,000 hour head start on their goals? Thank you!

Climate Change and Hurricanes?

Watch our new video! In this video, we explore media coverage of the links between climate change and Hurricane Harvey, and evaluate the common assertion that we can now finally stop debating whether such links exist (an assertion we heard after Hurricane Katrina by the way). The video doesn’t advocate for or against climate science, it simply asks whether the scientific messaging is consistent and effective. The results aren’t that encouraging, and we should be doing better.

And by the way, the Climate Web can help!

What’s New in the Climate Web?

image of climate web on light blue background

First, we’ve significantly updated and improved the Climate Web’s Index in just the last week.  With more than 1,700 Index entries there’s always room for improvement. Check it out, and we welcome your reactions!

I’m not focusing on a particular topic today as I did a couple of weeks ago when I looked at Prediction Markets in the Climate Web. For today, I’ll sample some of the many items we’ve recently added to the Climate Web. As always in some cases, I’ll link you to stories directly, as opposed to sending you to the Climate Web where you would have to click on the story’s URL anyway. But everything I point you to below is in fact integrated into the Climate Web.

First, another 1,000 pages of climate science have hit the bookshelves with the leaked draft of the Global Change Research Program’s (GCRP) Special Science Report and the annual State of the Climate Report for 2016. The GCRP report is discussed here in a Think Progress blog, and the full report is here in the Climate Web. The State of the Climate report is summarized here in the Atlantic Magazine, and the full report is here in the Climate Web. I will note that finding “here’s what’s really new when it comes to climate change” insight is very difficult in both reports, buried as it is in 1,000 pages of technical discussion.

But there’s plenty more to explore when it comes to recent Climate Web additions:

  • Amidst all of the discussion regarding a low-carbon transition, can we measure and track how confident we should be in policy movement toward a low-carbon transition? It’s challenging, as explored in a Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy White Paper; you can explore its key points here in the Climate Web.
  • Following up on the last point, the investment firm Schroders has come out with a Climate Progress Dashboard. This Dashboard is intended to provide a best-available projection of likely temperature increases (see figure). It’s the most innovative such estimate I’ve seen!

chart of temperature projections

  • Switching gears, what’s the carbon footprint of American pets? A new report suggests it’s impressive at roughly 25% of the human fingerprint.
  • Because climate change is all about probabilities, it’s great to see the New York Times incorporating probability distributions into a story about summer temperatures. Speaking of summer temperatures, many temperature records are being set this year, but did you know that in July Death Valley had the hottest month ever recorded on Earth?
  • There’s tons of discussion about the need to phase out coal (and fossil fuels in general), so it’s interesting that debate has been expanding as to whether to start mining undersea methane hydrates for energy. It is a massive potential source of both energy and COemissions.
  • When we impose carbon taxes to help control those emissions, do those taxes work? A new paper looking at the empirical impact of carbon taxes on gasoline use and emissions in Sweden comes to interesting conclusions (but remember that Sweden’s carbon tax is at $132/ton!).
  • I’m sure you remember some of the news coverage of “what Exxon knew and when did it know it.” Now there is a similar piece — reviewed here by Inside Climate News — about what electric utilities knew and when did they know it. The report is here in the Climate Web, and it provides extensive links to documents located in the cloud at an interesting website called Climate Files, set up specifically to host such documents. Hard to tell what’s really there, but the website openly solicits submittal of any and all relevant corporate documents.
  • A website just added to the Climate Web is the Historical Climatology website, identified as a site dedicated to environmental history and the extraction of lessons from past environmental experiences to apply to today’s climate problem.

Last, as you know, the long-term nature of climate change is one of the biggest challenges to mounting an effective societal or policy response. There’s a large literature on the problem of economic discounting in the Climate Web, but it can get pretty technical. I was interested to see a recent piece on Medium that explores in a fun way how we as individuals discount the future in our everyday lives. If you’re not fluent in discounting, it’s worth the read.

Listing a few recent additions to the Climate Web doesn’t do any topic justice, partially because I’ve flagged only about 10 of the 1,000 recent additions to the Climate Web, and partially because simply sending you to the story doesn’t give you an accurate feel for how much you can learn about these topics in the Climate Web, where individual stories are woven into a much more comprehensive knowledge web.

In any case, I hope you’ve seen something interesting to you, and that you’ll check it out in the Climate Web! If that is the case, consider supporting our Climate Web Patreon Project, and thanks to our existing supporters!

Want to receive our newsletter when we publish it? Sign up here:

Prediction Markets in the Climate Web

image of climate web on light blue background

Yes, the Climate Web continues to expand – it’s actually a bit frightening that we have about 1,300 items newly added in the last seven weeks waiting to be fully “Climate Webbed” and then released from the “New Adds” list. Tons of fascinating stuff there, but that’s not my focus today.

Today, I will talk about Climate Prediction Markets, something I’ve known about for a long time, but which we had not yet really developed in the Climate Web. Climate prediction markets (somewhat analogous to the PredictIt political betting website with which you may be familiar) would involve betting on future climate change outcomes. For example, here’s the exact wording of a real-live bet currently pending between climate scientists Phil Mote and Radley Horton regarding how much Arctic sea ice there will be between 2020 and 2040 (as tracked daily by the National Snow and Ice Data Center):

  • If at any time before the end of 2020, the quantity falls below 1 million sq km, Phil pays Radley $300 (on December 31, 2030) and the remaining bets are void.
  • If at any point between 2021 and the end of 2030 it falls below 1 million sq km (for the first time), Phil pays Radley $150 (on December 31, 2030) and the remaining bets are void.
  • If it doesn’t fall below 1 million sq. km at any time before December 31, 2030, Radley pays Phil $150 (on December 31, 2030) but the remaining bet is not necessarily void, because:
  • If by end of 2040 it still has never fallen below 1 million sq km, Radley pays Phil an additional $150 (adjusted for inflation).

There are several potential benefits to setting up a market in which thousands of people could join Phil and Radley in this bet, or many others. The key argument for prediction markets is that the odds associated with a specific bet, while based on climate science, would in effect depoliticize the discussion of that science. Things get real when you’re forced to put your money where your mouth is, and the odds associated with a given bet would help policy-makers interpret the state of the science based on a “wisdom of the crowds” kind of approach. Many experts think that climate prediction markets could be a pivotal step forward toward breaking down barriers to climate change action and policy, which makes it all the more notable that you may never have heard the term before.

My goal today is not to expound on climate prediction markets. Rather, it’s to expound on how easily you can now learn about climate prediction markets in the Climate Web, based on materials added over the last few days. For example:

To some extent, we’ve only scratched the surface of prediction markets with what we have so far in the Climate Web. But we have organized more than 60 documents, blogs, videos, and PPTs, and we have extracted more than 100 ideas and graphics from a subset of those sources. There’s a lot more we could do to expand and customize the presentation of that information, but I suspect that even what’s there now could help bring a lot of people up to speed on an important topic very quickly.

Just as important, someone interested in climate prediction markets can go elsewhere in the Climate Web to explore all kinds of issues directly relevant to making climate bets, including climate modeling, changing probabilities of extreme events, the economic impacts of climate change, and much more. It occurred to me this morning that (among other things) the Climate Web can be thought of as a Bettor’s Guide to Climate Predictions. Almost everything a person would want to know for betting in a climate predictions market can be found in the Climate Web.

A climate prediction market actually existed several years ago, but disappeared when InTrade shut down. Right now, the most serious development of a climate prediction market is happening in the UK.

Last for today, what else should we be doing with a key topic like this? Would you attend a webinar? Purchase a short course to come up to speed? Support us in expanding the Prediction Markets section of the Climate Web?

Feedback and suggestions welcome as always.

Want to receive our newsletter when we publish it? Sign up here:

Actionable Knowledge for Climate Progress

head sculpture with open top and a brain being plugged in

This is Part 3 of this blog series. In Part 1, I asked, “do we really intend to do something about climate change?” Part 2 asked “if so, does information matter?” Part 3 asks, “can I find the information I need?”

The idea of actionable climate knowledge reflects the reality that an individual making a climate-relevant decision is doing so on the basis of her ability to answer the two questions that govern all human decision-making: “is it worth it,” and “can I do it?” Each of us uses different information to answer the two questions, and it has to be extracted from the information deluge that crashes over us every day.

Here’s a great (non-climate) example of information that has been organized into actionable knowledge (thanks to Patrick McKercher):

“Andrea, an accounts manager at an investment firm, wakes up to learn from CNN that an Asian banking scandal is strangling venture capital flows and causing loans to be called in prematurely.

Andrea accesses her company’s TheBrain™-based proprietary Knowledge Web to scan her company’s Asian partners and holdings. Clicking on the link to the Royal Bank of Hong Kong (RBHK), the hardest hit bank according to CNN, she is relieved to find that relatively few of her own clients are linked to RBHK, and that her company’s overall exposure to the crisis is modest.

She clicks through the Knowledge Web to show all clients with loans from the Royal Bank of Hong Kong that missed their financial targets in last 36 months, revealing just one client, Tsingtao Telecommunications. Pulling up her company’s current Asia strategy from the Knowledge Web she sees that Tsingtao is an important part of that strategy, and that Tsingtao is linked to other clients in Sweden, Indonesia, and South Africa.

Andrea then sets about using the Knowledge Web to help solve her client’s problem. She can see that Tsingtao switched its banking to RBHK from Cathay Bank four years ago. From her “people network” within the Knowledge Web she discovers that Alejandro (who graduated from the Haas Business School at UCB a few years after she did) now works at Cathay Bank. She calls Alejandro and finds out that after getting poor returns in real estate, Cathay wants to diversify and is interested in reclaiming lost customers. Cathay soon offers Tsingtao a bridge loan at very favorable rates, and Andrea receives a generous bonus at her next review.”

Most of us are likely envious of the Knowledge Web Andrea was able to draw upon, and in fact knowledge management is big business. Andrea’s TheBrain™ software is actually in use by many Fortune 100 companies, and by agencies like the Department of Defense and the CIA. Most of us, however, create elaborate electronic file folder systems full of reports, news stories, and websites that we’re sure we’ll need in the future. A good substitute? Not even close, and when we do need information we’re often left searching the internet for “that great piece” we vaguely remember seeing six months before. Unfortunately, when it comes to a topic like climate change, almost any climate-related search term will generate millions of hits. That’s the antithesis of individual-specific actionable knowledge.

The actionable knowledge we need is almost certainly out there. Woodrow Wilson supposedly said that “there is no idea in our heads that has not been worn shiny by someone else’s brain.” It’s a great quote, whoever said it. There’s almost no question that the internet holds what you need, already “worn shiny by someone else’s brain.” The problem is finding it! As reflected in knowledge management expert Carla O’Dell musing: “If only we knew what we know.”

Those simple seven words go a long ways toward explaining why we’re headed for between 3.5 and 6.0 degrees C of climate change, a level of change that will wreak havoc on the natural and managed systems upon which human societies depend.  It’s not that the information and actionable knowledge we need to make better decisions about climate change doesn’t exist – we’re deluged with climate-relevant information. The problem is that the relevant decision-makers either never encounter “their” actionable knowledge, or have forgotten it by the time they need it.

Let me give you a personal example. I saw a news story today that referred to the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition’s recent Report on the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices. Since carbon pricing is an area of personal expertise, I figured I should track it down. The report sounded familiar, and when I found the document I even recognized its cover. But I had no recollection of whether I’d read the report.

But like Andrea and the CIA, I have a Knowledge Web built with TheBrain™ software. The Climate Web links together more than 1,000 books, 2,000 videos, 15,000 reports and articles, 25,000 news stories, 3,000 websites, 2,000 topical experts, as well as 10’s of thousands of individually extracted ideas and graphics. 1,500 index entries instantly take me to potentially actionable knowledge on any climate topic, basically putting the entire topic of climate change into my short-term memory.  Calling up the Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, it turns out I had read it and linked 30 key ideas and graphics into the Climate Web’s Carbon Pricing Deep Dive. Replicate that thousands of times and you’ll have a sense of how the Climate Web beats Google on actionable knowledge.

For a visual introduction to what I’m talking about, this video explores how the Center for Climate and Security’s recent report, “Epicenters of Climate and Security: The New Geostrategic Landscape of the Anthropocene,” is integrated into the Climate and Security Deep Dive of the Climate Web.



In Part 1 of this blog series I used the metaphor of a 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle to represent the climate change challenge, and urged people really wanting to make a difference on climate change to go to “jigsaw puzzle school.” The Climate Web IS jigsaw puzzle school, and we’ve kept it public access to facilitate faster completion of the puzzle. The web-based version of TheBrain™ software through which you can access the Climate Web, however, is less powerful than the desktop software. To accomplish the actionable knowledge miracles that Andrea was able to, or that we’re able to with the Climate Web, you’d want to develop your own Knowledge Web “fitted” to your own brain.

If you’re working on climate change, however, we can greatly simplify the process. We can use topical modules from the Climate Web to help you construct your own Knowledge Web, saving you hundreds or even thousands of hours. After that you’re free to take your Knowledge Web in any direction that makes sense for you.

Helping you build your own Knowledge Web is just one of many ways the Climate Web can help advance your climate-relevant goals. Whether you’re an individual, a business leader, a researcher, a philanthropist, or a consultant/lawyer, the Climate Web is an unparalleled actionable knowledge resource for climate issues, climate risks, and climate solutions. If you’re involved in any way with the 1,000,000 piece climate change jigsaw puzzle, you should take advantage of the Climate Web.


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Support the Climate Web on Patreon!

support the climate web on patreon red background

“Project Drawdown” and “Climate of Hope”: Moving the GHG Needle?

line of windmills on a hill sunset

April 18th was a big day for climate change books. Paul Hawken’s long-awaited Project Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming came out, as did Michael Bloomberg’s and Carl Pope’s Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet. Both titles are provocative and optimistic, and both books are written by experienced teams. They are also about as different in approach and content as two books tackling climate change could be!

So what lessons should readers take away regarding a path forward on climate change? Interesting question.

Let’s start with Climate of Hope. It is a broad-ranging book that aims to lay out a game plan on climate change. It’s an engaging story. I’ll summarize the book’s ambitious claims this way:

  • Almost every sector can make a significant climate change contribution and be better off in the short term for doing so.
  • The best way to reach skeptics is for more people to tell climate success stories. Stories such as how taking action improves our lives in the here and now. How it makes us healthier. How it saves us money. How it helps connect those in poverty with job opportunities. How it helps us compete in the world. How it helps create jobs. We can win over the skeptics by demonstrating how fighting climate change is good for them, their families, and their communities.
  • Devolving power to cities is the single best step that national governments can take to improve the world’s ability to fight climate change.

book cover Climate of HopeThese are three important arguments. The first two points have been made many times, but I’ve never seen more than anecdotal evidence to support them. After reading Climate of Hope, I believe this remains true. The authors’ “city empowerment” argument as the most important solution to climate change is new to me, but it, too, is delivered only by anecdotes. That may be enough to serve as a hopeful message to those already committed to action on climate change, but it’s hard to see how it does more than that in showing a path forward.

What about Project Drawdown? This book has already drawn strong praise from observers, such as Joel Makower of Greenbiz, who states:

“The book, along with an accompanying website, may be the first to provide the insight and inspiration, backed by empirical research and data, that could enable companies, governments and citizens to attack the climate problem in a holistic and aggressive way. Moreover, many, if not most, of the solutions can be undertaken with little or no new laws or policy, and can be financed profitably by companies and capital markets.”

book cover project drawdownProject Drawdown looks at 100 ways to “draw down” atmospheric GHG levels, whether through emissions reductions or enhanced sequestration. The book specifically quantifies out to 2050 the GHG benefits of 76 of those interventions. The authors suggest that with those interventions we can begin to reverse global warming before 2050, even based on conservative economic and deployment assumptions. Paul Hawken noted in a recent talk that the Project Drawdown team didn’t “pick” these interventions based on their own assumptions and biases, but drew upon an existing “collective human wisdom” about what to do about global warming. He argued in the same talk that this collective wisdom is reflected in the fact that deployment of many of the technologies has already begun to rapidly scale.

Hawken also makes the case that until this book no one he talked to could list the most important options and actions for reversing global warming. Certainly, there’s no doubt that he and his team have put in an enormous amount of work to put together the Project Drawdown list. Much of the supporting documentation is not yet available on the Project Drawdown website, so it’s difficult to know what is yet to come. Yet based on the materials currently available, what have we learned about reversing global warming? That’s a complicated and nuanced question.

Readers might group them in different ways, but I would characterize 19 of Project Drawdown’s interventions as being in the electric sector, ranging from renewable energy technologies to energy storage and energy efficiency. The agriculture sector accounts for 17, another 10 are in the land use and forestry sectors, and 13 are in the transport sector. In most cases, efforts to deploy the listed interventions and technologies have been underway for years. I’m left somewhat perplexed about why we should expect these technologies to scale rapidly now, with few new laws or policies, or why companies and capital markets will suddenly find it profitable to do so (as Joel Makower suggests). It’s particularly notable, for example, that while pricing carbon is commonly characterized in the climate change literature as the single most important “need” when it comes to reversing global warming, Project Drawdown explicitly avoids assuming any global carbon price.

Is Project Drawdown really the first comprehensive plan for reversing global warming? Not really. There have been many studies that have laid out a plan or modeled a reversal of climate change in the 2050 timeframe or thereafter, from Paul Gilding’s “one degree war plan” in 2010, to WRI’s recently published Risky Business Project: From Risk to Return. It’s true that these reports don’t take the same “measure by measure” approach Project Drawdown does; but is Project Drawdown’s approach inherently more robust?

Not all of the “drawdown” estimates in Project Drawdown are new. As one example, in 1994 I estimated the drawdown potential to 2050 of several of the interventions in WRI’s Keeping It Green: Tropical Forestry Opportunities to Mitigate Climate Change. Estimates of the global mitigation potential of many of Project Drawdown’s other interventions have appeared in dozens of studies over the last 20 years. Project Drawdown may have significantly reworked the numbers, but we won’t know how or with what effect until the technical documentation becomes available.

Should the conclusions of Project Drawdown be treated as “the” truth when it comes to mapping out strategies to reverse climate change? What issues would be raised if we make that assumption? For example:

  • Can the energy sector justifiably now point to “reducing food waste” and “shifting to a plant-rich diet” as bigger global warming priorities than a low-carbon energy transition?
  • Is empowering women really the single biggest priority for reversing global warming? How would advocates of reversing global warming advance that empowerment?
  • The interventions listed in Project Drawdown reflect a huge range in terms of “drawdown potentials.” Intervention #1 (refrigerants) comes in at 90 billion tons (GTs) of drawdown potential by 2050, while the “smallest” intervention (micro wind) comes in at 0.2 GTs (1/450th of the potential of refrigerants). That suggests that Project Drawdown is putting forward a pretty complete list. But Project Drawdown doesn’t even mention several commonly discussed interventions with arguably large drawdown potentials, e.g., carbon capture and storage, space-based power, and ocean biomass restoration. Does that mean we should abandon these options in our efforts to reverse global warming?
  • What about the relative barriers that specific interventions face, the drivers that could move them forward, and the role and interests of key constituencies? By the way, you can see a first cut at organizing Project Drawdown’s interventions by likely barriers and drivers here in the Climate Web.
  • If many of these technologies are already scaling rapidly — as Project Drawdown suggests — what is the “business as usual case” against which Project Drawdown is being compared? Do the outcomes described in Project Drawdown depend on all kinds of unspecified policy and other interventions (even if we exclude a global price on carbon)? Presumably we’ll find out when the technical documentation becomes available.

Project Drawdown is an important contribution to our understanding of many of the “chess pieces” that populate the “let’s reverse global warming” planetary chessboard. I would suggest, however, that it’s a mistake to assume that Project Drawdown has divined all of the important pieces on the chessboard, or that the Project Drawdown authors have unique insight into the millions of chess moves that are yet to come.

Project Drawdown does present a “comprehensive plan for reversing global warming.” Let’s applaud Hawken and his team for that, but let’s not assume it is “the” comprehensive plan. If the climate change community starts arguing about the accuracy and robustness of Project Drawdown’s conclusions, including via the on-line model that will be available at the website by the end of this year, it could be a huge distraction from the real priority: figuring out how to move chess pieces forward on the “let’s reverse global warming chessboard.”

The fact is that we can’t know what will happen between now and 2050 across the hundreds of variables relevant to reversing global warming. The more options we pursue, the better our chances of achieving the goal. Yes, we should always prioritize different chess pieces on the board as individual circumstances and opportunities for movement warrant. But that’s a far cry from “picking the winning pieces” today and focusing only on them. Project Drawdown has created a good list of ways to reverse global warming; let’s not get sucked into a debate about whether it’s the “right” list, or details such as whether the assumed share of urban bike trips will be 7.5% or 9% in 2050.

Let’s focus instead on using the great work that has gone into Project Drawdown to accelerate the scaling of interventions with drawdown potential across the board. The goal of reversing global warming may look simple enough in Project Drawdown, but let’s remember that it’s a daunting challenge.

NOTE: The topics covered in Project Drawdown and its relationship to the larger low-carbon transition literature are very important. As soon as the rest of Project Drawdown’s technical documentation becomes available, we’ll finalize our “Climate Solutions 301 – Will Project Drawdown Move the Needle?” course to help you put all of the relevant information into context. You can sign up for it and our other courses at the Climate Web’s Courses Portal page.