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“Drawdown” A Go-to Manual for Gauging Philanthropic Climate Impact

Terry Gamble Boyer | The Philanthropy Workshop | 28 April 2017

How do you think about your philanthropic priorities? 

You may describe your giving bucket under the banner of human rights, education, women’s health, animal rights, conservation, clean water, food waste, or resilient cities.  Only a handful of us in the TPW network, however, identify ourselves primarily as “climate funders.” 

But take conservation, for example.  Healthy ecosystems are in peril because of climate change, and yet by investing in and protecting diverse flora and fauna, we contribute to the drawdown and sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere.  Interested in healthy eating?  The correlation between nutritious food and better health outcomes?  Better farming practices—silvopasturing, regenerative farming, composting—not only enrich our food but also reduce atmospheric CO2. 

Perhaps you are funding educational opportunities for girls?  Land rights for women as well as access to funding and resources?  International reproductive rights?  Studies show that educated girls who have access to family planning will have such dramatic environmental implications as to rank in the top ten solutions to climate change.

“Drawdown,” edited by Paul Hawken with the research input of 200 scientists and researchers, along with essays by luminaries such as Michael Pollan, Jeanine Benyus, and Pope Francis, quantifies and ranks the impact and costs of the top one hundred interventions to change the course of global warming.  In the examples cited above, preserving tropical forests is number four, silvo pasturing (introducing trees into pastures) is ranked number five, a high plant diet is ranked number six, educating girls is number eight, and family planning is number nine, all for a combined net impact of reducing approximately 140 gigatons of CO2 between 2020 and 2050. 

We were delighted to host Paul at a pre-retreat luncheon at the Auburn Seminary in New York City.  Speaking along with Rev. Katherine Henderson who talked about activism and faith, Paul discussed the implications of the “Drawdown” research, the most heartening aspect of which is that much of it can be implemented locally and is less predicated on federal or international policy than one might assume.  That is not to say that good regulation and robust, fully embraced treaties don’t have an impact. They do.  But their impact is arguably less targeted and less effective than community efforts and market forces.

It will not be enough to “bend the emissions” curve to a shallower trajectory.  Like a bathtub that is overflowing, we need to not only turn off the tap but to open the drain. “Drawdown” is an important, beautiful, and readable book that may become a go-to manual for gauging the climate impacts of our philanthropic choices. 

The bottom line: you don’t have to geek out on grid parity, carbon offsets, and demand response to be a climate funder.

If you are a TPW member and are interested in learning more or joining the Climate Change & Energy Learning Group, please contact Jennifer Davis at jennifer@tpw.org