New study finds we already have the tools we need to fight climate change. Here's how to use them
It may feel like at times we're playing a waiting game in regards to climate change, simply waiting for some new technological advancement to save us at the last minute. There is no time to wait for far-off future solutions to come to fruition — and luckily, there is no need to wait, either. A recent study published by the Drawdown Review this week highlighted 76 climate change-combating tools that we already have at our disposal — both on the individual and collective level — to mitigate the worst possible outcomes that could result from this crisis.
Drawdown Review — part of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit founded in 2014 to guide humanity to the point of "drawdown," when greenhouse gas emissions stop climbing and start to decline — offers some hope in a situation that can otherwise seem hopeless. According to researchers, by utilizing tools that are already at our disposal, it is possible for us to reach the drawdown point by as early as the mid-2040s. Accomplishing that, though, will require a multifaceted approach. The researchers note that there is no silver bullet, just a collection of a options that, when used together, could result in more positive outcomes for the future of our planet.
The researchers note that climate solutions are a system — much like the extreme weather events that we have experienced as a result of human-caused climate change are also part of a system. For example: extreme heat can lead to drought, which can lead to food and water insecurity, which can force displacement of millions of people, and upset the economies of cities and countries where those climate refugees are forced to go. In the same way, our approach to addressing climate change must be similarly diverse, with the understanding that all of our actions are interconnected and create a sort of snowball effect — one that also manages to roll up other benefits other than just cutting down on the amount of emissions that we pump into the atmosphere. If the effects of climate change threaten a death by one thousand cuts, then Drawdown Review recognizes the solution will take one thousand band-aids.
Researchers broke down methods for addressing climate change into three basic, broad categories: reducing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, supporting natural sinks that suck up and sequester carbon, and improving society to make the world more equitable and just. With those pillars in mind, the researchers highlighted several dozen approaches that could help to curb our overall emissions and lead us to the long sought after point of drawdown.
Because of our reliance on fossil fuels in just about every facet of our lives, there is not a singular solution that will eliminate all or even a majority of emissions, but one solution that would make a massive improvement is the adoption of renewable energy sources — particularly onshore wind turbines. For much of the world, adopting renewable energy sources like this is actually cheaper than sticking with natural gas, oil, and other pollution-emitting fuel sources — though countries like the United States, which has an abundance of the fossil fuel-based energy sources thanks to an administration that has embraced Big Oil, happily supply other countries with it. But, as researchers point out, the actual investment in these renewable energy options would actually be much cheaper in the long run. Burning fossil fuels creates a significant amount of air pollution, which kills millions of people each year and affects the physical and mental health of many others. According to research published in the Drawdown Review, pursuing a variety of clean energy solution could cost as much as $23.4 to $26.2 trillion, but would save us exponentially more — between $96.4 to $143.5 trillion saved, thanks to improved health conditions that cut down on medical expenses.
Embracing renewable energy sources is largely something that requires an industry and governmental effort, but individuals can use tools at their disposal to cut down on contributions to climate change, as well. At the top of the list for things that you can do on your own to cut back on emissions: embrace a plant-based diet and limit overall food waste. Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly because of meat-based products. As much as 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are tied to agriculture — from deforestation that occurs to make room for industrial farms to the massive amount of water that goes into supporting crops and animal products. By some estimates, even if we were to collectively cut our meat consumption in half rather than fully eliminate it, we would save 37 percent of water that would otherwise be used to support these farming products. A similar switch away from meat could save up to 42 percent of all cropland that is currently occupied by supporting animal agriculture. On an individual level, cutting meat products from your diet can actually have health benefits and definitely have budget benefits, as a plant-based diet often costs less.
Whether you ditch meat or not, cutting back on food waste can also have a huge benefit to the planet. We waste a ton of food — more than 70 billion pounds per year, though new research suggests that reports of food waste might actually underestimate the figures by as much as half. Young people have proven particularly guilty of wasting food, letting leftovers go to waste and throwing out a considerable amount of food they purchase, though they are often in denial about it. Less wasted food means less of a burden on food creators in the first place, allowing for more ethical and eco-friendly practices and creating less of a burden on landfills, where food waste typically decomposes and releases dangerous methane gas into the atmosphere.
Finally, according to researchers, one of the most powerful tools that we can collectively make use of to curb the effects of climate change is education. Specifically, improving access to education for young women tends to produce much better overall outcomes when it comes to the environment. Women — and particularly women of color — still have a harder time getting a good education even in developed nations with advanced economies. By simply promoting education for young women, a cascade effect that improves the overall quality of life often follows. Researchers note that when education levels rise, reproductive health care often improves and women become more active in political, social, and economic systems. Fertility also tends to fall as family planning becomes more common and accessible. The result of improving women's education contributes as much to a sustainable future as introducing solar farms, according to researchers.
Climate change can often feel like a doomsday event that we can't avoid. But the fact is, many scientists believe we have already mitigated the worst possible outcomes for climate change through our (so far insufficient) attempts to address the problem. It will require industries, governments, and individual to take the issue of climate change seriously in order to truly address the issue, but as researchers have shown, we already have the necessary tools in our tool kit. Now, it's simply a matter of putting those tools to use.