This last weekend, I attended the Drawdown Learn conference in Rhinebeck, New York at the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL). This conference was an education initiative centered around the New York Times bestseller Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken.
First of all, if you haven’t read the book Drawdown, stop what you're doing immediately and pick it up. This book is the first solutions-based approach to climate change. I discovered the book only about two months ago. I was on a call with Dr. Pam Reid (my former PhD advisor, colleague, and friend), who mentioned that a colleague at the University of Miami had integrated the solutions presented in the book into his curriculum.
Pam followed up by emailing a couple links of Paul Hawken and others discussing the book. About an hour later, I was hooked. What makes Project Drawdown so amazing is that it doesn’t belabor the problem. Yes, the climate is changing. Yes, atmospheric levels of CO2 are the highest they've ever been in recorded history. Yes, the average global temperature is rising. The science is all there and we're not here to debate it... Instead, the focus is only on the solution.
Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that's united by the goal of reversing global warming. “As a living research and communication initiative, Project Drawdown analyzes the potential of solutions already in hand, amplifies humanity’s ongoing efforts and collective wisdom, and advances the understanding, imagination, and conviction needed to reach drawdown. (of CO2)"
This conference, Drawdown Learn, was created as the next step to help educators, organizations, and local communities by providing resources, support, and examples of how to apply the solutions outlined in the Drawdown book in our lives.
Project Drawdown brings to light the mindset gap between what is climate, what the news reports, our various interpretations, and how we, as humans and inhabitants on this Earth, need to show up in the world and address the problems. In a talk given by Katharine Wilkinson, the vice president of communication and engagement for Project Drawdown, she brought up the well-known work by Donella Meadows published in 1999 titled “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System”. In this publication, 12 leverage points bring change in a complex system and of these 12 leverage points, Wilkinson stressed to the audience that we must remember two of these – paradigms and mindsets – and the ability to change them.
A paradigm is an idea that's often a shared unstated assumption, or a system of thought that is the foundation of complex social structures. Changing a paradigm is extraordinarily difficult, but can be done by identifying anomalies and failures and communicating them to people with open minds. If we can transcend these paradigms, we must also change the values and priorities that lead to these assumptions.
In this sense, we often have incompatible ideas swirling around in our minds and a shift in mindset might include and incorporate different viewpoints. Otherwise, it appears that we get stuck in a state of mental discomfort (cognitive dissonance) which often leaves us frozen and incapable of enacting change. We need to stop thinking about how to change other people’s mindsets and instead begin to ask ourselves: What are we bringing with us? How do we want to show up? What is our mindset? What do I see? What is true to me? How do we need to show up as humans? What mindset shifts might be available to me? In this darkest hour, perhaps now is the time to rise, think, and take action. In the solution, there are more generative narratives that can come out of a shift in negative mindset, and conflict can be shifted to opportunity.
The bottom line is that we want these solutions regardless of climate change. Drawdown is not just about solving climate change, it’s about moving beyond stabilization to regeneration (with the math to back it up). Things like protecting the ecosystem protects biodiversity; regenerative farming produces higher crop yields, but also improves soil quality. These are all WINS!
Drawdown is about economic improvement – the solutions presented in the book will come at a cost of $29 Trillion to implement, but will come with a net benefit of $74 Trillion in savings. Drawdown is about the freedom of choice, justice, human unification, a collective waking up and an opportunity to move towards personal fulfillment and meaning. What motivates you at the highest order?
After the broad introduction about Project Drawdown on the first night of the conference, the second day of the conference was split into 5 break-out sessions with three different streams (see breakout sessions and discussion topics here). My only regret is that I didn’t have the chance to attend all of the sessions! Each session was not only interesting, but also provided fantastic resources to share as an educator, an organization, or through community engagement on how to integrate Drawdown solutions into our lives.
One of my favorite resources was Ecochallenge.org, a digital tool for discovering and activating solutions, developed at the Northwest Earth Institute. This platform insights transformative learning, behavior change and systems thinking through the creation of a worldwide social challenge that offers customizable actions focused on waste, food, health, transportation, energy, and community – combined with peer learning and reflection. The eco-challenges last 21 days that if followed can transform into habit, which if sustainable over a lifetime can have HUGE impacts. Individual behaviors matter A LOT – millions or billions of individuals taking actions together leads to significant positive impact. With that, I invite you to go to Ecochallenge.org, invite your friends, create a team, and see how we can make a difference, individually and collectively.
Another huge take-away for me was about youth. A fantastic example came from Sara Duffer, a high school teacher from Asheville, North Carolina who implemented solutions laid out in Drawdown into her curriculum, which also included participating in the eco-challenge. One of her students, Ana Sofia, reported, “The fact is that at this point, we’re out of generations to push this on to and we need to be doing something now.” Ana Sofia’s sentiment rings true with the majority of her cohort and as a result, over the course of the year, Ms. Duffer saw transformative changes by giving the teens the platform to become changemakers. They demonstrated this to the world by winning this year’s international eco-challenge.
Another fantastic story about youth came from Lynne Cherry (who is also a fantastic children’s book author – Check out The Great Kopak Tree about saving the rainforest) who produced and directed an inspiring short film series about youth making a difference called, Young Voices for the Planet. These short films document environmental success stories across the globe not only showing the power and determination of youth, but also demonstrating a pathway for others of all ages to follow. Videos can be seen online at Youngvoicesfortheplanet.com.
That day was capped off by an evening mingle, where attendees could exchange ideas, talk with presenters, buy books, and conjure up new ideas and collaborations. The third day was a morning session designed to continue the momentum of collaboration with a workshop break-out, before breaking at noon.
And I will close with a poem that was shared during the conference:
The World I Live In – by Mary Oliver
I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs;
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway.
what’s wrong with Maybe?
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.
I left the Omega Institute and began my drive back to Virginia feeling powerful as just one. Everyone is just one. How will you contribute your “one”?
Thank you to the Bahamas Marine EcoCentre for financial support in attending the event.
Erica is a scientist and Stomatolite expert based in the US. She is an honourary Scientific Associate of Bush Heritage Australia.