Eric Utne’s dramatically titled essay, A Clash of Paradigms, is what is called a straw man review in the book world. The reviewer tells the reader what a book says or is, and then proceeds to criticize or deconstruct it. Here are some suggestions about what Drawdown is actually about, and which are clearly stated in the book.
Eric says we need community to solve the crisis. Totally agree. However, we are not community if community only comprises the people who think the way we do and agree with us. If we are going to reverse global warming, we need to come together, not demonize the other. That means we have to “solve” our thinking, the beliefs that cause dualism in the world. That is much more difficult than being “right”
“Even if nonpolluting power were feasible and abundant, the use of energy on a massive scale acts on society like a drug that is physically harmless but psychically enslaving.”
–Ivan Illich, Energy & Equity, 1973
Paul’s letter saddens me. He makes it sound like I was out to get Drawdown, to bring it down. He accuses me of fear-mongering, dualistic thinking, and demonization. As I wrote in my review, “I’m all for Project Drawdown. But I don’t believe it will ‘solve’ the climate crisis.”
My main problems with the book are its misleading title, the huge, institutional scale of many of its recommended remedies, and its techno-utopian worldview. The title reads: "Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming," and the back cover touts: “The 100 Most Substantive Solutions to Reverse Global Warming.”
Solutions are actions that solve a problem. And according to Webster’s, “solve” means to “fix, clear up, iron out, settle, lick, get to the bottom of, unravel, untangle, unriddle, or figure out.” Paul wants his readers to believe that it’s possible to “solve” global warming. I don’t think so.
Drawdown is a well written and lavishly produced compendium of interventions designed to allow us to keep living exactly as we are — unsustainably. It amounts to a cauldron of symptomatic remedies and last-ditch, heroic measures for a way of life that’s already in its death throes and on life-support — Xanax for the techno-industrial complex and Stage 4 chemotherapy for the global market economy.
The Hopi have a word for the techno-industrial complex: Koyaanisqatsi, “life out of balance.” Implementing brilliant technologies to sequester carbon is not a cure for life out of balance. Drawdown may buy us some time, and, as I said, I’m all for many of Paul’s recommended actions, but “solving” the climate crisis requires going much deeper.
Paul writes, “There is no techno-utopian vision in Drawdown.”
I respectfully disagree. Paul’s list is loaded with laudable “solutions” mixed with “techno-utopian” ones. The latter include nuclear power, giant wind turbines, large methane digesters, commercial LED lighting, district heating, multi-strata agroforestry, building automation, bio-plastics, industrial recycling, smart glass, high-speed rail, intensive silvo-pasture, autonomous vehicles, solid-state wave energy, hydrogen boron fusion, smart highways, and hyper-loops, to name a few.
Paul reckons the costs for 80 of the 100 “solutions” will total US$27.4 trillion, and provide lifetime savings of US$73.9 trillion, which is roughly equal to the annual gross domestic product of all the countries of the world (GWP) combined. To place those numbers in context, the total US federal budget for 2015 was $3.8 trillion, about 21 percent of the total U.S. economy. The total value of the 3,066 companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange comes to about US$15 trillion. No one has ever accused Paul of not thinking big.
Paul writes, “Eric says we need community to solve the crisis. Totally agree. However, we are not community if community only comprises the people who think the way we do and agree with us … we need to come together, not demonize the other.”
I don’t equate disagreement with demonization. I hope Paul doesn’t either. I believe that real community requires a tolerance for difference, and a willingness to hang in there with each other, even when we disagree. This is basic to convivial society, the only kind of society that can survive and thrive in the rocky “climacteric” that is already upon us.
Perhaps it’s time to revisit the words of Ivan Illich, whose critique of large-scale “solutions” to social needs I first discovered almost 50 years ago on the pages of the Whole Earth Catalog. Like the modern institutions Ivan Illich warned us about, Paul’s 100 solutions will, "create needs faster than they can create satisfaction, and in the process of trying to meet the needs they generate, they (will) consume the earth."