earth matters

A Q&A with Environmentalist Paul Hawken

Why the head of Project Drawdown believes we can reverse global warming 

By As told to Manasseh Franklin May 31, 2019 Published in the Summer 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Paul Hawken

No stranger to instigating change, Paul Hawken has championed racial equality since the 1960s, founded companies including Smith & Hawken and OneSun, and authored books on sustainability and commerce. Now, as executive director of Project Drawdown, he oversees a coalition of researchers, policymakers, and business leaders who seek solutions to the global climate crisis. In his latest bestseller, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, he offers 100 tangible solutions that already exist.

Hawken shared with us some of the reasons behind his optimism in advance of talks he will give at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ Evening on the Lake fundraiser (July 11) and at Paepcke Auditorium (July 13), in honor of ACES’ 50th anniversary.

Aspen Sojourner: Given the dire nature of most climate-related media, why be hopeful?

Paul Hawken: A lot of reasons. One: Is there something better to do? Two: The odds are not great, but if you’re playing a sport and the odds are against you, you don’t just say, “Screw it, let’s go back to the locker room.” That’s just not human nature. When you read Drawdown, what you get is that humanity is on the case. We really are, and we’re brilliant.

AS: In the book, the images aren’t ones often associated with climate change. 

PH: Part of it was influenced by the [climate] literature that’s out there, reading and seeing another polar bear on an ice floe of a calving glacier and thinking, “That’s going to motivate somebody in Omaha?” I wanted the imagery to give a sense of possibility and wonder. You could go to [the book] no matter what your thinking—speculative or cynical—and when you opened it up, you would be pulled in.  

AS: Where do we start?

PH: The first thing is food, waste, and diet. You’re conscious three times a day that who you are, what you do, what you choose impacts global warming. It’s not cool to push away your plate with food on it. If you take it, eat it. With diet, it’s not about being vegan [or drinking] kale smoothies, but cool it on the [animal-derived] protein. If you eat more plant-based protein, you’re going to be healthier. Your body is going to love you for it. The planet will love you for it.

AS: How do you envision the future?

PH: Let’s get together and find out. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. We’re addicted to ways of thinking, being, eating, and living that are harmful for ourselves and others. When we connect, it’s not a matter of one person’s vision but the collective outcome of people who are compassionate and kind and have touched back into the essence of their pure nature to regenerate. The default mode in nature is to regenerate. It’s what nature does. So, let’s do it. 

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