There’s one clear antidote for climate anxiety: If you can take strategic steps to address climate change, it begins to feel like it actually might be solvable. The challenge is that few of us know where to begin. Society has to transform at an unprecedented scale and speed to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, and countries still aren’t planning to move fast enough. We’re already seeing climate impacts play out in real time, from heat waves and wildfires to floods and drought. But it is possible to avoid the worst-case scenarios—and even if entire systems need to change, individuals can help make that happen.
In a new book, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, and a website called Regeneration, Paul Hawken lays out solutions. The book is a sequel to Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, which looked at how existing technologies and approaches could be used to achieve “drawdown,” the point at which greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and begin to come down. In the new book, Hawken talks through key solutions, from better ways to farm to new urban mobility. The website goes a step further, explaining exactly what anyone can do to support the changes that are needed. “It’s about possibility, because people are drowning in information about the probabilities—what’s going to go wrong, when and how fast,” he says.
The book talks, for example, about the need to electrify everything—from cars to stoves to building heat. Then, if you go to the corresponding section on the website, you can see what steps you can take yourself, from personal decisions like replacing fossil fuel appliances with electric versions and driving an electric car (or taking public transit) to pushing your city to update building codes, or supporting a list of nonprofits, or contacting CEOs at companies that are the worst offenders, such as ExxonMobil.
Boreal forests, an ecosystem stretching across Canada, are another example. “It’s the greatest stock of carbon on Earth, not counting oceans, and we’re making toilet paper out of it,” Hawken says. “Good thinking. So here’s [toilet paper manufacturer] Procter & Gamble, and here’s the CEO’s name, and here’s his phone number.” The website includes detailed lists of resources for dozens of solutions. “It is the most complete listing and network of climate solutions in the world, and how to do them,” he says. It also includes a guide to making a “punch list,” or a checklist of actions to take, personally or in a group or an organization, over a set period of time, like the next year.
The status quo clearly can’t go on. “We’re stealing the future,” he says. “We’re taking it and selling it now as GDP.” The world needs to shift from an extractive model of doing business to one that is regenerative; meaning that life—from people to forests to oceans—can sustain itself. “The degenerative road that we’re on socially, economically, politically, ecologically, climatically—we can see the end of that road, in terms of biodiversity loss, in terms of ocean acidification, in terms of climate instability,” he says. “Regeneration is about saying: ‘Do you really want to go any further there?’ Probably not. And what does it mean to do a 180, and to put life at the center of every act and decision?”