By Elena Avesani
In April 2017, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide (CO2) reading over 410 parts per million (ppm). As Paul Hawken outlined to a crowd of more than 3,000 attendees in his moving keynote at the Oracle Modern Supply Chain Experience event in January, this is ‘terra nova’ as carbon dioxide has not reached this height in millions of years. Humanity will have to contend with a new atmosphere that is trapping more heat and causing climate to warm at a quickening rate.
Yet contrary to the often negative and hopeless rhetoric on climate change, Hawken, a successful entrepreneur and environmental activist, envisions a world where human ingenuity and creativity reverse global warming. His most recent book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” describes 100 existing and proven technologies that can be used to reverse the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases on a year-to-year basis. The solutions are ranked by the volume of greenhouse gases they could reduce along with their associated costs and savings.
The list of solutions offers some surprises with refrigerant management, not energy, coming in at the top of the list. Every refrigerator and air conditioner contains chemical refrigerants that absorb and release heat to enable chilling. Hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), the primary chemicals in use for refrigerants, have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater potential to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Over the next thirty years, actively containing 87 percent of refrigerants that would otherwise be released could avoid emissions equivalent to almost 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Manufacturing, procurement, and maintenance professionals can actively contribute to halting HFC use by sourcing existing substitute materials such as propane and ammonium, by purchasing appliances from producers that have already phased out HFCs, or by efficiently disposing of refrigerants at the end of life, which is when 90 percent of emissions are released.
An increase in onshore wind from the current 4 percent of world electricity use to 21.6 percent by 2050 is the second highest ranked solution and could reduce emissions by more than 84 gigatons of carbon dioxide. At a cost of $1.2 trillion, wind turbines can deliver net savings of $7.4 trillion over three decades of operation. Sourcing energy from renewable sources, solar farms rank number eight, is one of the most effective strategies to reverse global warming and modern supply chains will be instrumental in enabling that build out.
How we eat also plays a fundamental role in the reversal plan. Reducing food waste and shifting to a diet rich in plants rank number three and four respectively. A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions. If food waste were reduced 50 percent by 2050, in conjunction with the reduction in new deforestation for farmland that would also result, avoided emissions could be equivalent to more than 70 gigatons of carbon dioxide. 66 gigatons of emissions could also be prevented by dietary changes and the associated avoided deforestation from land use change. Supply chain technologies present a significant set of opportunities to help reduce this waste. Implementing advanced planning and logistics technologies in concert with analytics and IoT technologies brings maximum efficiency and waste reduction as food travels through a vast network of farmers, distributors, and retailers that produce, deliver and sell what we eat.
Perhaps the most significant surprise is the atmospheric CO2 reduction that could result from educating girls (ranked sixth) and family planning (ranked seventh). These two solutions combined bring an estimated 119 gigatons of emissions that could be avoided, making the empowerment of women the most impactful solution to reverse climate change. Women with more education have fewer and healthier children, their agricultural plots are more productive, and their families are better nourished.
As Hawken stated, 98 out of 100 are no-regret solutions that could achieve a massive reduction of emissions by 2050 with a $120T financial return. “Every system without feedback dies,” he stated. “This is feedback. It’s a gift to help us re-imagine who we are, and humanity is already on the case by investing in remarkable solutions to reverse climate change.”
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