AE Reads: A Response to the Urgency of the Climate Crisis

July 19, 2024
Book Club

Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation
By Paul Hawken

One of the great privileges of studying a book like this over a period of time and with a group of colleagues is that it provides the time, space and hours to explore more of the content and supplementary material.

For Regeneration, more so than perhaps any book I’ve read, the supplementary materials offer great value and something for everyone. What’s more, you can go check them out right now. It’s all free. There’s content to watch, read and listen to.

For instance, maybe you are particularly interested in the sustainability story of your clothing? Check out the “Clothing” Nexus at the above link where you can find individual actions and resources to be a more responsible clothing consumer. You can learn about companies that are awesome (and terrible ones too), key players, and movements. And then view some videos about fast fashion, essays and books about the tragic reality of sustainability claims in the industry and grab a podcast or 2 to finish off the learning. Not into clothing? Cool, there’s roughly 30 other topics with similar resources as of the writing of this post and more are coming.  To get an idea of the breadth of content, both in the book and in the online resources, read on.

The book is organized into the following topic areas.  At American Efficient, we covered one topic area in each hour-long meeting of the book club.  In this post, I’ll share some of the highlights.  The sessions were:

  • Oceans
  • Forests
  • Wilding
  • Land
  • People
  • The City
  • Food
  • Energy
  • Industry
  • Action and Connection

In the “Oceans” section, we talked about Marine Protected Areas, sea forestation, mangroves, tidal salt marshes and seagrasses. We really enjoyed this video series, which does a great job of explaining many of the economic and policy principles involved in making our fisheries more sustainable, i.e., not running out of fish.

In the “Forests” section, we started with some carbon math and then got into proforestation (growing an existing forest intact), afforestation (planting trees where none grew before) and reforestation (planting trees where they were previously grown). We also talked about the major types of forests on earth, agroforestry, fire ecology and the benefits of bamboo.

In the “Wiliding” discussion, we learned about the incredible and unexpected depths of interconnection between plants, animals, predators / prey, and also got into the unexpected superpowers of some native species. This video about how wolves can change rivers was a highlight.

In our “Land” discussion, we talked about regenerative agriculture, animal integration, degraded land restoration, composting, vermiculture, rainmakers (plant-originating microbes in the sky that increase local precipitation!) and biochar. One of the most alarming statistics from this chapter was that Industrial Agriculture has reduced the average soil carbon content from 3% to 1%.  In other words, the way we farm has a huge impact on how much carbon our soil is actually sequestering.

The “People” section reminded us that we are cohabitors of land, rather than owners. We learned a lot about the wisdom of indigenous communities and their abilities to develop mutualistic relationships with the land.  We also touched on the harsh reality that women are both disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and also impeded from economic opportunities and education that would enable participation in fixing what’s broken. On the topic of people and efficiency, we learned that 3 Billion people around the world still cook over an open fire. Beyond the carbon cost of this inefficiency, there are significant additional environmental and health costs that in turn stress our social infrastructure. 

In learning more about “Cities,” we learned that 70% of global greenhouse emissions come from consumption in cities, but maybe it doesn’t need to be that way.  The concept of a net zero city, for instance, stresses passive solar designs, demand reduction and electrification. We were particularly taken with the idea of “15-minute Cities” in which spaces are better optimized to be mixed-use and flexible, necessary resources are accessible to all (i.e., within a 15-min walk) and cars are deprioritized in favor of walking, cycling and public transportation. 

Our “Food” discussion touched on waste, eating everything, localization, decommodification, insect extinction, and eating from trees.

At American Efficient, we are a bunch of energy nerds, so we were particularly eager to dig in on the section titled “Energy.”  There’s lots of good stuff here.  Some of our favorite parts are related to the untapped potential that remains in wind energy, solar, electric vehicle growth, geothermal energy, energy storage, microgrids, and (as our other recent posts may suggest) electrification of everything. Some salient figures shared in this section (and explored much more in the works of Vaclav Smil) were related to equivalent “fossil fuel servants.” In India, the average home uses the equivalent of about 5 fossil fuel servants.  In America, that figure is roughly 400!

To round out the topic areas for this book club, we unpacked “Industry.” Key topic areas included: big food (e.g., four companies own 70% of the global seed market!), healthcare, banking, war, politics, clothing and fashion, plastics, poverty, offsets and onsets.

To close out this series and attempt to put some of the ideas into action, we worked on “punch lists” for our personal and company lives. Paul Hawken gave us some great guiding questions to inform this and future such exercises. They are:

  1. Create or reduce life
  2. Heal or steal from the future
  3. Enhance or diminish human well-being
  4. Prevent or profit from human disease
  5. Create or eliminate livelihoods
  6. Restore or degrade land
  7. Increase or decrease global warming
  8. Serve needs or manufacture wants
  9. Reduce or expand poverty
  10. Promote or deny human rights
  11. Provide dignity or demean workers
  12. Extractive or regenerative

What should be on your list?

Luke Fishback is a Senior Director of Market Operations at American Efficient. He has worked in energy analytics since 2007 and was previously an aerospace engineer. Luke leads regular Book Club sessions at American Efficient. 

Just want a summary?  Here’s a vetted ChatGPT take on what the book is about:
Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation by Paul Hawken is a groundbreaking book that presents a comprehensive plan to tackle the climate crisis. Hawken, a renowned environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author, argues that climate change is not just a crisis, but an opportunity for transformation and regeneration.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part provides an overview of the current state of the climate crisis and the challenges we face. Hawken explains the science of climate change, the impact it is having on the planet and its inhabitants, and the urgent need to address it. He emphasizes that we are running out of time and that we need to act now to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

In the second part of the book, Hawken presents a bold plan for regeneration, outlining solutions that can help us reverse climate change and create a more sustainable future. He draws on the expertise of scientists, engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, and activists from around the world to offer a comprehensive and practical approach.

Hawken identifies 100 solutions that can be implemented today, which he calls “drawdown” solutions. These solutions are based on the principle of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Some of the solutions include transitioning to renewable energy, improving agricultural practices, reducing food waste, and investing in public transportation.

The book also highlights the importance of indigenous knowledge and wisdom, which can help us learn how to live in harmony with nature. Hawken argues that we need to shift from a mindset of domination to one of stewardship, where we see ourselves as part of the natural world and take responsibility for its care.

One of the strengths of Regeneration is its emphasis on collaboration and collective action. Hawken argues that the climate crisis cannot be solved by individuals or governments alone but requires a global effort. He encourages us to work together across sectors and borders, and to build networks of people who are committed to creating a more sustainable future.

Regeneration is a powerful and inspiring book that offers a practical roadmap for addressing the climate crisis. It challenges us to think differently about our relationship with the planet and to take action to create a more sustainable future. Hawken’s message is clear: we have the solutions to the climate crisis, but we need to act now if we are to create a world that is healthy, just, and sustainable for generations to come.