Non-tech climate solutions: more benefits at lower costs
We frequently get into debates about merits and pitfalls of technological vs. non-technological (or less technological) solutions. So much attention is paid, understandably, to the tech-intensive energy system transition from fossil fuels to renewables. But how will these expensive tech-heavy efforts stack up against agriculture, land use and human rights solutions that are more about human behavior and cultural norms?
I looked to Project Drawdown for some answers. Their analysis and summaries of 100 most-promising climate change solutions is a fantastic reference for specific concrete ways to tackle climate change. Drawdown provides summaries of the potential emissions reductions, costs, and lifetime savings for solutions in each sector (e.g. energy, food, etc.).
I took an additional step, and stacked the sectors next to one another, for easier at-a-glance comparisons. (This is using Drawdown’s most conservative (“Plausible”) scenarios; their other two scenarios have even great CO2e reductions.)
Plotting each of these data columns as a pie chart makes the benefit vs. cost disparities even more obvious:
While Energy represents substantial potential emissions reductions and savings, it's not cheap to acheive. But Energy transformation is a bargain relative to Transportation and Buildings & Cities.
Finally, I grouped Energy, Materials, Buildings & Cities, and Transport as “tech”; and Food, Land Use, and Women & Girls as comparatively “non-tech.” For argument's sake, how do these two meta-sectors compare?
So the non-tech solutions can contribute a massive emissions benefit (56% of the total potential across all solutions) at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Granted, there are many layers of modeling and assumptions behind the Drawdown numbers. We'll all learn more as they release details about their analysis in coming months.
But at this high level, it begs some very fundamental questions. ClimateX community, what do you think?
Why does the energy system transition get an overwhelming share of global climate action attention, given its relatively high cost relative to emissions benefits?
Why is relatively little momentum building on the relatively low cost/high impact low-tech solutions?