To help orient ourselves; what are the broad categories Project Drawdown uses?

Project Drawdown groups the solutions together will achieve drawdown into three major categories:

  1. Reduce Sources
  2. Support Sinks
  3. Improve Society

I struggle to understand where I can be helpful, and thought that going through these would help.

This post provides an overview of Project Drawdowns categorization.

1. Reduce Sources

1.1 Electricity

Electricity impact is reduced from two directions - production and consumption. Project Drawdown denotes these “Shift Production” and “Enhance Efficiency”, and adds a third group of “supporting” solutions they call “Improve the System”.

The overall impact is estimated in their 2020 review to 197.8 gigatons of carbon reduced or sequestered at a minimum.

There are some areas the tech workers could affect change here - like our direct impact in data centers, but also things like software in the grid and building automation.

1.2 Food, Agriculture and Land Use

This category includes three major sub-groups: Address Waste and Diets, Protect Ecosystems, Shift Agriculture Practices.

The overall impact is estimated in their 2020 review to 203.7 gigatons of carbon reduced or sequestered at a minimum.

The specific solutions here include things like reducing food waste, moving to plant-rich diets and protecting peat land. I’ll explore groups working in this space in a later post, and hope to find places tech workers could help.

1.3 Industry

This category is dwarfed by the scale of the problem of refrigerants. It also includes solutions focused on Using Waste and Improving Materials.

The overall impact here comes to a minimum of 122.9 gigatons sequestered or reduced; refrigerants are >80% of that number.

1.4 Transportation

Project Drawdown has three groups here: Shift to Alternatives, Enhance Efficiency and Electrify Vehicles.

Together this category adds to a minimum impact of 51.2 gigatons reduced or sequestered.

I’m kind of surprised, actually. You hear so much about the transport sector, but that’s always from the perspective of where emissions are coming from. Here you take the perspective of where most reduction could feasibly be achieved, and then the transport sector is rather small next to things like agriculture and land use.

Still, 51.2 gigatons is not something to look down on, and I can imagine a need for software in improving transport.

1.5 Buildings

A personal favorite of mine, buildings are fascinating! Project Drawdown has three groups here; Shift Energy Sources, Enhance Efficiency and Address Refrigerants. They don’t count refrigerants here, since they are already counted for in the Industry category, but a large amount of refrigerant leaks apparently happen in buildings.

This category accounts for 73.7, at a minimum, gigatons of reduction and sequestration.

You might imagine software being helpful in smarter heating and cooling schedules, as well as in building science applications.

1.6 Other

They don’t elaborate a lot here - just highlight that 10% of emissions happen outside of the categories above. Primarily this is apparently from fossil fuel production.

2. Support sinks

2.1 Land Sinks

Clocking in at a whopping 239 gigatons of potential sequestration, this category has four major groups: Shift Agriculture Practices, Protect & Restore Ecosystems, Use Degraded Land and Address Waste & Diets.

It feels like a lot of the solutions in this category are about political will, rather than technology. Though I suppose that’s true for much of this issue.

Still, I’ll try to explore organizations that are taking action towards these solutions and could use software humans.

2.2 Coastal & Ocean Sinks

I’m kind of surprised this category has it’s own category, if that makes sense: It adds up to a minumum impact of 1.1 gigatons, two orders of magnitude less than most other categories.

You hear so much about the ocean as a carbon sink, but it seems when you look at solutions we have available to deploy today, the impact in increased sequestration is limited.

2.3 Engineered Sinks

Similar to coastal and ocean sinks, you hear a lot about carbon capture technologies. Project Drawdown focuses exclusively on solutions that are available to deploy today, and so those big fan things we keep seeing in tech magazines are not part of the cocktail here.

A total of 2.2 gigatons, at a minimum, is the estimated impact here, primarily from biochar.

3. Improve society

3.1 Health and Education

As Project Drawdown points out, this category comes uncomfortably close to the racist, classist and coercive history of “population control”. However, it is also true that given education, health and agency, families generally choose to have fewer kids.

And ultimately, the impact we humans have on the planet is affected by how many humans there are.

Improving education and agency for adults, and health outcomes for children would, on average, reduce family sizes. The total impact of this is estimated at 85.4 gigatons of reduced carbon emissions.

See also