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Executive Director, Project Drawdown. Climate & environmental scientist, focused on solutions.
Image courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Dr. Jonathan Foley is a renowned climate & environmental scientist, writer, and speaker. He is also Executive Director of Project Drawdown — the world’s leading resource for climate solutions.

Dr. Jonathan Foley is a leading climate scientist, sustainability expert, educator, and public speaker. He is also executive director of Project Drawdown — the world’s leading resource for climate solutions. His work focuses on finding solutions to sustain the climate, ecosystems, and natural resources we all depend on.

Foley’s work has led him to become a trusted advisor to governments, foundations, non-profits, and business leaders around the world. He and his colleagues have made contributions to our understanding of climate change, the global food system, and the sustainability of the world’s resources. He has published over 140 scientific articles, including…

California coast and sunset. Photography © 2020 J. Foley

Governments and businesses are looking to lead on climate change, but too many of their commitments are built on flawed “Net Zero” frameworks and “carbon offsets”. Authentic climate leadership requires more — a transparent and meaningful “Emissions 360” pledge that is focused on bringing emissions to zero, helping others do the same, and equitably addressing historic climate pollution.

The world’s conversations about climate change have fundamentally shifted during the last few years. We have moved beyond old debates around whether climate change is happening to more constructive discussions about addressing it.

That’s excellent news, even if we spent decades getting here.

In the rush to address climate change — or at least look like we are — we have seen many companies, industry groups, and countries stake out leadership positions. Many of them have made so-called “Net Zero” climate pledges, complete with fancy logos and bold-sounding names.

Making and fulfilling pledges is a crucial aspect of climate leadership…

Sunset with Thule Elk at Point Reyes National Seashore, Northern California. Photo by J.Foley © 2021.

Some people are proposing to counteract climate change by artificially dimming the Sun. But it’s largely ineffective. It’s potentially risky. And it’s unnecessary. Instead, we should focus on real-world solutions that work.

Stopping climate change is relatively straightforward. We already know what to do. We just have to do it.

Mostly, we need to halt the emissions of greenhouse gases — which stem from the world’s energy use, land use and agriculture, and exotic materials — as soon as possible. There are already many opportunities to cut emissions from electricity, food and agriculture, industry, transportation, and buildings.

There are also opportunities to support and enhance natural carbon sinks that can help remove greenhouse gases we have already emitted. And there are ways to improve society that have additional climate benefits.

At Project…

OilPhoto: Zbynek Burival, Unsplash

Artificial carbon removal is largely a sideshow when it comes to climate change. At best, it may eventually grow into a minor solution. At worst, it’s a distraction from reducing emissions — and plays right into the fossil fuel industry’s hands.

If you have been following discussions about climate change, you’ve probably heard about artificial carbon removal.

What is it? In short: Big machines that suck carbon dioxide out of the sky.

The technology isn’t new. It’s been around for decades, and it was a key part of industry’s “Clean Coal” propaganda. We wasted billions of tax dollars, and decades of R&D, on it. But it’s back and getting attention.

In fact, Elon Musk loves it — to the tune of $100 million. Bill Gates loves it too and is a major investor. Companies that want to reach “net-zero” goals understandably…

Photo by Tomas Hertogh on Unsplash

Agriculture has disrupted the planet more than anything we have ever done, including burning fossil fuels. A sustainable future depends on recognizing this fact — and radically changing the way we farm and eat.

More than any other invention in human history, agriculture has radically transformed our civilization and our relationship with the natural world.

How did we get to this point?

Early humans didn’t farm to get food; we were hunter-gatherers who lived off whatever we could find around us. But from meager beginnings about 12,000 years ago, early forms of agriculture began to appear worldwide — most notably in Mesopotamia, India, and China. Over the coming centuries and millennia, farming slowly spread across the world, transforming landscapes, economies, and cultures along the way.

For most of history, our food production increased mainly…

Photo by Krzysztof Hepner on Unsplash

The simplest environmental solutions are often the best. They’re proven. They’re ready now. They can help us avert disaster. So why do many prefer complicated, high-tech, faraway gadgets instead?

It never fails. Whenever you get into a discussion about environmental solutions, you hit a fork in the road.

On one side, there is a simple, clear, and effective solution that can help address environmental problems. It works. It could make a big difference. And it’s ready to go today. But it may require a little adjustment on our part — perhaps consuming less stuff, wasting less, being more respectful of nature, or otherwise shifting our behavior.

On the other side, there is a more complicated, technologically-aggressive solution that is years or decades away from practical use. But it doesn’t…

Photo by Michael Olsen on Unsplash

Every climate solution works differently, unfolding at different speeds. We’ll need them all, traveling in four parallel waves, to stop climate change.

Addressing climate change is going to be a race against time. Already we have delayed too long, and now we don’t have a moment to lose.

According to the “Carbon Law”, designed to limit global warming to 2˚C, we need to cut emissions in half during this decade and reach “net zero” emissions by 2050. The bulk of the work will be emissions reductions, especially in the next ten years, followed by the build-out of carbon removal by the 2040s.

Prague Astronomical Clock. Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

Despite what many think, climate change is as much a problem of time as technology. We already have tools to get started. What we don’t have is time to waste.

The only sure path to stop climate change is to zero out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. That’s it. As simple as this sounds, it’s going to be an enormous job, requiring hard work over the coming decades.

But I find that most people don’t understand the time dimensions of the problem very well.

A useful way to think about the effort and timescales required is to consider the Carbon Law, which was coined by my friend Johan Rockström. Despite the name, this isn’t a physical “law” of the universe but rather a set of recommendations.

So, what…

Skies over San Diego, California. Photo by Jonathan Foley © 2014.

Greenhouse gas “offsets” — where you pay others to reduce their pollution today, or bet on schemes to remove yours tomorrow — are all the rage, but they come with risks. We need offsets, but they must be used wisely, sparingly, and without distracting us from the job of reducing our emissions.

The most important action to stop climate change is simple: Reduce the damn emissions of greenhouse gases that cause it.

But it seems that some people don’t want to talk about that. Instead, we hear a lot about reaching “net-zero” emissions (instead of zero), using emissions-trading markets, or even fanciful ideas of “carbon removal”. And we’re hearing a lot more of this from tech investors, business executives, and government leaders lately.

This talk makes me a little nervous, and it should bother you too. …

Addressing climate change is like playing chess. So we should learn the rules. Photo by Elia Pellegrini on Unsplash

Addressing climate change is like playing chess. We need to use all the pieces, employ multiple strategies, and see the whole board. But, unlike chess, we have to play this game collaboratively to win.

It’s 2021, and the era of climate denial is over. We are moving beyond denying climate change and are now seeking ways to stop it.

The world understands climate change is real and addressing it is one of the most critical challenges facing us. That’s good news, but there are still many challenges ahead. The most important is overcoming our sometimes limited views about how to address the climate crisis.

In a nutshell, we aren’t always looking at the whole range of solutions we need to get the job done, or enough ways to scale them in time to make…

Dr. Jonathan Foley

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