Image for post
Image for post
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.


Image for post
Image for post
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…


Image for post
Image for post
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. …


Image for post
Image for post
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…


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

A statement regarding the recent events in the United States

January 7, 2021

To our Project Drawdown community,

Over the span of a few days, the world has witnessed the best and worst of America.

Stunning wins, powered by grassroots activists in Georgia, have fundamentally changed the dynamics of leadership in Washington, D.C. These races — powerful rebukes of racism and hate — show us that decency, integrity, and equality will ultimately prevail in fair elections, free from suppression and intimidation.

We have also seen horrific assaults on our democratic institutions, the rule of law, and human decency by violent terrorists emboldened by Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and propaganda.

At…


Image for post
Image for post
Photograph and Copyright © 2020 by Jonathan Foley

I’ve been dealing with depression my entire life. It’s been miserable, and it’s taken me years to learn how to manage it. But one thing that helped was learning that many people I admire are struggling with depression too. So, despite the risk of going public, I’m going to share my experience, in hopes that it might help someone else.

WARNING: This essay discusses depression and suicide.

NOTE: I am not a mental health expert. Please consult a professional. If you need immediate help, call a crisis hotline. A list of resources follows this essay.

I want to make a confession.

I have had a lifelong battle with depression. It’s something I’ve largely hidden since childhood, given the shame and stigma that come with it, and I have been getting professional help for about a decade.

So far, I’ve tried many approaches to addressing depression. They made a world of difference, but like many medical conditions, there is no simple…


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

For centuries, people have worked to ensure one basic thing — that the next generation would have a better life than they did. I learned this from my dying mother, and a debt I can never repay.

“…the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says ‘We shall give our children better than we ourselves had’.”

— Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing

“I’m going to be gone soon,” she said, slowly, visibly frustrated by her halting, labored speech. “I’m ready to die.”

“But I’m not finished. I’m not done with you. I’m not done being your mother. And I’m sorry. I can’t be there for you anymore.”

“So you need to promise me something. You have to promise me that you’ll be the best you can be. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash

We are passing through one of the most remarkable moments in recent history. It is changing the world’s health, politics, economy, and environment. And it will change us too — forever.

April 25, 2020

It’s hard to think of anything that has changed our lives more than the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has already infected nearly 3 million people worldwide, and killed well over two hundred thousand. And, no matter what we do, those numbers will rise sharply in the coming days and weeks. Before this is done, we will all lose someone we know, someone we love.

Beyond the tragic deaths and immediate health impacts, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy as well, causing massive unemployment and widespread business failures. …


Image for post
Image for post
Whale, Photo: Unsplash

Solving our biggest environmental problems will require huge changes in policy and business practice. But it turns out that our personal actions can help too, if we focus on the right things. Here are some places to start.

As a environmental scientist, I get asked a lot of questions. Often, people want to know how they can help reduce their impact on the environment.

We can do a lot, of course. But it’s important to recognize that we can’t do everything as individuals. The systems we’re working to change are enormous, and our personal actions simply can’t do it all. We really need new policies, new technologies, new markets and business approaches, and new political and social movements.

In these areas, voting might be one of the most important things we can do. And, as Dr. Katharine Hayhoe…


Image for post
Image for post
Earth from space at night, photo courtesy of NASA.

As we look to the future, we must find ways for society to thrive while respecting Earth’s intrinsic limits and its physical and biological realities. We must develop a true planetary perspective, where our biggest problems come into clearer focus, and our new solutions emerge from the lessons nature can teach us.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

In order to avoid dangerous changes to the global environment we are going to have to rethink the way we do many things as a civilization.

This is a tall order, and…

Dr. Jonathan Foley

Executive Director, Project Drawdown. Climate & environmental scientist, focused on solutions. GlobalEcoGuy.org

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store