Paul Hawken comes to Kepler’s to discuss his visionary new approach to the climate crisis…with help from farmers, philanthropists and novelists.


(Image via Getty)

If you’re looking for a pocket-sized list of climate solutions, this interview won’t be it. Frankly, those lists aren’t helping, according to Paul Hawken.

The renowned environmentalist has headlined conferences, advised governments and published eight books, which have sold more than two million copies in 50 countries and 30 languages. But he still struggles with how to engage the 98 percent of the world that isn’t working to reverse global warming, even as the average temperature continues to rise .18 C (.32F) annually.

Hawken’s latest book, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, leans on his years of climate conversations — and 7,262 research citations — to offer a new vision for the climate movement: Stop using jargon, war metaphors and a poverty-vs-biodiversity mentality. Focus instead on addressing current human needs.

Enlisting the words of farmers, philanthropists and novelists, Regeneration analyses over 60 nexuses for their clear impact on global warming. Educating girls in developing nations, for example, is given the same prominence as protecting Boreal forests. For Hawken’s team, it’s all interconnected — and beneficial for humans everywhere.

“Reversing the climate crisis is an outcome,” he writes in his opening essay. “Regenerating human health, security, well-being, the living world and justice is the purpose.”

We caught up with Hawken (who also happens to be a Marin County local) ahead of his talk at Kepler’s Literary Foundation this week to discuss big intentions, better messaging and being able to smile amidst crises of the existential variety.


“Even saying ‘climate change’ isn’t the right thing. Climate is an expression of a warming atmosphere. The climate is what produces weather. We’re feeling the impact of the weather.”—Paul Hawken. (Photo by Raymond Baltar, Image via Paul Hawken.com)

The subtitle of your last book, Drawdown, was “The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” So why the need for a second book? What does Regeneration address that wasn’t covered in Drawdown?

Honestly? That subtitle came from the publisher. It was clever and it was interesting, but to me it never felt true. The book isn’t a plan at all; it’s a look at what could be done. It was meant to map, measure and model because no one had ever mapped, measured and modeled the most substantive solutions to global warming.

[Prior to Drawdown] the Union of Concerned Scientists had a list of what you could do — work closer to home, eat smart, put your appliances on a power strip. It was bizarre because anyone reading that list would know it’s all insufficient for the task at hand.

So individuals look at corporations, they look at the Biden administration, they look at authority figures in their own country and say, ‘Well I hope they do something.’

What Regeneration is saying is that in between that individualization and the hope for big institutions to change, there’s this other 98 to 99 percent of humanity that’s not doing anything at all.

How can that proportion of humanity not be engaged in doing something given the crisis? That question leads back to language. The way we’ve been describing this thing has been guaranteed to make people feel numb, to turn them off, to disengage, to make people feel like they don’t understand or to turn off altogether and think of it as a concept.

Really, the Regeneration website is the point and purpose of this book. It’s free. It’s the learning-teaching-action-connection center. And it will contain the world’s most complete network of climate solutions and challenges and how to address them.

[Note: The Regeneration Organization also plans to release a video series, curriculum, podcasts and climate action software.]

Speaking of language — it feels like even within the community of folks who are into this stuff, there’s not a lot of consistency and agreement on terms. One essay in Regeneration talks about buying carbon offsets and the lack of international standards.

Yeah, and offsets have been an awful way of thinking because only 5 percent of offsets sequester carbon. 95 percent don’t. So they’re not even really offsetting anything — they’re just protecting existing stuff.

Also, if you’re focused on “your” emissions, you’re not making up for those who can’t do their own emissions, for those who can’t afford it. For example, every restaurant in the US is on life support because of COVID. We can’t just expect them to buy offsets for their gas stoves.

And our emissions are always bigger than we calculate. Your airplane does so much but also, how did you get to the airport? What’s the carbon output of the airport? What about your Uber? What about your hotel? Again, there’s a siloed way of looking at the climate which is incomplete.

(Image via Getty)

One line that caught my eye in your opening essay was that “war metaphors — words like fighting, combatting, battling — aren’t connecting with an audience.” What’s your thinking there?

Which gender do these words come from? I bet you can guess. With all due respect to men, war and sports metaphors are just othering. They separate you entirely from the source and the cause of climate change — which is us.

Even saying “climate change” isn’t the right thing. Climate is an expression of a warming atmosphere. The climate is what produces weather. We’re feeling the impact of the weather.

If the climate was static, we wouldn’t have life. The fact that the climate changes every nanosecond is the very reason why we have hummingbirds and honey and cherries and rivers and glaciers and seas and oceans and forests.

The language of “tackling, combating, fighting” keeps people out and keeps understanding out. It keeps engagement out. It keeps out a sense of interconnectedness between ourselves and this place where we live. Regeneration is very much about coming home to ourselves and where we live.

We’re innately regenerative people. You might say, ‘Well wait a minute, we’re trashing the planet.’ And yes, we are, but at the same time, our 30 trillion cells are regenerating every nanosecond or else we couldn’t be having this conversation.

But what gets all the headlines?

It’s interesting — words like “fighting, combating, tackling” are the same words I heard time and time again in conversations around coronavirus. I’ve always felt like that language is designed to mobilize people, trying to instill the idea that we all need to be playing an active role against an existential threat. I’m curious if you took any lessons on global warming messaging from the pandemic?

I think what coronavirus showed us is that, yeah, people respond to a current existential threat. The climate conversation is just focused on future existential threats.

(Book cover via Penguin)

Wait, do you think people were responsive to coronavirus? In an effective way? Maybe this is just me as a journalist who covered politics a lot last year but…

Sure, yeah, we can talk about ineffectiveness. We tend to project what we do in this country to the rest of the world and that’s wrong. We’re the ones who had hundreds of thousands of anti-vaxxers and bizarre conspiracy theories. We have to understand that this isn’t how it worked in Mexico or Japan or Botswana or China or Switzerland. We want to make sure we don’t universalize the clear degradation of American intelligence.

But, globally, most people did respond to current threats. The world spent $12 trillion on COVID-19 within a single year. If we put $12 trillion towards reversing global warming — well, it’s astonishing what that could do, especially in developing countries.

I think what’s happening is that climate change and global warming are changing from concepts — future existential threats — to experiential things, vicarious or direct.

This year, when the sixth assessment came out [an annual report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] it was labelled “code red,” which is not a term you hear all too often from scientists. Every country in the world signed onto it, which was astonishing. Yet even these kinds of warnings don’t usually take. But this year, it happened to land during a time when the Northern Hemisphere was on fire. California, Oregon, British Columbia, Siberia to Greece to Spain. They were these kinds of fires that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put out. Some of them are still burning to this day.

I think a lot of people are saying, ‘Oh, okay. I understood before but now I get it.’ There’s a difference. People are asking the question, ‘What can we do? What should be done?’

What keeps you optimistic that people will actually do something?

It’s really tough to take it all in. And I don’t think everyone should have to take it all in. It’s too much.

It’d be like waking up every morning to read how many people were sick and how many people survived and how many never got medicine and never got physician care. If you did that every morning after every morning after every morning — you’d get sick yourself.

Being in the field that I’m in — or you, as a journalist — it comes with the job description. If you’re not informed, you’re not very useful.

But, I think, when other people see the full list of solutions, even if they didn’t understand climate science and they didn’t know about Hurricane Ida or the threats — they’d still look at this list and go, ‘Yeah that’s a good idea.’ Because these solutions have 10 cascading benefits for one thing. They create employment. This one improves life for children. This one improves water quality. This one improves nutrient density. This one makes people healthier. This one addresses biodiversity. This one addresses water poverty.

You don’t need to immerse yourself in science to start doing these things, or to want to do them. You really don’t. If you’re the person who’s teaching these things — or financing them or learning them — you’re doing what you can and want to do.

That’s what Regeneration is all about. It’s finding that for yourself as opposed to doing it out of obligation or guilt.

I’ve got the facts, but I’m not going to wallow in them, because I’m only here for a short time. So how am I going to spend my time here? If you want meaning in your life, how about regenerating life on earth? When you bring the world back to life, you bring yourself back to life in a way that nothing else can. You couldn’t ask for something more meaningful.

(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)


(Image via Getty)

If you’re looking for a pocket-sized list of climate solutions, this interview won’t be it. Frankly, those lists aren’t helping, according to Paul Hawken.

The renowned environmentalist has headlined conferences, advised governments and published eight books, which have sold more than two million copies in 50 countries and 30 languages. But he still struggles with how to engage the 98 percent of the world that isn’t working to reverse global warming, even as the average temperature continues to rise .18 C (.32F) annually.

Hawken’s latest book, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, leans on his years of climate conversations — and 7,262 research citations — to offer a new vision for the climate movement: Stop using jargon, war metaphors and a poverty-vs-biodiversity mentality. Focus instead on addressing current human needs.

Enlisting the words of farmers, philanthropists and novelists, Regeneration analyses over 60 nexuses for their clear impact on global warming. Educating girls in developing nations, for example, is given the same prominence as protecting Boreal forests. For Hawken’s team, it’s all interconnected — and beneficial for humans everywhere.

“Reversing the climate crisis is an outcome,” he writes in his opening essay. “Regenerating human health, security, well-being, the living world and justice is the purpose.”

We caught up with Hawken (who also happens to be a Marin County local) ahead of his talk at Kepler’s Literary Foundation this week to discuss big intentions, better messaging and being able to smile amidst crises of the existential variety.


“Even saying ‘climate change’ isn’t the right thing. Climate is an expression of a warming atmosphere. The climate is what produces weather. We’re feeling the impact of the weather.”—Paul Hawken. (Photo by Raymond Baltar, Image via Paul Hawken.com)

The subtitle of your last book, Drawdown, was “The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” So why the need for a second book? What does Regeneration address that wasn’t covered in Drawdown?

Honestly? That subtitle came from the publisher. It was clever and it was interesting, but to me it never felt true. The book isn’t a plan at all; it’s a look at what could be done. It was meant to map, measure and model because no one had ever mapped, measured and modeled the most substantive solutions to global warming.

[Prior to Drawdown] the Union of Concerned Scientists had a list of what you could do — work closer to home, eat smart, put your appliances on a power strip. It was bizarre because anyone reading that list would know it’s all insufficient for the task at hand.

So individuals look at corporations, they look at the Biden administration, they look at authority figures in their own country and say, ‘Well I hope they do something.’

What Regeneration is saying is that in between that individualization and the hope for big institutions to change, there’s this other 98 to 99 percent of humanity that’s not doing anything at all.

How can that proportion of humanity not be engaged in doing something given the crisis? That question leads back to language. The way we’ve been describing this thing has been guaranteed to make people feel numb, to turn them off, to disengage, to make people feel like they don’t understand or to turn off altogether and think of it as a concept.

Really, the Regeneration website is the point and purpose of this book. It’s free. It’s the learning-teaching-action-connection center. And it will contain the world’s most complete network of climate solutions and challenges and how to address them.

[Note: The Regeneration Organization also plans to release a video series, curriculum, podcasts and climate action software.]

Speaking of language — it feels like even within the community of folks who are into this stuff, there’s not a lot of consistency and agreement on terms. One essay in Regeneration talks about buying carbon offsets and the lack of international standards.

Yeah, and offsets have been an awful way of thinking because only 5 percent of offsets sequester carbon. 95 percent don’t. So they’re not even really offsetting anything — they’re just protecting existing stuff.

Also, if you’re focused on “your” emissions, you’re not making up for those who can’t do their own emissions, for those who can’t afford it. For example, every restaurant in the US is on life support because of COVID. We can’t just expect them to buy offsets for their gas stoves.

And our emissions are always bigger than we calculate. Your airplane does so much but also, how did you get to the airport? What’s the carbon output of the airport? What about your Uber? What about your hotel? Again, there’s a siloed way of looking at the climate which is incomplete.

(Image via Getty)

One line that caught my eye in your opening essay was that “war metaphors — words like fighting, combatting, battling — aren’t connecting with an audience.” What’s your thinking there?

Which gender do these words come from? I bet you can guess. With all due respect to men, war and sports metaphors are just othering. They separate you entirely from the source and the cause of climate change — which is us.

Even saying “climate change” isn’t the right thing. Climate is an expression of a warming atmosphere. The climate is what produces weather. We’re feeling the impact of the weather.

If the climate was static, we wouldn’t have life. The fact that the climate changes every nanosecond is the very reason why we have hummingbirds and honey and cherries and rivers and glaciers and seas and oceans and forests.

The language of “tackling, combating, fighting” keeps people out and keeps understanding out. It keeps engagement out. It keeps out a sense of interconnectedness between ourselves and this place where we live. Regeneration is very much about coming home to ourselves and where we live.

We’re innately regenerative people. You might say, ‘Well wait a minute, we’re trashing the planet.’ And yes, we are, but at the same time, our 30 trillion cells are regenerating every nanosecond or else we couldn’t be having this conversation.

But what gets all the headlines?

It’s interesting — words like “fighting, combating, tackling” are the same words I heard time and time again in conversations around coronavirus. I’ve always felt like that language is designed to mobilize people, trying to instill the idea that we all need to be playing an active role against an existential threat. I’m curious if you took any lessons on global warming messaging from the pandemic?

I think what coronavirus showed us is that, yeah, people respond to a current existential threat. The climate conversation is just focused on future existential threats.

(Book cover via Penguin)

Wait, do you think people were responsive to coronavirus? In an effective way? Maybe this is just me as a journalist who covered politics a lot last year but…

Sure, yeah, we can talk about ineffectiveness. We tend to project what we do in this country to the rest of the world and that’s wrong. We’re the ones who had hundreds of thousands of anti-vaxxers and bizarre conspiracy theories. We have to understand that this isn’t how it worked in Mexico or Japan or Botswana or China or Switzerland. We want to make sure we don’t universalize the clear degradation of American intelligence.

But, globally, most people did respond to current threats. The world spent $12 trillion on COVID-19 within a single year. If we put $12 trillion towards reversing global warming — well, it’s astonishing what that could do, especially in developing countries.

I think what’s happening is that climate change and global warming are changing from concepts — future existential threats — to experiential things, vicarious or direct.

This year, when the sixth assessment came out [an annual report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] it was labelled “code red,” which is not a term you hear all too often from scientists. Every country in the world signed onto it, which was astonishing. Yet even these kinds of warnings don’t usually take. But this year, it happened to land during a time when the Northern Hemisphere was on fire. California, Oregon, British Columbia, Siberia to Greece to Spain. They were these kinds of fires that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put out. Some of them are still burning to this day.

I think a lot of people are saying, ‘Oh, okay. I understood before but now I get it.’ There’s a difference. People are asking the question, ‘What can we do? What should be done?’

What keeps you optimistic that people will actually do something?

It’s really tough to take it all in. And I don’t think everyone should have to take it all in. It’s too much.

It’d be like waking up every morning to read how many people were sick and how many people survived and how many never got medicine and never got physician care. If you did that every morning after every morning after every morning — you’d get sick yourself.

Being in the field that I’m in — or you, as a journalist — it comes with the job description. If you’re not informed, you’re not very useful.

But, I think, when other people see the full list of solutions, even if they didn’t understand climate science and they didn’t know about Hurricane Ida or the threats — they’d still look at this list and go, ‘Yeah that’s a good idea.’ Because these solutions have 10 cascading benefits for one thing. They create employment. This one improves life for children. This one improves water quality. This one improves nutrient density. This one makes people healthier. This one addresses biodiversity. This one addresses water poverty.

You don’t need to immerse yourself in science to start doing these things, or to want to do them. You really don’t. If you’re the person who’s teaching these things — or financing them or learning them — you’re doing what you can and want to do.

That’s what Regeneration is all about. It’s finding that for yourself as opposed to doing it out of obligation or guilt.

I’ve got the facts, but I’m not going to wallow in them, because I’m only here for a short time. So how am I going to spend my time here? If you want meaning in your life, how about regenerating life on earth? When you bring the world back to life, you bring yourself back to life in a way that nothing else can. You couldn’t ask for something more meaningful.

(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)


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