Eco-challenge teams can make a difference

Woodstock Day School students participate in a last year’s composting program, pre-Drawdown. (Courtesy of Woodstock Day School)

(The book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken (Penguin Books, 2017), has given the environmental movement new hope and structure. This article is the second in a series on how local groups are using the research-based blueprint for reversing climate change and helping individuals and communities take action.)

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.” — Paul Hawken, environmental activist, businessman, and consultant to companies and governments 


At the beginning of Drawdown, Hawken explains, “In 2001, I began asking experts in climate change and environmental fields a question: Do we know what we need what to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?” Finding there was no such inventory of methods, Hawken gathered 200 top scientists to analyze the data on existing efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, including both their effects and their costs. The results suggest that we have the tools to not just slow down global warming but reverse it by 2050, if we scale up our efforts and work together at the community level to effect change. 

At the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center on March 14, members of Woodstock Transition and the Woodstock Library held a forum on the Project Drawdown Eco-challenge. This initiative invites people to form teams, decide what actions they want to take, and then, from April 3 to 24, record their actions through a website that will compile results.

To introduce Drawdown, a video was shown in which Hawken described the findings of the research team. When they ranked the measures they had modeled according to their potential impact on the environment over the next 30 years, they were surprised by the results. Number One on the list is preventing the escape into the air of refrigerants, which have over 1000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. (See last week’s article in this series.)

Number Three is food waste. The impact comes not just from food production, but also from trucking, operation of stores, customers driving to stores, packaging, and the dumping of waste into landfills, where it generates the potent greenhouse gas methane. Many of the 100 items on the list are in the purview of scientists and governments to implement — although we can certainly express our support to our government officials for measures such as developing micro-grids, which enable the power system to handle the inconsistent delivery of renewable energy due to fluctuations in sun and wind. 

Other items are not only more accessible to individuals but actually require our actions as, for instance, we make choices about what to eat, what to buy, and how to dispose of uneaten food. Such actions are exponentially more effective when addressed collectively, as when communities organize to compost their food waste. While composting is Number 60 on the list, Hawken says all the solutions have to be implemented in order to reduce climate change, since the combination of various methods enhances their effects.

As of March 19, the Eco-challenge website listed 351 teams. Most are from schools or libraries, but there are also teams from community organizations, faith congregations, such as KTD monastery in Woodstock, and even businesses, including Lyft, the ride-sharing company. There’s a “Woodstock NY Community” team that you are welcome to join, or you can start a new team.

The website lists the Drawdown categories, with specific actions under each category, along with points the team members can earn for selecting the action. Under “Materials,” for instance, 13 possible actions include choosing recycled paper for home or office use; researching cement alternatives that reduce the carbon footprint of concrete; replacing toxic plastics with bioplastic or durable options; setting up a recycling center at workplace or school. Participants choose the topics they feel drawn to and the actions they are capable of doing.

Once the challenge starts, on April 3, participants will log their actions and earn points. At the end of three weeks — the amount of time it’s said is required for a habit to take hold — the points will be tallied up on the website so teams can see what their impact has been.

“Drawdown empowers us,” said Kirk Ritchey of Woodstock Transition. “We’ve been waiting so long for someone else to do it for us and to us. Now it’s even more obvious, with the irresponsible people at the federal level, that we have to do it ourselves. But this town is working. We have problems and issues, but people here really care. This is where government can really show its colors, on the local level. We’re moving this message out to the community because this is where change can really take place.”

As part of the Eco-challenge presentation, activist Polly Howell led an exercise in which audience members paired up and took turns listening to each other describe their thoughts and feelings about climate change. Such listening is a vital part of the process, said Ritchey. “We’re stressed out about our future. When we start working together, some of that stress is going to show up in the room.” A film series on food at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation has been exploring such Drawdown recommendations as eating a plant-rich diet. “Hawken said it’s not about being vegan,” said Ritchey. “But it’s impossible to talk about without someone standing up and insisting everyone be a vegan. There was this tension in the room. This is what’s going to go on. This stuff is going to get intense.”

In the video, Hawken said, “We create change by not polarizing. Whether you bend toward activism, research, or tending to the suffering, we need them all, even those who deny the science. We shouldn’t demonize them. They’re doing the best they can.”

The challenges are substantial, but Ritchey remarked, “The Hudson Valley has an environmentalist personality.” Since Pete Seeger and the Clearwater sloop led the charge to clean up the Hudson River, groups have formed in our region to protect the environment, and we can make use of those organizations as we move forward, from Sustainable Hudson Valley to Catskill Mountainkeeper. 

“Climate change feeds imagination and innovation,” Hawken said. “You couldn’t have a more meaningful life than to take on the greatest crisis human civilization has ever faced. We know what to do. Media keeps putting out that the seven deadly sins are ruling the world, but it’s not true.”

See to read about the Eco-challenge and to create or sign up for a team. 

The Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock will hold a discussion about Drawdown with Cal Truman of solar company SunCommon on Sunday, March 24, at 3 p.m. The first 15 attendees will receive free copies of the Drawdown book. Go to the Golden Notebook website and follow the “Find Tickets” link to register and reserve your free copy.

Forthcoming articles in the Drawdown series will cover active transportation, food waste, and more.

School team gears up for Eco-challenge

Last fall, teachers from Woodstock Day School (WDS) and High Meadow School in Stone Ridge were among the educators sent by schools and colleges to a “Drawdown Learn” workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck. WDS librarian Robin Shepley-Shornstein and STEM teacher Amy Shapiro came back to Woodstock not just inspired but with a plan, a way to implement what they’d learned.

Twenty-three WDS teachers have formed a book club, each member reading a section of the 240-page Drawdown book and sharing the information with the group. “As we read,” Shapiro said, “it gives us ideas for things we can do within the community and how to teach them in an age-appropriate way.” WDS students will participate in the Eco-challenge, with different grades taking on different topics.


“Drawdown looks at climate change as an opportunity to shift how we’ve been living in the world,” Shornstein said. “Particularly if you’re working with young people, it’s important to be able to make this a more positive narrative. One of pieces that really resounded for me is that Drawdown actions bring in social justice and equity.”

High on the list of actions is to educate girls and women. It’s been shown that women with more years of education give birth to fewer and healthier children. In low-income countries, educated women, as stewards of food, soil, and water, are able to “fuse inherited traditional knowledge with new information accessed through the written word,” the Drawdown book states.

The teachers have already registered a WDS team on the Eco-challenge website. “When you have a group,” said Shornstein, “and you’re working together, there’s something powerful in that.”