"Humanity is on it": Feeling inspired by Paul Hawken at AIA's COTE Summit

by Lauren Valle

Speaker Paul Hawken

Speaker Paul Hawken

On Wednesday night two of us from Nu, myself and Jacob Kramer (who is working with us on marketing), attended AIA's Committee on the Environment (COTE) Summit opening event, an inspiring talk by Paul Hawken. I had one of those moments sitting in the audience as his talk progressed where the hair on the back on my neck stood up. I felt distinctly that I was in the company of a group of people who were deeply willing to confront humanity's current situation with the earth and to dedicate their work to real and measurable solutions. Hawken, nearing the end of his talk, expressed his optimism for the future and the importance of embodying fearlessness at this time. "Humanity is on it", he said, and after I wrote this down in my notebook I added, "--YES!".   

Hawken talked at length about his current role as the Executive Director of Project Drawdown.

From their website:

DRAWDOWN: The point at which greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begin to decline on a year-to-year basis.

 He pointed out that while there is a plethora of dramatic news covering what scientists are guessing are going to be impacts of global warming in the next century, no one is talking about 100, 50 or 40 most substantive actions that need to be taken to reverse global warming. Project Drawdown has been working to create that list, based on rigorous science and facts. Their website  and book are coming out next April. 

Hawken noted that when the earth was only 1 degree hotter 6000 years ago the earth was a different place, with animals currently found in sub-Saharan Africa swimming in northern rivers. Hawken says a 2 degree rise in temperature, the current goal set at COP21 in Paris, would be "biological chaos".  Our goal is not to hold temperature rise at a threshhold but to reverse the effects.  

Illustration of annual fluctuations in carbon dioxide. Source 

Illustration of annual fluctuations in carbon dioxide. Source 

Hawken points out that earth already knows how to do this and naturally fluctuates 5-6 ppm annually. During the winter in the northern hemisphere, culminating in April, carbon dioxide builds in the atmosphere, and begins to decline in May when plants return and the trees leaf out. In a very simple and powerful way, this illustrated to me how the earth as an organism is inhaling and exhaling just in the way we humans are. Hawken says, "respiration and inhalation of CO2 is out of balance".

Hawken says the goal is to bring carbon back home through land use techniques.  As someone that is always thinking about plants (along with my work at Nu I am a homesteader and work with medicinal plants),  the simple message that I pull out from these comments is that we need more plants on the earth, more biological activity, more robust ecosystems to give the earth more breathing capacity. Which is all the more evidence for why the next generation of wastewater systems should be plant-based, bio-diverse systems, filled with as much life as we can fit into them. Not just because they effectively treat nutrients and bacteria, can serve as habitat for other species, reconnect people to their water resources, reduce sludge production and bring nature into the built environment, but because we need them to help the earth breath. Another beneficial function of our ecological wastewater treatment systems to add to our growing list.