In the environmental sciences, it’s sometimes hard to find an optimist. Bad news is typical news. Depressing data gets published daily. We’re so deep into it that any solutions we apply today hardly make a dent.
Drawdown, published by Penguin this year, is the most intelligently optimistic book on climate change that I’ve encountered. It is a collection of research from dozens of scientists around the world on actionable solutions to reverse our climate trajectory, and shows a ranked impact of each item based on estimated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not convinced that it’s a “plan,” but it is a certainly a starting point of answers to help navigate a complex problem.
There’s a lot to say about the science, the writing style, and the design of the interior, but I want only to focus on the cover for now. (Please pardon the sticky tabs. I don’t want to remove them.)
Rather than an image representative of the current climate situation or future, the cover is text on a white page—simple and straightforward, a relief to the confused and overwhelmed. Clouds on a blue sky peek through the condensed sans serif letters, with a spot gloss varnish. The effect is optimistic, shiny, and hip, three words we rarely associate with data on atmospheric gases. Ok, this is how cultural stereotypes begin to change (not unlike how lululemon is turning yoga into a bold and trendy culture).
But what does “drawdown” suggest? Doesn’t it suggest a cooling, relieving effect? And who is this book for? The interiors would suggest a person who wants to geek out on science. Does the cover look like it contains level-headed analysis?
What’s not sitting well with me is the typography. All caps (and very tall all caps) doesn’t visually convey a cooling, relieving effect—they shout and create tension, in the style of i can has cheezburger, which is popular but not so level-headed. The text block is justified, which looks strong…except the ample letter spacing creates a floating effect and its similarity to the word spacing makes it hard to read the block quickly. With only the subtle clue of a brighter sky blue behind the “edited by” line, at a glance we might interpret that Paul Hawken edited global warming. This is absurd, of course, so we have to correct ourselves in our head. But the brighter blue for the byline is too subtle a cue to have prevented that confusion; a completely different color (maybe a super pale gray?), or a smaller, squattier face, or even having this positioned with a bit more space from the subtitle) would create enough contrast.
I liked the white of the front; it suggested cleanliness, a fresh slate, a brave new world. It felt like a breath of fresh air. But then there’s this spine.
I love that the word “Drawdown” is set vertically, drawing our eye down. But the orange! Yes, I agree our climate situation is a CRISIS, an EMERGENCY, a global HAZARD! But why traffic cone orange here? Please don’t say it’s because the Penguin logo is traffic cone orange, so the spine now matches nicely. The transition is jarring.
The back cover, like the front, is a justified block. The typography could be improved for readability, but in different ways here. The lines are so long and have such generous leading that the eye sometimes lands on the wrong line. Wider margins and larger type could help. But the book summary is set in a face that doesn’t seem to appear anywhere else in the book (which is set inside with various weights of Helvetica Neue and a serif face); this condensed sans serif doesn’t visually rhyme with the contents and doesn’t contrast much with the title face except in size.
Despite this critique on the design, I unreservedly recommend Drawdown to anyone interested in a current snapshot of our climate science and learning what to prioritize (and deprioritize) in our actions. Plus, the photos inside are beautifully shot and cropped. Find Drawdown here, and populate it with your own sticky tabs.