Paul Hawken, an environmentalist and best-selling author, set out to answer a nagging question: “Do we know what we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?” The result is his latest book, Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. Hawken’s ranking of the most effective climate solutions available featured one that many other environmentalists often don’t think about: the rights of women and girls.
“We went in fairly confident about what the top solutions would be,” Hawken said in a recent interview with David Roberts at Vox. “We were wrong – which is validating, in a way. We have a methodology that forfends against bias.”
Hawken went on to explain that they expected at least the top of the list of solutions to resemble the emphasis in current planning and dialogue: solar and wind.
“It’s understandable – 62 percent of [greenhouse gas] molecules up there came from fossil fuel combustion, so you just invert it, right? It makes sense. It just doesn’t work out that way…the number one solution is educating girls and family planning.”
In Drawdown, family planning and educating girls are split into separate categories, but even divided they rank as solution number six and seven out of the 100 solutions given. Combined, they rank as number one.
The impact was so great, the team of researchers – 70 people from 22 countries – decided to make one of the seven chapters of solutions be “Women and Girls.” The other six chapters of existing solutions are energy, food, buildings and cities, land use, transport, and materials. Twenty of the solutions are in a separate category called “Coming Attractions” that features ideas and technologies not yet developed or proven.
The “Women and Girls” chapter is short – eight pages – featuring three solutions: family planning, education, and women small holders, which is a farm operating on less than five acres of land. The authors write:
This sector is deceptively small in number. The solutions here focus on the majority of humanity, the 51 percent who are female. We call them out specifically because climate change is not gender neutral. Due to existing inequalities, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from disease to natural disaster. At the same time, women and girls are pivotal to addressing global warming successfully – and to humanity’s overall resilience. As you will see here, suppression and marginalization along gender lines actually hurt everyone, while equity is good for all. These solutions show that enhancing the rights and well-being of women and girls could improve the future of life on this planet.
Population Media Center (PMC), an international nonprofit, has been working at the intersection of the rights of women and girls and environmental protection since its founding in 1998.
“It is wonderful to know the Drawdown research team has discovered the fundamental link between increasing the status of women around the world and a healthy climate future,” says Bill Ryerson, President and Founder of PMC. “The more that reputable climate leaders speak out and publicize this connection, the better prepared both individuals and public policy-makers will be to enact meaningful change.”
The authors discuss the estimated 74 million unintended pregnancies each year. They document that among the many benefits of educating girls is the fact that more years of education usually results in fewer, healthier children – and active management of their reproductive health. And as the authors discuss how the ability to plan family size and spacing is a “matter of autonomy and dignity” for women, they also point out the astounding reduction in gigatons of carbon dioxide that would result.
“We took the numbers from other agencies – from World Bank, WHO [World Health Organization], IPCC [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. What they are is the delta between the median and high population projections of the UN in 2050 and that reduction alone.” Hawken explained that 1.1 billion fewer people reduces carbon dioxide by 119.2 gigatons, but also adds, “There are so many ancillary benefits and impacts of 1.1 billion less people.”
Bill Ryerson agrees: “While the climate costs of the highest population projections are deeply troubling, there are numerous environmental emergencies that will also be easier to solve if population follows a lower trajectory: loss of biodiversity, groundwater depletion, and overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, for example.”
PMC uses entertainment, usually hit radio and TV shows, to change social norms – like the stigma prevalent in many cultures that girls should not be educated. It’s crucial that all efforts to educate girls and widen access to family planning be done in ways that don’t place the burden or blame on the girls and women themselves, but help empower them to achieve the social power and self-determination they deserve.
“Most importantly, today’s solutions are social,” says Tom Steyer, Founder and President of NextGen Climate in Drawdown’s foreward. “Educating girls and widening access to family planning increases climate resiliency while empowering half the world’s population.”
ABOUT POPULATION MEDIA CENTER (PMC):
Population Media Center is a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education, dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment, population stabilization, and the environment. For the past two decades, PMC’s entertainment programming has promoted social and cultural change and has helped 500 million people in more than 50 countries.