This is the second in a long series of posts inspired by Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken (Penguin Books, 2017).
As a reminder, Drowdown presents the 80 most substantive solutions for reversing global warming, meticulously researched by leading scientists and policymakers from around the world. Project Drawdown’s global solutions are grouped by sector: Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, and Materials. And the solutions are ranked from 1 to 80, with #1 having the most bearing on greenhouse gases, expressed in the gigatons of carbon dioxide that would be removed between 2020 and 2050. You can find a more complete introduction to this series of posts here, where you will also find my Earth Day post, detailing Drawdown’s top 5 solutions.
Solutions #6 and #7 both come from the sector Women and Girls, which happens to be the smallest category in the collection, containing only 3 solutions (compared, for instance, to 20 in Energy, 17 in Food, and 15 in Buildings and Cities). And yet 2 of the 3 solutions in that small category, Women and Girls, fall into Drawdown’s top 10. This is partly because women and girls represent a majority of humanity, at 51%. But it is also because “climate change is not gender neutral” and “women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from Malala Yousafzai’sdisease to natural disaster.” At the same time, women and girls are “pivotal” to successfully addressing global warming and its impacts.
6. Educating Girls (Category, Women and Girls): The authors of drawdown believe that every life “bubbles with innate potential” and “nurturing the promise of each girl can shape the future for all.” And they argue that study after study bears out the truth in Malala Yousafzai’s (the Pakistan-born activist for girls’ education) famous assertion, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.”
Project Drawdown’s conclusions about the benefits of educating girls are based in voluminous research showing that women with more years of education have fewer, healthier children and better manage their reproductive health. “The difference between a woman with no years of schooling and [one] with 12 years of schooling is almost four to five children per woman. And it is precisely those areas of the world where girls are having the hardest time getting educated that population growth is the fastest.” Educating girls is the “most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.” All of which inextricably links solution #6 Educating Girls to the solution ranked #7– Family Planning. The two solutions are so interwoven, in fact, that the authors present all their figures (costs, savings, carbon drawn down by 2050, etc.) in combination, attributing 50% to each solution.
7. Family Planning (Category, Women and Girls): The success of this solution lies in increasing women’s autonomy in decisions about when and how many children to have. The emphasis is on a reduced number of births, hence on a more stable and sustainable population which, subsequently, will reduce global resource demand. Of course, this raises red flags—not only in countries where women traditionally have few rights and less say about how early or when they bear children or how many, but also in first world countries where women’s reproductive autonomy has become a largely partisan issue.
Also, the authors are well aware that the mere hint of population “control” can raise hackles. But not only are draconian, Malthusian, or eugenicist solutions (forced sterilization, one-child limits, etc.) undesirable, they are unnecessary to encourage and maintain healthy population levels. Only more and better education is necessary and, of course, equal access to it. I hope we can all get behind that.