The Most Overlooked Climate Change Subverter

By Catriona Heyworth, GLOBUS Correspondent

Carbon footprints are a common topic. Addressing population—how many feet are leaving their tracks—remains controversial despite widespread agreement that greater numbers place more strain on the planet.

Project Drawdown

It can be easy to fall into the trap of searching for single, seemingly magical solutions to climate change which either are not very realistic, or don’t actually significantly reduce the climate crisis when investigated deeper, and in the end, are just on agendas for political clout. The climate crisis is being caused by a huge variety of human actions and as such should be tackled in a multifaceted approach. It is clear: there is no panacea. However, there is one proposal which hasn’t gained as much traction as others, perhaps because it isn’t catchy for a political sound bite, but which nonetheless provides real results. Education!

Educating Girls As a Way To Combat Climate Change?

Allow me to introduce Project Drawdown. It is a fascinating project composed of scientists, economists, researchers and policymakers aimed to investigate over 100 different methods of tackling climate change – including all major policies from reducing food waste to forest restoration efforts. One of the most surprising results is that educating girls can be a large driver in avoiding the world’s climate catastrophe. Even more so than many green technologies which frequently see billion-dollar investments, the project states this as the second most impactful policy for reducing CO2 emissions, after reducing food waste (see below). Health and education can reduce around 85 gigatons of CO2, in comparison to food waste (ranked 1) at 87 gigatons and plant-rich diets (ranked 3) at 65 gigatons. UNESCO has also fought for gender equality as a priority, stating that women are ‘powerful agents of change, and possess specific knowledge and skills to effectively contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation’. These are the top 10 solutions Project Drawdown has measured: 

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Source: Project Drawdown Website

While there have been significant drives to increase the provision of education for girls in less developed countries, there are still significant barriers in reality, including poverty, lack of security, child marriage, ill-health and cultural barriers, which mean that 132 million girls are still not attending school. 

Education is a multifaceted solution and is also one of the biggest drivers of economic development more generally. Enabling girls to achieve upward mobility and providing healthcare solutions, including birth control, can reduce the unsustainable population expansions we observe in some areas of the world. This is not the whole story. Reforms of this kind also bear positive effects on their health and their children, as well as the wider society. Importantly, educating girls in developing countries improves scientific breakthroughs as well increases the productivity of agricultural land, which are also crucial to tackling climate change. These huge externalities all circle back to improving climate outcomes with an effective multiplier effect. For example, better-educated women go on to create successful businesses, thusly boosting local and national economies. This in turn increases government revenues that can be used to reinvest in further education and health policies, as well as environmental initiatives. 

It has also been shown that women care more about climate change than men. This might be a result of the fact that women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to historical gender inequalities and because they make up 80% of climate refugees. Thus, it is even more important that they are adequately educated and empowered. Not only that it will enable them to secure more resilient income streams, but they will also have the tools to alter the political conversation and thereby they will have the power to make climate change a higher priority on political agendas. Otherwise, as most of us already know, they are often shut out of political processes.  

The Project Drawdown candidly calls forward an issue that receives very little attention due to the lack of tenable policies that can achieve it, that is, controlling the population growth. Often, cultural changes are discarded in favour of technological solutions which would impact our lives less, and enable us to continue the high-consumption lifestyles many of us live. The project highlights how misguided that is, with the top three solutions (reducing food waste, health and education, and plant-rich diets) all being behavioural changes. It is clear that for many of us, our current way of life is too resource-intensive for this planet and completely unsustainable. The carrying capacity of Mother Earth has well and truly been surpassed, and yet populations are still rising rapidly, predominantly in developing countries where female education is most lacking. A woman with 12 years of education has on average four to five fewer children than a woman with no education, making it the most effective and morally favourable than more focused efforts to reduce population growth. 

In the end, there is no single solution for tackling climate change. And while far-reaching education of girls still has its limitations, it is nevertheless, one of the most realistic, multi-impact and overlooked solutions. Highlighting this link between climate change and girls’ education is vital as global funding is still focusing on high-tech solutions which do not have nearly the same cost-benefit effectiveness. Rather we should be looking at medium and long-run changes in our behaviour to make our existence more sustainable…

Header image at UnSplash by Mwesigwa Joel 

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