Women’s rights offer best solution to world’s woes

Contributions from Senior Editor and Writer Ian Hanington

What’s the top solution for resolving the human-caused climate crisis? According to Paul Hawken, it’s educating girls and improving family planning.

Hawken is the author of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.“Drawdown” is “the point at which levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and then steadily decline, ultimately reversing global warming.”

For the book, now grown into a project and website, Hawken and a team of researchers used peer-reviewed evidence to find the top 100 solutions to climate disruption under seven categories: energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, transport and materials. Solutions range from solar and wind power to farmland restoration and marine permaculture.

The study looked at three scenarios. “Plausible” solutions “are adopted at a realistically vigorous rate over the time period under investigation, adjusting for estimated economic and population growth.” “Drawdown” considers adoption of solutions optimized to achieve drawdown by 2050. “Optimum” is when “solutions achieve their maximum potential, fully replacing conventional technologies and practices within a limited, competitive market.”

Although the top single solution is, surprisingly, refrigerant management, the best result comes from combining two related solutions, educating girls and family planning, which fall at 6 and 7, respectively, on the list. Drawdown finds these measures could reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases by 120 gigatonnes and human population by one billion by 2050.

According to Project Drawdown, “Access to education and voluntary family planning are basic human rights and should be secured simply because they are, yet significant gaps remain around the world today.” Advancing these rights affects fertility rates and population growth, which drive “demand for food, transportation, electricity, buildings, goods, etc., all with attendant emissions.” In addition to education and family planning, Project Drawdown includes addressing inequity in agriculture, mainly through equal access for women smallholders to “a range of resources, from land rights and credit to education and technology.”

Educating girls would result in “improved livelihoods, delayed onset of marriage, delayed childbearing, and fewer children than peers with less education.” Family planning, “including access to contraception and reproductive health resources,” would reduce fertility rates and slow population growth. Providing “resources, financing, and training to women smallholder farmers around the world” would improve agricultural yields and reduce deforestation.