Updated: Jul 24, 2020
When you think of climate change solutions, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
What are our governments moving forward with and addressing in environmental policies?
There are initiatives across the globe for green energy, better accessibility to recycling, or even bans on single-use plastics. All of these things are a step in the right direction, but we must remember that no one solution can solve this climate crisis.
As governments and policymakers search for collective solutions, I’ve noticed one major solution that is rarely discussed and often glazed over. It is seen as too “sensitive” a topic to pursue, and unfortunately, religious bias often stands in the way.
One of the most critical climate change solutions is one that no one wants to talk about: educating girls and family planning.
Problem: Over Population
The Earth has an overpopulation of humans. While humans often control animal populations by hunting or introducing predators, this isn’t a morally sound solution to our human overpopulation problem. Not only that, but if a government mandate tells you how many children you could have, it would be seen as taking away fundamental human rights and civil liberties. So, what is there to do?
First, we must accept that overpopulation is, in fact, a problem, and second, we must put systems in place to manage the human population in an ethical way.
There are currently 7.7 billion people on Earth, and by 2050, it is predicted that there will be anywhere from 9.4-10.1 billion people. These numbers matter because, as we consider the climate crisis, we must also consider how everyone will eat, how they get clean water, and all other forms of consumption, production, and waste humans contribute to in their lifetime.
Essentially, the more people on Earth, the more greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. So, it is no wonder that at this point in human history we are seeing such a drastic change and concentration in atmospheric gases.
Whether or not you agree that overpopulation is a problem, one thing is indisputable, the more people there are on Earth, the more resources we need to use. We live on a finite planet, and eventually, we will run out of resources unless we take action.
I have long seen overpopulation as an issue, and the climate crisis was a deciding factor in my decision never to give birth to a child. I also don’t think that wanting to have a family is inherently evil. I believe we need to find a middle ground that affords women an educated choice.
Solution: Educating Girls & Family Planning
When we think of places in the world that need more targeted education for women and girls, we often direct our attention to impoverished nations. However, these solutions are for everyone, and every nation can benefit from adopting them.
Even in the United States, girls and women are more likely to be taught about abstinence than contraceptives in their sex education classes. Women are often denied access to birth control or abortion care, although that reasoning creates issues with our separation of church and state.
That said, no matter the nation’s prosperity, more education, and family planning needs to be put into place.
The first real initiative I had ever heard of addressing this issue on a large scale was Project Drawdown. Project Drawdown was first released as a book and is the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse climate change. Within their solutions, they happened to include educating girls and family planning. Not only did they include them, but they listed them in the top 10 ways to combat climate change.
Having a team of researchers, scientists, and climate professionals outright say that to reverse climate change, we need to educate women gave me some hope. But why would education change our human population numbers?
It has been recognized that women with a higher education level tend to have fewer and healthier children. As girls and women become more educated, they are better able to contribute to the economy, they can become better stewards to the Earth, and they can more easily become financially independent.
Ensuring equal access to education comes with many barriers and safety risks though. Many girls around the world cannot afford to go to school, they could be killed for learning to read, the distance to make it to school is too far, or there are health barriers like menstruation that often make them miss classes.
If we can address some of these critical barriers that girls and women face, more than 62 million more girls could attend school and learn that all women have a right to an equal education.
A part of education that should be included for both men and women involves family planning. This means looking at all aspects of having a family, from conception forward. Family planning requires education, but it also means equal access to healthcare provisions that meet all women’s needs.
Family planning should not be seen as a way to control how many children a woman is allowed to have, or if a government should manipulate the birthrate in any way. It is more about awareness, preparedness, and access to resources for all.
In the United States, 45% of pregnancies are unintended. In low-income countries, over 225 million women desire the ability to choose whether or not to have a family but lack access to contraception.
This is a widespread issue that has a relatively simple solution: better access to family planning healthcare.
Even if we give every girl and woman in the world access to equal education unless they also have access to healthcare, overpopulation will continue to be a worsening problem.
Where do we go from here?
I want to be mindful of writing this and mention that if you have children and want to have children, that's great. It may take a bit more effort on your part to raise them amidst the climate crisis, but like you, they can grow up to become stewards of the Earth.
Although education policy in other countries may be out of our hands, there are still things we can do in our daily lives to help push these initiatives forward. First, awareness is key. Normalizing facts like overpopulation and allowing it to be a talking point when we talk about climate change can be one stepping stone to more widespread awareness.
We can actively work on removing any judgments and stigmatization from women that choose not to have a family, whatever the reasons may be. We can raise our young women to see a future beyond that of societal norms, and encourage them when they want to pursue professions that may be male-dominated. We can vote for policymakers that fully support women's rights and body autonomy. Part of the solution is awareness, and the next part is a change in our mindset so we can take action.
I'd love to share more of my thoughts on this topic, but I'm curious how you see these problems and solutions being addressed in our future? Are these actionable changes that can be made in our communities?
Let me know in the comments below!
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