How educating girls and family planning tops solutions to turn around climate change

What is the number one solution for addressing climate change? Most people might say, “moving away from fossil fuels.” However, there are many more impactful and much less talked about solutions according to legendary American environmentalist, entrepreneur, author, and activist, Paul Hawken.


As Vox beautifully illustrated, one of Hawken’s top solutions would be in addressing educational inequality affecting 62 million girls around the world. In combination with this effort, increasing access to reproductive healthcare and family planning would be equally important.


Hawken arrived at this answer through peer-reviewed research in his climate change reference book: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.


The book evaluates solutions based on the gigatons of CO2 emissions they would reduce by the year 2050. Hawken says educating girls and family planning is the “number one solution.”


“Educating girls and family planning could together reduce 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050. That’s more than on-and offshore wind power combined.”


On the Drawdown website, Hawken’s reasoning is explained in depth. In areas where women and girls are highly educated, we see lower population growth as well as healthier nourished children.


“Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.”

Educated women and girls go on to make higher wages and have upward mobility that improves the economy. As agricultural workers, they help produce more for their community.


Women and girls are among those hardest hit by the effects of climate change, but when they have equal access to education, that vulnerability is lessened.


“Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.”


Drawdown suggests the following changes to improve educational opportunities for women and girls. These improvements could translate to one of the biggest positive impacts on climate change, as surprising as that seems.


Key strategies include:


  • make school affordable;
  • help girls overcome health barriers;
  • reduce the time and distance to get to school; and
  • make schools more girl-friendly.

If universal education in low- and lower-middle-income countries is achieved, the result is 51.48 gigatons of emissions reduced by 2050.



“The return on that investment is incalculable.”

Drawdown also explains the reasoning behind listing reproductive healthcare and family planning as a top factor in reducing climate change. They aren’t talking about harsh government-enforced policies to curb the population, but about meeting womens’ needs in both rich and impoverished nations. Consider that even in the United States, 45 percent of pregnancies are unintended.


“Honoring the dignity of women and children through family planning is not about governments forcing the birth rate down (or up, through natalist policies). Nor is it about those in rich countries, where emissions are highest, telling people elsewhere to stop having children. When family planning focuses on healthcare provision and meeting women’s expressed needs, empowerment, equality, and well-being are the result; the benefits to the planet are side effects.”

By addressing educational inequality and providing better access to health care for women and girls, the world would see positive impacts on health, welfare, and life expectancy of both women and their children. As an added bonus – and what a huge bonus that is – we could help reverse climate change in a big way.


Hawken celebrates that educated girls and women leaders are also among the most important voices emerging in the world right now. We simply can’t begin to confront climate change without their vital leadership.


Featured image: Greta Thunberg via Wikimedia Commons

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Matthew Silvan

Progressive liberal from the American south. Working to educate and inform on issues like preserving the environment, equality for minorities and women, and improving the quality of life for mankind and our ecosystem. Following the facts in the face of a movement to follow only the money.

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