Educating girls is an overlooked solution to the climate crisis

Empowering young women through education is one of the best ways to save our planet

Unfortunately, girls' education is often seen as less important than boys' schooling.

We’ve all heard the most common ways to reduce climate change: limit our consumption of animal products, ditch fossil fuel-powered cars, reduce food waste, transition to solar and wind energy, and so on. However, one of the top solutions to the global crisis may surprise you: empowering young women to learn more about the climate crisis.

Project Drawdown is a research organization dedicated in part to ranking the best solutions to climate change. According to their list of top 100 solutions, educating girls ranks at number six. Specifically, educating girls is estimated to allow for a total atmospheric reduction of 51.48 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents by 2050.

The idea is that through access to education, young women can gain knowledge about family planning and reproductive health. In turn, they’d be empowered to have reproductive autonomy and, as a result, have fewer and healthier children.

Having fewer children is considered the most effective individual action against climate change, as it’s estimated to save 58.6 tonnes to carbon dioxide equivalents per year per child. Put simply, limiting population growth would reduce the demand for resources such as food and energy.

Educated women can also pursue careers with higher wages, which not only helps them support their families, but can also stimulate local economies. Some may also choose to pursue careers in sustainability and science, and could contribute to the innovation and implementation of climate-friendly strategies and technologies.

Through education, girls can also hone the skills and tools needed to withstand extreme weather. At the moment, girls are often taken out of school in times of drought so they can help with household tasks such as getting water. When provided with schooling, girls can learn to face droughts and floods, or learn about the best crops to grow and how to farm them more efficiently.

Given that up to 80 per cent of people in low-income rural communities rely on agriculture to survive, this knowledge could mean the difference between thriving and starvation. Educated girls can help provide their families and communities with food in the face of increasingly warmer climate and extreme conditions.

According to Earth Overshoot Day, an organization that calculates the date when humanity will use up more resources than the Earth could regenerate in a year, approximately 130 million girls are currently unable to attend school across the globe. Some aren’t able to afford schooling, while others are expected to become wives who bear children and spend the bulk of their time caring for them. Girls’ education is often considered less important than boys’ schooling.

The question is, why hasn’t the link between educating girls and solving the climate crisis been made more explicit?

When you think about it, much of the conversation about climate change has been led by Western countries, in which girls’ schooling is often taken for granted.

Instead of focusing on implementing gradual low-impact policies such as setting faraway carbon emission targets, governments should focus on bigger, more immediate shifts, such as assisting programs that provide women across the world with education.

Not only would this help mitigate the effect of climate change, but it would also decrease the rates of birth-related deaths for both mothers and babies, as well as the incidence of child marriages and of sexually transmitted infections.

In the words of Project Drawdown, when considering the role of girls’ education in shaping the planet’s future, “the return on that investment is incalculable.”

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