Why Girls’ Education Is More Powerful Than Solar Panels and Electric Cars in Fighting Climate Change
Electric vehicles, solar panels, recycling, wind mills, and carbon capture are all words that come to mind when thinking about solutions to climate change. The one thing I’ve never heard someone say is “girls education”.
Recently, Project Drawdown, a coalition of researchers, scientists, business leaders, and policymakers put together a list of the top 100 activities that would contribute most to reversing the rising emissions and concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And at the top, number 6 out of 100, was educating girls. That put girls’ education above solar panels (number 26) and electric vehicles (number 10).
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), educating girls has the potential to massively reduce emissions of 51.48 gigatons by 2050.
Although a much less often thought of solution to this globally pressing issue, girls education is one of the most practical factors in fighting climate change. And here’s why: Educating girls comes with multiple benefits that translate beyond the girls themselves and their communities, with the potential to impact the planet far more than just some windmills. Research as far back as the 1980s shows that women with higher levels of quality education marry later in life and have fewer and healthier children. Therefore, they live longer with greater economic prosperity.
How Does This Create Impact?
Girls education is the key to a sustainable future.
The United Nations currently projects that the world’s population will grow by over 2 billion by 2050, with much of the growth projected to occur in developing countries with poor education. But, research has proven that if girls’ education continues to positively progress, that number would total up to 2 billion fewer people by 2045.
Let’s look at an example: In Mali, women who’ve obtained secondary education or higher have an average of three children, but women with no education have an average of seven children.
Next, there are major economic benefits to this solution. By having an education, women get jobs and are able to provide for their families. An increase of a woman’s income by just $10 has the same impact on her children’s nutrition and health as an income increase of $110 for a man. Thus, the future global population depends on progress in female education, particularly that of young girls.
Climate change is directly affecting girls. The United Nations indicates that 80% of people displaced by climate change-related natural disasters, are women. As a result, girls are vulnerable to being permanently taken out of school to help their families in dire times. During these times, parents struggle to provide for their families and end up marrying off their daughters for dowry as a source of income. An example of this this occurred in Ethiopia during a period of drought between 2010 and 2011. The UN reported that there was a significant increase in the number of girls forced into marriage. Once married off, there is a slim chance that girls will ever receive a proper education, thus pulling them back into a cycle of poverty.
However, girls who get a full education are more likely to be able to use their skills and leadership to support their families during these times. An educated girl has the ability to get a job and provide for her family. A 2017 Brookings Institute study revealed that for every additional year of schooling a girl receives, her country’s resilience to climate disasters will improve by 3.2 points.
Women also make up almost half of the agricultural labour force in the least developed countries. This means that they play a major part in feeding the future population. Educated women will allow for more productive agricultural plots and can be better stewards of food, soil, trees, and water.
Lastly, by ensuring girls an education, they become equipped with holistic skills far beyond the subjects that they are taught. They learn how to think critically, be adaptable, creative, have a voice, and stand up for themselves. These skills are vital in the patriarchal cultures that many of them live in. From this knowledge, women are able to take on higher positions and tackle the climate change issue themselves. They will implement policies and have an equal role in government to that of men. Ultimately, this will impact the entire world.
What’s Holding Us Back?
- Politics. It’s a controversial topic, especially in developing nations. Many governments lack the funding, and others don’t enforce girls’ education related laws, even if they have them. For example, child marriage is illegal in many parts of India, but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t happen.
- Cultural issues hinder people from seeing the value of girls education. Many families in developing nations view their daughters as a liability, and value their sons’ education more. As a result, girls are mistreated and forced to work within their households.
- Society chooses to look to new technologies that avoid the need for change and rely on business development opportunities. Rather, if we took these new technological developments and funding and implemented them into something as simple as girls’ education, the result would be astronomical.
Lessons to Take Away
- Educating girls is ranked as a more effective climate change solution over electric cars, and various types of solar, wave, and tidal powers.
- Girls and women currently suffer disproportionately from climate change and face the repercussions through a cycle of poverty.
- Giving girls’ a quality education has a series of cascading effects on the entire world: reduced disease, higher life expectancy, more economic prosperity, fewer forced marriages, and population stability. It also gives them the skills necessary to to tackle the climate emergency themselves.
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