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Good for Women, Good for Mother Nature

by Andrew Grandahl

In one of the first of many controversial executive orders signed by President Trump upon taking office, the president reinstated an archaic policy championed by Republican presidents for decades known as the “global gag rule”. The policy prohibits American funding for family-planning at clinics that also provide information on abortions to women. More disturbingly, the President has not just threatened to revoke funding to NGOs involved in family planning, but also to those involved in any health care, such as those combatting malaria or AIDs, should they make any utterance of abortion. It is a shocking measure, and one that impacts not just women’s lives, but our fight against climate change as well.

Global warming is a tricky beast, yet often is portrayed as a relatively simple problem: greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere leads to global temperature rise. If you lower greenhouse gas emissions, the rate of rising temperature in the future would decrease compared to taking no action at all. However, we often forget how many different sources greenhouse gas pollution comes from, and the complex forces that lead to varying atmospheric conditions.

One intersection lacking adequate attention in the global climate conversation is access to family-planning for women, specifically in the global south. In two studies done by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and The Futures Group, health education and family planning options were shown to give women greater ability to control the size and timing of their families. This in turn has an effect on global population growth, and with it greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts of family planning facilities would reduce emissions anywhere from 8% to 15% according to recent research from the Aspen Institute. To put that in perspective, this reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of stopping all deforestation worldwide, today. It is important to recognize that supporting family planning facilities across the global south will not solve climate change alone. The majority of global carbon emissions are produced by developed countries, not the areas typically impacted by this policy change. The relationship between access to reproductive services and carbon emissions is significant, though, and should be considered by policy makers.

There is a potentially heartening connection. Empowering women to have greater control regarding decisions about their bodies could not only improve individual and family quality of life, but also help to protect the environment we all share. Population control is no doubt a big piece of the puzzle. It is always important to recognize, though, the much larger elephant in the room that the developed world often chooses to overlook: the complementary relationship between over-population and over-consumption.

Fred Pearce of Yale Environment 360 has done great work to expose this behemoth of a problem. The statistics are quite blunt, not matter how you put it. The wealthiest 500 million inhabitants of our planet are responsible for half of the carbon we emit. In contrast, the poorest 3.5 billion are responsible for only 7% of emissions. While the fight for family-planning is a crucial piece of the puzzle, there are other major awarenesses and movements that must also accompany it. Trump’s reinstated gag-rule will be extremely harmful to millions of people globally, as it will dismantle planned parenthood funding in the U.S. and on an international level as well. We must fight for women’s rights at home and worldwide. But as we do so, let’s remember to do our part as well and lower individual consumption, heighten political involvement and reduce our personal carbon footprint. Mother nature and mothers worldwide both benefit from funding for family planning.

Andrew Grandahl is a guest blogger for eesi. You can reach him at andrewgrandahl@gmail.com