Want to Save the Planet? Give All Its Women Equal Power to Men

A pair of Stanford biologists say that giving women more power is one key to the future of civilization.

Among the world’s most-populous nations, India is also consistently ranked among the most dangerous for women. In New Delhi, empowerment might start with something as small as a cell phone. (Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Jan 16, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of 'Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.'

Wondering how to save the world? A Stanford University husband and wife team of population biologists has a suggestion: Empower women everywhere. Pretty revolutionary stuff, eh?

According to Anne Ehrlich, senior research scientist, and Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, giving women more power means lower population growth, which means less stress on resources.

In light of the fact that we’re approaching a global population of 9 billion, their recommendations seem quite timely.

MORE: Girl Helps Girls: How One College Student Empowers Young Women Across the Globe

Paul Ehrlich commented that giving all the world’s women full equality “will allow us to include more of their brainpower to help solve these problems. And studies have shown that when women are given full rights, they have fewer children, which will help slow birth rates. We also need to give every sexually active human free access to modern contraception and emergency abortion.”

In case there is any doubt about the efficacy of modern contraception, a recent study by the Contraceptive Choice Project showed that providing free access to birth control in St. Louis drastically reduced the numbers of unplanned pregnancies among the sample group.

Prince Charles added that “to continue with ‘business as usual’ is an act of suicide on a gargantuan scale.”

While the Ehrlichs’ paper goes into detail on a number of potential reasons for the collapse of our civilization, the call to action for women’s equality has garnered the most media coverage.

Lest you suspect the highly respected Ehrlichs of writing sensationalist science just to grab headlines, their report (ominously titled “Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?”) cites 78 articles by scientists across several disciplines.

In addition, their work was “reviewed by a panel of renowned biologists and social scientists.”

Even Prince Charles has contributed to the cavalcade of praise, writing on his website: “Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s report is a timely and urgent reminder of how the collapse of civilizations has, in the past, been caused by the degradation of Nature’s services, and how that process is now being repeated on a global scale.” The Prince added that “to continue with ‘business as usual’ is an act of suicide on a gargantuan scale.”

The Ehrlichs (and Prince Charles) aren’t the only folks to promote research showing that a reduced population improves quality of life in general. Last October, the Fertility and Empowerment Network released three working papers finding, among other things, that “fertility decline” (a lower birth rate) leads to improvements for women’s lives on various fronts.

The Ehrlichs’ rather gloomy article concludes on a somewhat hopeful note:

Do we think global society can avoid a collapse in this century? The answer is yes, because modern society has shown some capacity to deal with long-term threats, at least if they are obvious or continuously brought to attention. Humanity has the assets to get the job done, but the odds of avoiding collapse seem small because the risks are clearly not obvious to most people … our own ethical values compel us to think the benefits to those future generations are worth struggling for, to increase at least slightly the chances of avoiding a dissolution of today’s global civilization as we know it.

Do you think the United States ought to offer free contraception to everyone? Tell us in the COMMENTS.