August 23, 2021

Essential tips for talking about Project Drawdown's Health and Education solution

by  Carissa Patrone, Program Coordinator—Drawdown Lift

Drawdown Lift—a new program at Project Drawdown—is reflecting on how our team works to break down disciplinary walls and lift up global solutions that address climate change and extreme poverty, and enhance human well-being around the world.

We are thrilled that so many thought-leaders and changemakers continue to champion action on (and communicate around) Project Drawdown’s work, including our organization’s Health and Education solution, given the foundational roles that reproductive health and education play in poverty alleviation. Collaboratively, Drawdown Lift focuses on advancing solutions designed to catalyze positive, equitable change in the most under-financially resourced communities in low- and middle- income countries. 

When we work together to address societal inequities by lifting up gender equality, universal education, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), we can also advance long-term solutions to climate change. 

In communicating Project Drawdown’s Health and Education solution, it is important to avoid oversimplifying the complexities and interconnectedness of this work. Anyone working in this space must examine power structures and work to unpack the various systems of oppression (e.g., white supremacy and racism, patriarchy and sexism, colonization, classism, and more) that surface when working to reach “drawdown”—the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. 

Drawdown Lift has created this resource guide [Download a PDF version] to welcome everyone (researchers, practitioners, and advocates) to communicate this solution in a way that centers equity and bodily autonomy, does not induce harm or reinforce systems of oppression, and reflects the vision of Project Drawdown. 

Gender equality

Women and girls from emerging economy countries continue to be disproportionately impacted by climate change, environmental degradation and exploitation, and a lack of environmental protections around the world. 

We do not have the ability to “empower” anyone. Every person on this planet has power within themselves, but many people have been systematically and historically excluded from spaces, conversations, and vital resources. 

  • Women and girls are not passive victims. However, they have been systematically excluded from many decision-making opportunities, resources, institutions, and spaces to support their own growth and leadership. 

Malala Yousafzai (esteemed advocate for girls’ education from Pakistan) and Wangari Maathai (environmental activist and creator of the Green Belt Movement from Kenya) are two inspiring examples of women who have stood up to make waves for women and girls in education and environmental conservation. Through leadership and holistic actions, Yousafzai—and Maathai, who passed away in 2011 but whose legacy lives on—challenged systems and made sure that their voices were heard around the world.

The importance of universal education

Access to high-quality education is not a privilege, but a fundamental human right. Education provides an opportunity for children to develop their capacity, empower themselves, and increase their knowledge in various subject areas. Recent data show many inequities within our education systems across the world. According to UNICEF, “Forty-four percent of girls and 34 percent of boys (10-19 years old) from the poorest families have never attended school or dropped out before completing primary education."

  • High-quality universal education is transformative, and is a basic human right for all people. Inequities within education systems perpetuate injustice in both the social and economic spheres.

A focus on high-quality education is particularly important for girls, who are often left behind in terms of educational access and quality. Still today, according to UNICEF, around 129 million girls around the world don’t attend school. Also, the COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately impacted girls (ages 12–17) in low- and lower-income countries who often have a greater risk of dropping out of school. Educating girls and committing fully to climate action go hand-in-hand. 

Sexual and reproductive health and rights

High-quality universal education and SRHR are both important due to the ancillary benefits they have as climate solutions. At times—regardless of a person’s intentions—these topics can be communicated in a way that is not rights-based or does not convey the importance of the right of girls and women to have full bodily autonomy. 

  • Gender equality and women’s and girls’ reproductive rights must be embedded into climate solutions and climate justice. Project Drawdown does not advocate for “small” or “ideal” family sizes or limiting fertility; such policies can be racist, classist, or coercive. Our model reflects changes in future population growth scenarios based on the United Nations’ population projections. We unequivocally advocate for all adolescents and women to have full bodily autonomy to decide whether, when, with whom, and how many children to have.  

When communicating about reproductive health, it is important to use language that reflects the agency of women and girls and their own choices while also considering different laws, policies, and practices around the world. 

  • When speaking about reproductive health, it is important to recognize differences within socio-cultural norms in different places and spaces. In order for families, communities, countries, and the world to reach gender equality, there must be a shift in attitudes, beliefs, and policy to mitigate harmful gender norms. Furthermore, engaging men is a crucial part of the solution to achieve gender equality. 

Universal education and SRHR have numerous benefits for all people and must be embedded in climate conversations and solutions. It’s important to recognize that women and girls in both emerging economy countries and high-income countries can lack access to high-quality and affordable reproductive health care. 

  • Access to high-quality reproductive health care (including voluntary family planning) and universal education are essential human rights with profound cascading benefits that include enhanced overall health of women and their families, economic growth, and an increased ability of individuals and households to cope with climate shocks and stressors. In addition, addressing inequities in society provides ancillary climate benefits as population growth slows at a global level.

Climate impacts and the power of women in action

Gender inequality and power imbalances are often amplified during times of crises, such as the climate crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender-based violence has also been linked to power struggles over natural resources (especially in resource-scarce or degraded lands), environmental crimes, extractive industries, weather-related disasters, and climate-related conflict.       

  • Prevalence of gender-based violence often increases during times of extreme environmental stressors and climate shocks, which amplify pre-existing gender inequalities. 

Access to high-quality, universal education and SRHR are two separate but interconnected domains encompassed in Project Drawdown’s Health and Education solution. This solution models changes in population growth by 2050, and includes two rights-based measures: (1) universal right and voluntary access to reproductive healthcare and (2) universal access to quality primary and secondary education (12–13 years of schooling). It was assumed that these interventions are inherently synergistic. Education and knowledge are power and can be a gateway for girls to become active community members and leaders

  • Girls with access to high-quality education and full knowledge and access to SRHR can be more involved in political, social, and economic spheres of life. 

Studies show that gender equality—for example, a greater proportion of women in national government—is strongly associated with more robust environmentalism on a national level. In other words, women in national legislatures have shown to vote for more stringent climate and environmental protections. Among many reasons, some include the fact that more harm from environmental degradation is felt by women and that women participate more than men in social movements.   

We all benefit when women have equal access to opportunities to educate ourselves and have full autonomy over our bodies. When referencing Project Drawdown’s Health and Education solution in ways that are rights-based and acknowledge the important work and power of women in an unequal world, we can advance health, equity, and human well-being and also generate cascading benefits for climate.

Call to action 

We need everyone—activists, SRHR leaders, human well-being experts, and concerned global citizens—to stand up and support equity-driven climate solutions. We hope that the inclusive, rights-based language highlighted here will support everyone working to champion universal, high-quality education and family planning for all as important goals, which are made more powerful by the double-duty they serve as climate solutions. 

More Insights

March 31, 2022
New Drawdown Lift report: Advancing climate solutions can help alleviate extreme poverty
Addressing climate change and improving the well-being of millions of people experiencing extreme poverty—two grand challenges of the 21st century—can be done together and create critical co-benefits for socially disadvantaged groups in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries, according to a new landmark report released today by Drawdown Lift, a program of the global nonprofit Project Drawdown.  The report, titled Climate–Poverty Connections: Opportunities for synergistic solutions at the intersection of planetary and human well-being, focuses specifically on climate solutions and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—two areas of the world most at risk from the threats of climate change. This first-of-its-kind analysis reveals many ways in which specific technologies and practices that offer proven, substantial benefits for addressing climate change also improve multiple aspects of human well-being—particularly people’s livelihoods, health, food security, education, gender equality, and more. Widespread implementation of these solutions would be transformational in alleviating poverty and increasing resilience to current and future climate change. According to a World Bank report, in the next decade, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries, setting back decades of progress in poverty alleviation—a situation the pandemic has made even more dire. "We have an opportunity to elevate climate solutions that also boost human well-being and contribute to much-needed socioeconomic development,” said Kristen P. Patterson, director of Drawdown Lift. “Populations experiencing extreme poverty did not cause the climate crisis. It is incumbent upon decisionmakers to strategically invest in climate solutions that help usher in equity and prosperity, and achieve the SDGs.” The report guides leaders and stakeholders—including international and country-level climate and development policymakers, the climate finance community, donors, and NGOs—toward the dual goals of investing in low-carbon development pathways and reducing poverty. "In developing countries globally, efforts to promote climate action will undoubtedly be intertwined with aspirations for economic growth. This report sheds light on policy options and approaches for harnessing this opportunity to deliver human well-being benefits in the race to net-zero," said Mohamed Imam Bakarr, senior environmental specialist at Global Environment Facility and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. The report, which builds on Project Drawdown’s groundbreaking climate solutions research, draws on a review of 450 articles and reports (through 2021) to synthesize the evidence of how climate interventions that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions can also generate substantial co-benefits for human well-being. It was reviewed by a dozen experts in agriculture, gender, international development, education, conservation, climate, health, and other areas. The report’s findings have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world—particularly girls and women—if the recommendations are implemented. "If you’re telling a rural woman to cease using dirty fuels for cooking, know that poverty is the reason she is using them. Climate solutions must be holistic to ensure sustainability. This report presents strategies for solving the climate challenge that address intertwined human needs," said Glory Oguegbu, founder and CEO of the Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. Downloads Download the full report | Download the abbreviated fact sheet Media Contacts Todd Reubold, Director of Marketing and Communications, Project Drawdown Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown About Drawdown Lift Launched in early 2021, Drawdown Lift works to deepen collective understanding of the links between climate change solutions and poverty alleviation, particularly in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The Lift team seeks to help address both extreme poverty and climate change by collaboratively identifying, promoting, and advancing solutions designed to catalyze positive, equitable change. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. Project Drawdown aims to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
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March 15, 2022
Project Drawdown launches “Drawdown’s Neighborhood”
Across the United States, individuals are working each and every day to reduce the threat of climate change in their cities and communities. Drawdown Stories, a new initiative of Project Drawdown, aims to showcase their work and inspire others by passing the mic to the climate problem-solvers whose voices and stories often go unheard. Launching today, Drawdown’s Neighborhood is a new short documentary series featuring the stories of climate solutions heroes, city-by-city. The series is rooted in the guiding principle of “Climate Solutions in Color,” Project Drawdown’s commitment to “pass the mic” to the climate stories that often go unheard. The first season features individuals, most of whom are from underrepresented groups, mobilizing electric vehicle fleets, retrofitting buildings, and advancing other climate solutions in Pittsburgh, a city with a deep history in coal and steel. In the spirit of Pittsburgh native Mister Rogers, this series showcases the diverse “neighborhood” of people working to help the world reach drawdown, the future point when greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere start to steadily decline. Drawdown’s Neighborhood: Pittsburgh features 11 stories of how people from all over the city are mobilizing to fuel a green future—leveraging Pittsburgh’s innovative spirit for much-needed change. The stories center the voices of women, Black people, people of color, immigrants, and others who are often not represented in the climate dialogue and yet are commonly most immediately and severely vulnerable to the impacts of climate catastrophe.The series features: Clara Kitongo, Program Coordinator at Tree Pittsburgh Sarah Olexsak, Manager of Transportation Electrification at Duquesne Light Company Erica Cochran Hameen, Assistant Professor & Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture Richard Tumushime, Head Electrician at Energy Independent Solutions Angie Martinez, Senior Right-of-Way Manager at the City of Pittsburgh Tom Mulholland, Senior Project Manager at Grounded Strategies Brandon Walton, Fleet Manager with the City of Pittsburgh Alexis Cromer, Food Operations Director at 412 Food Rescue Paige Anderson, Project Manager at the City of Pittsburgh, Department of Mobility and Infrastructure Shawn Taylor, Crew Leader at Landforce Veni Mittal, Former Energy Audits Associate at Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh; Community Service Chair at the Green Building Alliance Drawdown’s Neighborhood is hosted by Matt Scott, manager of storytelling and engagement at Project Drawdown. Scott is also the creator and host of Let’s Care, where he has interviewed and learned from 100+ unlikely or underrepresented changemakers since 2017. “I want people to see themselves and their power. As a young, Black, queer person who’s also a storyteller, I’ve been acutely aware of how the climate conversation traditionally hasn’t centered underrepresented voices,” said Scott. “This is not only a problem because Black communities, Indigenous communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but also because these communities are the most underutilized in surfacing solutions. Representation matters everywhere, including the climate space, and if we want to tap into our full power to address climate change, we need to center those whose power has often been underrepresented and underestimated.” In addition to the featured videos, the Drawdown’s Neighborhood site includes discussion prompts to engage classrooms or communities in dialogue around each episode. And there are resource links to help individuals and others take action to address climate change. Future Drawdown’s Neighborhood cities will be announced later this year. To learn more and stay up to date, please visit drawdown.org/neighborhood. About Drawdown Stories Drawdown Stories identifies and produces multimedia stories as a bridge between the science-based solutions of Project Drawdown and the people looking for their own roles in the climate solutions space. This work provides an entry point for a diverse range of people through tangible examples of climate solutions being implemented today. Our work showcases the various people in climate careers that help make drawdown possible. The guiding principle of Drawdown Stories is “Climate Solutions in Color.” Through Climate Solutions in Color, we work to “pass the mic” to the climate heroes who often go unheard. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. We aim to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
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February 22, 2022
Decisive Climate Moments Call for Bold New Tactics
One of the most confounding realities of the climate crisis is that two seemingly contradictory facts are simultaneously true: that humanity has at our fingertips the solutions to fix it at the very same time that global greenhouse gas emissions soar higher than ever.  By now the world has a solid understanding of what the solutions to the climate crisis are. Aggregating, communicating, and accelerating the adoption of these solutions is the reason Project Drawdown exists. But as emissions continue to rise, it’s clear that we haven’t nailed the ‘how.’ How do we scale climate solutions across every sector of the economy so comprehensively and decisively that they permanently displace our current systems—systems that we now know to be incompatible with a livable world?  Tapping the biggest leverage points we have at our disposal to scale existing climate solutions is now of existential importance. And right now one of these leverage points—federal climate policy, and specifically the climate provisions that were previously housed in the Build Back Better Act— hangs in the balance. And this is why Drawdown Labs, the program I lead at Project Drawdown, recently took out a full-page print ad in The New York Times.  Our ad had three key messages. The first one was a reminder to the Times’ 4 million readers that the solutions to the climate crisis already exist today. It’s nearly impossible to build a future we can’t envision, so we wanted to remind a broad swath of the American public that the solutions are already right in front of us. These solutions will not only address climate change but they’ll help us build a healthier, more resilient, and more equitable world. Solutions like shifting electricity production to renewables, supporting indigenous land tenure and forest protection, shifting our means of transportation away from personally-owned vehicles and internal combustion engines, remaking our cities with health, equity, and walkability in mind, addressing food waste and our diets, and so many more.  Our second goal was to remind key audiences, namely policymakers and investors, that they are powerful actors in accelerating these solutions. The climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act would provide tax incentives for clean electricity, electric vehicles, clean buildings, advanced energy manufacturing, industrial decarbonization, and more, and would provide millions of good-paying jobs implementing these climate solutions. Whatever final legislative package they come in, these climate provisions have broad Congressional support and are crucial to accelerating needed investment.  Our final goal of the ad was to highlight the business community’s widespread support for bold climate policy. Why lift up the business voice? Like it or not, corporations hold a lot of political power, and their support can give legislators the confidence to pass bold climate legislation. The 25 companies we invited to join this ad represent over $64 billion in revenue, employ hundreds of thousands of people across the country, and span economic sectors: energy, transportation, food, tech, manufacturing, e-commerce, entertainment, design, apparel, consumer packaged goods, banking, and financial management. Together, these businesses are sending a powerful message: every sector of the economy wants to see bold climate legislation and Congress and the White House must do their part. This moment of fleeting opportunity for meaningful action calls for us to be bold. And while it may seem unusual for a nonprofit to use their resources to run an advertisement like this, we think that new tactics are crucial to achieving bolder outcomes. As the innovation hub for Project Drawdown, Drawdown Labs exists to experiment with new tactics, especially when so much is on the line. At Project Drawdown, we have considerable access to influential actors across the global economy, and we intend to use this access and network to the fullest extent possible.  We have climate solutions at our fingertips. We have key leverage points ready to be tapped. And in this critical moment, we can’t leave anything on the table. This article was originally published by MCJ Climate Voices and is being republished with permission.
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