“S” and “G” won’t matter if we don’t save the world
If you missed Part 1 in this series, where we discuss the climate crisis’s disproportionately negative effects on women and girls, you can read it here: Even the S in “ESG” is an E
“We could see increased tensions and conflict as a result of pressure on scarce resources. But that doesn’t have to be the future. While internal climate migration is becoming a reality, it won’t be a crisis if we plan for it now” reports Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration team lead, Kanta Kumari Rigaud.
With severe weather conditions dramatically increasing and precious resource quality and supply rapidly declining, it is more important than ever to bring about innovative solutions which protect our most vulnerable populations—in particular, women and children. To best do this, we must point every dollar at creating and scaling solutions to the climate crisis and resource degradation.
Climate change is a threat multiplier exacerbating many pre-existing risks— including limiting supplies of usable natural resources and systemic inequalities between demographic groups. I posit that the most effective system-level solution we can institute to protect women from the effects of climate change is to end the climate crisis’s biggest cause: extracting and burning fossil fuels.
The obvious means of quickly transitioning away from a power grid-fueled by oil, gas, and coal is building the infrastructure to efficiently harness the natural power of our most abundant resources: the wind and sun.
Wind power has been the cheapest source of energy for years— costing only half of what natural gas cost back in 2017—and is materially cheaper today at between $0.030 and $0.099/kWh, unsubsidized. Solar power has surpassed wind as the cheapest source of energy, and given the technology and scale cost curves behind its production, will only continue getting cheaper.
Wind and solar power create energy in a way that does not contribute to the climate crisis, and because both are the cheapest forms of electricity, they help fight widening inequality. With cheaper electricity, low-income communities are better able to keep the lights on at night. They can use electric-powered stoves that are cleaner, safer, and cheaper to operate, rather than the gas, wood, or coal-burning options so widely in use today. Importantly, by spending less on power, they can divert that income toward food and educational needs.
Many of these remedies rely on distributed, as opposed to utility, solar generating capacity, either on the dwelling or in the community. If we invest heavily in renewable energy sources, we protect against material worsening of the climate crisis and related extreme weather events. This in turn reduces the impact of those burdens on women, and unlocks new economic opportunities for everyone.
While it is evident that extracting and burning fossil fuels effects the air we breathe and impacts the climate crisis in general, it is also an immediate and sizable pollutant to clean water supplies around the globe. Whether dealing with fracking in Colorado, drilling for oil in Alaska, pulling an oil tanker into a port in the Gulf of Mexico, or transporting gas through a pipeline stretching across a substantial portion of a country, everything related to drilling, extracting, transporting, and utilizing fossil fuels is extremely harmful to water supplies. Long term, sustainable protection of the world’s water means dramatically transforming the global energy infrastructure into one powered entirely by renewables.
Water infrastructure around the world is outdated and disintegrating. To resolve this issue, we must invest in the technology needed to accurately measure where water exists, and where it is needed. Along the way, water must be routed through modern pipes that are contaminant free and created by recycling previously used or extracted materials. Further, investing in the construction of desalination plants powered by solar energy will address the need for larger fresh water supplies in areas chronically plagued by drought.
The many pollutants prevalent in our water supplies is another issue. Second to fossil fuels production, farming practices that rely on harmful herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals are the biggest threat to this valuable resource. Utilizing new practices like vertical and other forms of indoor farming, as well as old practices like organic farming will diminish this risk.
As examined in Part 1, lack of access to clean water supplies is especially harmful to the female half of the global population. Improving women’s quality of life means reevaluating and investing in the means to improve water quality, in addition to how and where water is created, used, and transported.
Sustainable, Inclusive Agriculture
Along with water issues, we have explored the significant gender-specific effects of the reduction of soil quality, loss of topsoil, loss of biodiversity from over-utilizing harmful chemicals, and lopsided decision-making that exists throughout most global food production systems. To address these issues and substantially improve the lives of women and other vulnerable groups, we must proactively invest in their resolution.
Compelling solutions include shifting to natural and organic global food systems and investing in chain-of-custody tracking systems to ensure transparent and ethical agricultural practices. Employing such systems would radically reduce all too frequent food safety outbreaks, illnesses, and recalls. Further, by using current Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, autonomous processes which once required 60 people could be monitored by just one—making natural and organic foods cheaper and more accessible to everyone.
Another interesting solution is investing in indoor farming infrastructure. No chemicals are utilized because pests and weeds are kept at bay via physical walls and other safeguards. Crops can be grown year-round, and are protected from extreme weather events that would decimate outdoor crops. Indoor farmers can produce significantly more food per acre than traditional farming because produce can be grown both at an angle and vertically. Ninety five percent less water is required than outdoor farming, and there is no need for top soil. What’s more, indoor farms can be efficiently located near population centers and in areas that are too hot or drought-stricken for outdoor farming, reducing the need to transport food over large distances. Since transportation fees constitute a large portion of food prices, reducing that cost expands the portion of the population able to buy and eat ample supplies of nutritious foods.
Indoor farming can also easily be supported by—thereby increasing the benefits from—logical investments in other items like rooftop solar panels, high-efficiency grow lights, and drip irrigation systems.
Female-led Adaptation Projects & Organizations
In most countries, climate measures supported by public finance do not adequately prioritize women.
Secretary General Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro summarized the findings of a 2020 CARE International report this way: “This report shows us that climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities, with women displaced on the frontlines of its impacts bearing the heaviest consequences.” In order to institute change, we must set and meet or exceed targets to invest in female-led organizations and climate risk mitigation and adaptation projects. Why? “CARE’s experience tells us that when women lead in crises, entire communities benefit, and more effective and sustainable solutions are found,” said Sineiro.
Access to Information
Given the continual threats to daily life caused by the climate crisis, it is especially important to equip vulnerable groups with access to information. That information may come in the form of cheap smart phones and no-cost internet access allowing rural farmers to understand weather patterns or anticipate approaching storms. It may mean accessing water quality or food safety data before serving food and beverages to children or consuming them oneself—especially while displaced by an extreme weather event. Or it may simply mean access to others around the world who have knowledge regarding more resilient farming, building, or energy production practices. Whatever the scenario, giving females access to cheaper, faster, and more accurate information increases their ability to thrive.
When society acts on climate change, communities benefit from clean air and water, resilient cities, sustainable food and agriculture systems, and greater equality. Those most disproportionally harmed by the effects of the climate crisis and resource scarcity—women and children—are major beneficiaries. Because investing in innovative solutions to the climate crisis helps women especially, it is the ultimate gender-lens strategy.
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