It shouldn’t have taken a scientific study to prove that our species has a much better shot at survival if we use our full leadership capacity by finally and fully granting equal rights to women. The study summarizes the problem as follows:
The key drivers of collapse, according to Stanford biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, are overpopulation and overconsumption by the wealthy. The side effects of the very practices that have allowed humans to prosper have combined to put incredible strain on the planet’s natural systems, and that threatens to negatively impact future generations.
Studies of the planet’s ecological footprint suggest that sustaining today’s 7 billion people at current standards will require roughly an additional half planet of resources (or, four to five more Earths if all citizens of the planet were to consume at the level of the United States).
The human population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by the middle of this century. Such growth compounds the consumption problem, because each person added to the planet requires a greater allotment of natural resources than the person who came before. This non-linear trend traces to the start of human civilization: As populations grew from soil-rich river valleys, humans were forced to farm more marginal land, and required more resources – land, fertilizer, energy, etc. – to produce the same quantities of food.
“The next 2.5 billion people will do much more damage than the 2.5 billion added since the 1970s,” said Paul Ehrlich, a professor of biology and president of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology, “because people use the richest, most easily extracted resources first.”
There are hopeful signs that technological efforts – such as improving agricultural practices, replacing fossil fuels with innovative energy solutions and reducing greenhouse emissions – could meet the demands of future generations, Ehrlich said, “but you can’t save the world on hope alone.”
Feminists have long claimed that abuse of the earth follows from the patriarchal mindset of conquest and control. Rather than pretending our planet can infinitely continue to make room for more and more people, the authors suggest that adding the brain power of women will instantly double our problem solving capacity. They also point out that, when women are in control of their own lives, birth rates drop. At the very least the study may open a much needed window into the role that patriarchy plays in keeping us from dealing with global climate change:
“One of the saddest things is that the scientific community has described, in detail, the environmental factors leading to the collapse for quite some time, but society has not reacted,” Ehrlich said. “After all, the U.S. just had a presidential election in which the crucial issues facing society were not debated. Instead the focus was on financial problems easily solved by negotiation among people. You can’t negotiate with nature.”