The connection between birth control and human impact on our planet’s resources is a complex issue…where do you file it? Under Women’s Issues? Human rights? Economic justice? Yes, yes, yes, and also under: Climate Change. An editorial in the prestigious medical journal Lancet has called attention to the links between population growth and the negative consequences of climate change, including access to food and water, environmental degradation, and mass refugee migration.
The inter-relatedness of climate change and human rights is not a new idea. A 1994 conference in Cairo linked progress on universal education and reproductive health care as the best way to achieve sustainable (i.e., best for planet and people now and in the future) development. While there have been some successes, the progress is inadequate and the situation is dire.
The editorial blames a lack of resources and political will for the slow progress, but also points to the issue that prevents so much movement, even among the well-intentioned: thinking in silos. It is natural but dangerous when the health community focuses on disease and the environmentalists focus on carbon and the politicians focus on, well, whatever politicians focus on. This siloed thinking leads to unintended consequences and reliance on single-sector solutions which make a complex issue even worse.
Climate change is not a simple problem. It cannot be solved with money or technology or declarations: all of these factors, along with a commitment to behavior change, are essential. Climate change can only be mitigated and adapted to, using all the resources at hand and a broad-based acceptance that we will be testing, examining and re-adapting to ensure our survival and that of the planet as we know it.
The editorial concludes with a call to the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen as an opportunity to highlight the centrality of women to planetary health. It calls for the health community to “challenge the global architecture of climate change, and its technology focus, and shift the discussion to a more human-based, rights-based adaptation approach.” The climate change talks may well focus on thinking in silos, in an attempt to break down the complex problem into manageable bits to solve.
Global warming has come about, in large part, because we humans have been divorcing ourselves from the planet’s complex system, operating as if we were not part of a huge, interconnected network of earth, air, water, soil and creatures. Let the global public demand a holistic and woman-centric approach to mitigating the challenges of climate change.
Photo by Meanest Indian via Flickr, under Creative Commons license