A Stanford biology couple is offering an interesting and controversial theory on how ensuring the equal rights for women is a critical first step to avoiding civilization's collapse.
And by giving women such equality, Anne and Paul Ehrlich assert, studies have shown that they have fewer children, which ends up putting less of a strain on the world's straining resources.
The Erlichs' findings were published online Jan. 8 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Britain's Prince Charles, a vocal environmentalist who has been outspoken about the dangers of climate change, commended the Ehrlichs' report, according to Stanford.
"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 of Wales wrote on his website. "The services provided by Nature underpin all global economic development. … We do, in fact, have all the tools, assets and knowledge to avoid the collapse of which this report warns, but only if we act decisively now. … The alternative hardly bears thinking about."
At least one Stanford student applauded the idea of equal rights for women. But PhD biologist student Saumya Sankaran stopped short of saying that women having equal rights would lend itself to less babies in the world.
Still, the Erlichs stand by their research.
The human population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by the middle of this century.
Such growth compounds the consumption problem, the Erlichs say, because each person added to the planet requires a greater allotment of natural resources than the person who came before.
"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 added, "but you can't save the world on hope alone."
Rather than working to make the planet hospitable for 9.6 billion people, the authors suggest that scientists focus on how to humanely lower birth rates far enough to reduce that number to 8.6 billion, and then moderating consumption to fit within Earth's carrying capacity.
"Anything less is threatening the lives of our grandchildren," Ehrlich said.
The single best step toward avoiding a collapse, Ehrlich said, is to give total equality to women around the world. "This will allow us to include more of their brainpower to help solve these problems," he said. "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."