What we do about climate change is the ultimate test. It is our biggest challenge and our greatest opportunity. There are lessons we are still learning.
You may wonder, what has girls’ education got to do with climate change? The answer is … everything.
We are at difficult crossroads as a society. We face many issues that are complex and interconnected. Our understanding of them is, at best, incomplete. To achieve long-lasting effects and meaningful progress, we can’t solve them in isolation. What we do about climate change is the ultimate test. It is not only our biggest challenge but also our greatest opportunity.
Our progress as an industrialized society comes at a cost and that cost isn’t distributed equally. It exposes many issues with our current reality, often with a disproportionate impact on some communities. We already experience the result of our impact on nature: more frequent natural disasters, melting glaciers, pollution, extinct species.
We struggle with systemic inequality and discrimination based on gender, race, and religion. At first, these look like two different kinds of problems, but they are very much interconnected.
To solve climate change, we need the whole of humanity.
Climate change is an open-ended problem. There is more than one way to go forward. It is hard to agree on what to take into account and leave out. It is even harder to ensure that everyone who is impacted has a say. Inclusion is a huge and complex task.
A sustainable and green future is based on a fully inclusive STEM world. It is a world of advanced skills and a blend of science and creativity, where everyone can contribute. The shift to a planet-centered design is a radical attempt to restore balance with nature. Rightfully so. It is our only hope for the future. Because what we do now will impact the future. There are few things we can do to make sure we stay on the right path.
#1. We should choose a systemic view.
The way we frame problems determines what we see and how we act. There are intricate webs of connections and relationships that impact everything. Improving the performance of some parts won’t necessarily improve the performance of the whole. Because when we look at only one part of the problem in isolation, we may address a symptom (perceived as an isolated problem) while not solving the root cause.
Russell Ackoff, an organizational theorist, said, “when we reduce the system to a problem, it reduces its essential properties. We lose the essential properties of reality and the properties of the parts.”
“A problem is to reality what an atom is to a table.” Russell Ackoff
It is easy to fall into the problem trap. In the case of climate change, the fight should not only be about fighting the symptoms of environmental change in a reactive manner. This work is important, but we must focus on the bigger picture. We won’t solve climate change unless we fight inequality. A good place to start is education and learning. There is a lot of work we must still do to build an inclusive STEM world.
#2. Beware of oversimplification.
We achieved major discoveries in science thanks to reductionism, and as such, it has a place in the toolbox. But it comes at a cost: simplification can be subjective. We must learn to balance scale well.
The volcano eruption in Iceland in 2010 was a local event with global repercussions. It was both a natural and human-made disaster, a climate change at play. It did more than strand passengers for days, waiting for the air space to open. Nissan production lines in Japan shut down, unable to import parts from Ireland. Kenya’s downstream economy lost £2.8 billion due to canceled flights to Europe. One single event had a powerful impact that spread across the world.
Climate change models should be done at different scales by asking all relevant questions. If we can assess the impact of current inequality well, it can justify resources to programs on girls’ education that otherwise may not tap into climate change funds.
#3. The worst thing we can do to a problem is to solve it.
Often, when we solve one problem, we create new ones. Instead, our aim should be to learn in the process as much as possible. We need an environment to allow everybody to participate equally.
August Busch III, CEO of the Anheuser Busch Companies, once said, “If you didn’t make a serious mistake last year, you probably didn’t do your job, because you didn’t try anything new. There is nothing wrong in making a mistake, but if you ever make the same mistake twice, you probably won’t be here the next year.” He was right. Mistakes are good as long as we learn from them.
By now, we have a big knowledge pool from all the mistakes we made in solving climate change. Let’s hope we can extract valuable lessons from it. If not, then we should be fired. The planet is watching, and so is every girl.
#4. We need radical ideas.
“Most of what will be important in the future is outside our knowledge; it exists only in the future. The direct approach demands a capacity for prediction that we can never possess.” John Kay
When we approach the problem from the point of improvement, we limit the scope of what we can do. We treat the parts, but we don’t improve the whole. Incremental development doesn’t work as well as intended. What can we do instead? We can ask a different question: what will a green world look like if we build it from scratch?
The story of Bell Labs in the 80s can be an inspiration. It was a radical approach to a big problem: how to revolutionize communications. One day, the Vice President in charge gathered all the section heads to announce two major news:
- “The phone system of the United States is dead.”
- “You better believe. Because if you don’t by noon, you are fired.”
The team was tasked to design the network from scratch as an idealized design with one condition – it had to feasible to implement within one year. The outcome was extraordinary: the team reimagined modern communications, the mobile, and so much more. Idealized design works.
#5. An indirect approach may work better.
The economist John Kay was right when he said that “we rarely know enough about the intricacies of problems to tackle them successfully head-on.”
He showed that we could be more effective in achieving our goals if we think differently. Obliquity makes us take a step backward to move forward. Climate change is a complex objective with many parts that are not compatible with each other. Oblique approaches are critical to iterate and find what works through adaptation.
A greener world may lead to unintended consequences. It poses a real threat that can marginalize girls and women further. A lack of investment in STEM education will only make the gap that already exists even bigger. Girls will be more vulnerable, many exposed to poverty and forced into early marriage. We must put all effort into providing girls with green skills to create new opportunities for the future. If a greener future brings more inequality, it will be a terrible outcome for everyone.
“It is critical that human rights are always centered, that gender equality is the aim, and that benefits to the planet are understood as positive ripple effects of access and agency.” Project Drawdown
According to Project Drawdown, investment in girls’ education can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 85 gigatons just within 2020-2050. It is expected that the compounding impact on climate will be greater in the future.
The impact of inclusion on climate change is real. It is up to us to do something about it.