How do we stop climate change? Educate a girl.

If I asked you to name one of the most effective ways to combat climate change, what would your answer be?

Installing solar panels on rooftops? Building wind turbines for energy generation? Driving electric cars?

How about educating girls?

That’s right. Educating girls.

Last year, a broad coalition of researchers, scientists, business leaders and policymakers came together for Project Drawdown: a multi-disciplinary effort to identify the most substantive solutions to not just halting global warming, but actually causing an annual decline – or “drawdown” – in the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

The team looked at dozens of methods of minimizing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and in the end, they drew up a list of 80 immediate and practical measures – along with 20 near-future concepts – that can keep CO2 out of the sky.

What they did, in other words, was rank the 100 most powerful solutions to reversing global warming.

Educating girls was number 6.

To put that in perspective: we’re all familiar with the arguments for solar energy and electric vehicles – both get plenty of media attention, and without question, both are effective mechanisms for fighting climate change and reducing CO2 emissions. So where do they rank on Drawdown’s list?

Rooftop solar panels are #10. Electric vehicles come in at #26.

Let me say it again: educating girls ranks at #6.

As Drawdown notes, and as I know well from my work as an educator in Afghanistan, an educated girl marries later and has fewer and healthier children. An educated girl lives longer and enjoys greater economic prosperity. An educated girl can be expected to direct a significant amount of her income back into her family. And perhaps most importantly in the context of global warming, an educated girl is equipped with the skills to withstand, and overcome, the shocks of extreme weather events and changing weather cycles.

Climate change affects us all, but it doesn’t affect us all equally. Researchers at the Brookings Institution have shown how, in times of extreme weather conditions such as drought, girls are particularly vulnerable to being pulled from school so they can help their families make ends meet – and this is happening right now in Afghanistan. These same researchers point out that girls who’ve had the opportunity to complete their schooling are able to leverage their knowledge and their leadership skills in ways that support their families during climate shocks – and this is also happening right now in Afghanistan.

Educating girls is one of the most cost-effective, high-impact ways for every nation on Earth to fight the rising temperatures and atmospheric changes that threaten us all. This is a simple and basic reality.

Why hasn’t more been said about this? Why hasn’t this been the topic of media coverage worldwide? Silence on this issue isn’t just negligent; it’s destructive to our girls, our societies, and our planet.

I want this silence to end, and I hope that you, the person reading these words, will help end it. Share this piece with your friends; talk about this issue with your colleagues. It’s up to us to bring attention and focus to the incredible environmental outcomes that all of us can share, once we commit to sending girls to school. 

When you educate a girl, you change the world – and I mean that literally.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh