Empowerment of women worldwide key to achieving competing goals of food sufficiency and biodiversity protection

April 20, 2017, Virginia Tech
Eileen Crist, associate professor at Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the lead author of the review paper. Credit: Virginia Tech

Is feeding the world's human population compatible with protecting the biological diversity of the planet?

In an article published in this week's Science, an interdisciplinary team of experts argue that both of those goals can be achieved by increasing women's access to education, reproductive health services, and contraceptive technologies.

In a special issue on Earth's ecosystem, the authors explore the interplay between the world's burgeoning and the dramatic loss of other species.

"It's the food. Follow the food and then you'll know why the planet's diversity of life is in trouble," said Eileen Crist, an associate professor of science and technology in society in Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the lead author of the review paper. "We're causing a mass extinction, and agriculture is arguably the primary driver of those losses."

Between 1970 and 2010, the world lost more than half its wild animals, according to a World Wildlife Fund report. Among the disappearances were an estimated 39 percent of terrestrial wildlife, 39 percent of marine wildlife, and 76 percent of freshwater wildlife.

These devastating losses, tied to efforts to feed an increasingly crowded world, are only expected to deepen. The United Nations estimates that the human , now at 7.5 billion, will reach more than 9 billion by mid-century and 11 billion by the end of the century. Those numbers, especially in concert with growing levels of affluence, will exert increasing pressure on Earth's remaining biodiversity.

"In order to feed everyone, we're going to have to double or even triple our agricultural yield by the end of the century," Crist said. "But we've already taken up the most lush, arable land for cultivation, and we've squeezed wild nature into increasingly narrow pockets around the world. How can we make more food without destroying more nature?"

In an effort to solve this issue, agricultural experts are pursuing "sustainable intensification," which aims to increase food production without additional biodiversity declines or more natural areas coming under cultivation. Yet Crist and her coauthors argue that while these critical measures are needed they are not likely, by themselves, to succeed.

"It's important to work on the supply side, but, in parallel, we need to work on lowering the demand side," Crist said. "Without concerted attention to stabilizing and gradually reducing the global population, nature will continue to take the fall."

The authors contend that achieving a sustainable world—one that provides an equitable, high quality of life for all people while safeguarding the planet's biodiversity—calls for bringing to the forefront of international concerns. The authors believe policy discussions on population levels have been muted in the past few decades in part because of discomfort around global imbalances. High-income countries, which account for a disproportionate use of resources, are more likely to have stable or even declining populations, while low-income countries have growing populations.

Yet excessive consumption of resources is no longer the sole province of the developed world, the authors write. Instead, the global middle class of 3.2 billion in 2016 is expected to rise to roughly 5 billion by 2030. Forty percent of India's population is predicted to join the ranks of the middle class by midcentury, adding almost half a billion consumers to the global economy—up from 50 million in 2006—from one nation alone.

"A key solution to unsustainable population growth is the empowerment of women," Crist said. "By enhancing their human rights, giving them and their partners access to reproductive health services and contraceptive technologies, and improving their educational attainment, we can help address this planetary crisis."

Education of girls and women has been shown to have a direct correlation in slowing childbearing rates.

"Wherever women are empowered educationally, culturally, economically, politically, and legally, fertility rates fall," the authors write. "Populations tend to move toward states of zero or negative growth when women achieve equal standing with men, as long as family planning services and contraceptives are readily available."

Crist's coauthors are Camilo Mora, an assistant professor and marine biodiversity specialist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Robert Engelman, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, a globally focused environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C.

"The human population is not the only variable stressing Earth," the authors conclude. "But it is a powerful force that is also eminently amenable to change, if the international political will can be mustered."

Explore further: Sustainable Development Goals lead to lower population growth

More information: "The interaction of human population, food production, and biodiversity protection," Science (2017). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aal2011

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1 / 5 (5) Apr 21, 2017
In other words, President Trump needs to restore federal funding for abortions in third world countries and the earth will be saved.

What nonsense. This article is unworthy of being published. It isn't science. It is politics.
3 / 5 (8) Apr 21, 2017
In other words, President Trump needs to restore federal funding for abortions in third world countries and the earth will be saved.

What nonsense. This article is unworthy of being published. It isn't science. It is politics.

The only nonsense and politics on display here is your ludicrous comment.
1 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2017
Seems to me "food self sufficiency and biodiversity" are marks of free countries, which also correlate with "increasing women's access to education, reproductive health services, and contraceptive technologies." Just look at the US as compared to most of the world. Or look at Venezuela, a socialist paradise, where people wait in line for food if anyone has any, or they get mad and find the line to complain about the lack of food, birth control pills, antibiotics and just about anything, is even longer. Free markets, rather than government controlled markets, are what yield prosperity.

It's seems short sighted that the authors focus in on "increasing women's access to education, reproductive health services, and contraceptive technologies" rather than the bigger picture.

It's freedom that yields prosperity, cleaner environments, and more biodiversity.

3 / 5 (6) Apr 22, 2017
In the real world actual solutions to problems are executed one step at a time. The scientists publishing in the journal _Science_ are explaining an essential piece of real world solution.

Women without access to education, reproductive health services and contracteptive technologies are not free. Women are the majority of people. You are arguing that we should not focus on fundamental freedoms of the majority of people because it's "short sighted".

Seems to me

3 / 5 (6) Apr 22, 2017
No, those are your words. Purely political words unworthy of being published on this science site.

The editors of the top-notch scientific journal _Science_ are qualified to determine that the article is science. You are not qualified to post in a public discussion group.

In other words

3 / 5 (6) Apr 23, 2017
It's freedom that yields prosperity, cleaner environments, and more biodiversity.

Is that so? Taking the example of the US:

1. Prosperity: "America's leading companies are thriving today, as are the individuals who run them and invest in them. Unfortunately, only a small portion of U.S. citizens are sharing in the resulting prosperity. Working- and middle-class Americans are struggling on average, as are many small businesses.

"The 2015 survey of Harvard Business School (HBS) alumni on U.S. Competitiveness sheds light on the economy's failure to generate shared prosperity...

"...Respondents also tell us that under current policies and institutions, they expect inequality, poverty, and related economic outcomes to worsen in America. They do not expect these challenges to resolve themselves."

3 / 5 (6) Apr 23, 2017
2. Cleaner Environments: "With a single executive order issued at the end of March, the Trump administration launched a robust effort to roll back Obama-era climate policies designed to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions...

"Private and public-sector investors may see the executive order as a green light to double down on relatively cheap fossil fuels and reduce holdings in more costly, climate-friendly, non-carbon generation technologies such as wind, solar and nuclear."
3 / 5 (6) Apr 23, 2017
3. Biodiversity: "Based on analyses of the nation's best-studied groups of plants and animals—including birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and vascular plants—scientists at NatureServe estimate that about a third of all U.S. species are at risk of extinction."

Perhaps you should free your mind to engage in some research on the points you are asserting rather than relying on an "it seems to me" approach to facts.
1 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2017
Empowerment of women will save the world? Murdering their progeny will solve all problems? Please. If that was the case one could say that Tut Tu's were saving the world by murdering their neighbors, the ''one child'' laws of China, the purges of ISIS, the genocide of Pol Pot, Stalin and the genocide perpetrated by Hitler are equivalent also contributed to saving the World. Utter Nonsense. Another Margaret Sanger..........convince the ''human weeds'' that everyone else is a human weed and ask them to kill their children. Personally, I'd rather starve.
5 / 5 (4) Apr 25, 2017
"Education of girls and women has been shown to have a direct correlation in slowing childbearing rates."

-Women already know intrinsically that the older they get, the more dangerous bearing children becomes. They also know that bearing too many children endangers the survival of any of them to reproductive age.

Therefore women, when given the chance, will naturally seek to limit the number of children they will bear. What they need is the kind of education that teaches them how to resist those religions which want to force them to reproduce until it kills them.

They are already well-educated on how god put them here on this earth to make babies and nothing else, and so are their husbands. Their religions have survived expressly because they were better at growing faster than the competition.
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 25, 2017
Murdering their progeny will solve all problems?

What the ...? Where in the article is genocide, purges or the murdering of children mentioned? Nowhere! The article refers to "access to reproductive health services and contraceptive technologies". The authors advocate "stabilizing and gradually reducing the global population", not through mass murder but by empowering women educationally, financially and politically. In developed countries where women are empowered, because of the resultant lower birth rates the population growth due to childbirth is in the negative. Extending that trend to developing countries will result in a gradual reduction of the global population. It is the only ethical solution to the human overpopulation issue.
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 25, 2017
The women ruled by China, Islamic State, Pol Pot, Stalin and Hitler have been among the least free people in the world.

Nobody but you said "save the world". Classic rightwing hyperbolic strawman, changing something like "food sufficiency and biodiversity protection" to an unachievable extreme. Because all you fetus worshipper rightwingers know is extremism and failure to do solve anything.

Just because "one can say" something doesn't mean you *should* say it, when it's nothing but propaganda nonsense. I'm taking you up on your offer to starve, while we work with women to become more free without you.


3 / 5 (2) May 17, 2017
You're a psychopath. Darwinian luck would see you stabbed into personal extinction by a woman after you provoke a "domestic violence issue", but more likely no woman would ever let you get into any domestic position with her.

Lex Talonis
Women breed like rabbits.

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