Cards on the table: I’m a woman. So the fact that climate change is posing a particularly acute threat to the entirety of womankind is one that I find slightly terrifying. What truly worries me though is that, like the whole smoking mass of mistakes that is man-made climate change, we can’t put the blame on nature. Kate Hawkes is a blogger and marketing assistant with Irish eco-business Celestial Green Ventures.
When I first came across the idea of a ‘gender-sensitive’ approach to climate change and its consequences, I admit that I came over pretty gender-sensitive myself. A ‘Discrimination!’ flag popped up somewhere in my head, and I was ready to go from zero to Ferociously Indignant in under seven seconds. ‘Gender is a human construct,’ I fumed – floods, droughts and food shortages don’t discriminate between young and old, rich and poor, and certainly not between men and women.
But then I found a statement from The Commission on the Status of Women in 2008, which agrees that ‘climate change is not a gender-neutral phenomenon’. A bit of digging uncovers research from respected global organisations like the United Nations and the Population Reference Bureau proving that, whilst the effects of rising temperatures are having devastating consequences for all humans, women are particularly vulnerable in everything from losing their livelihoods to losing their lives – and not for the reasons you might think.
Yes, basic differences in biology do have an effect on survival rates in climate-linked disasters. This is actually sometimes in favour of women, who, for example, can cope with food shortages better than men due to their higher body fat. Even so, more women are killed by natural disasters, and a 2006 study by London School of Economics suggests the real reason behind this disparity. The research, which took data from 4,605 natural disasters, found that where the population enjoyed equal rights for men and women in their everyday lives, the survival rate was roughly equal. However, where women experienced lower economic and social rights, more women than men were killed in disasters, and in many places across the globe it’s this situation that is the reality. Their social standing and cultural roles mean that women are put at a considerable and needless disadvantage when it comes to thriving or even surviving through the consequences of climate change.
According to the UN, women still ‘constitute the majority of the world’s poor’, making them likely to be affected particularly harshly by the economic fallout from climate change. In developing countries this is especially true, as women are ‘more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change.’ It’s also largely women who have the responsibility of fetching water and food for their families from already scant sources. You’d be mistaken in thinking this is limited to lower-income countries: when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005 it was women, mostly African-Americans, who were the hardest hit, as the most impoverished sector of the population.
As well as imbalanced access to resources, gender-unequal social standing can lead to limited mobility, and in the context of natural disasters this can be deadly. Responding to floods, cyclones and tsunamis needs immediate mobility, but cultural constraints on women’s movements could restrict their escape, their access to shelter or to healthcare. Whilst extreme weather events linked to climate change are out of human hands, these limiting factors are entirely the creation of them. “For example, women have physical limitations because of the clothes they wear or because in some cultures, girls are not taught how to swim,” reported Verona Collantes, Intergovernmental Specialist for UN Women at the 2015 Road to Sendai conference. Citing Collantes in a piece written earlier this year, climate campaigner Renee Juliene Karunungan explains that “for many affected by Typhoon Haiyan, simple decisions such as the freedom to decide when to evacuate could not be made without their husbands’ permission.” Particularly troubling is the observation that some women avoid using emergency shelters as it would leave them vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence. Spaces intended to offer safety are essentially out of bounds for women, and transformed into somewhere that seem to pose an even higher risk than the devastation outside.
The fact I found most shocking of all? A UN factsheet on climate change notes that ‘boys are likely to receive preferential treatment in rescue efforts’. I really want to believe that I’m misunderstanding the reality behind this statement – but I just don’t think I am. The word ‘preferential’ gives an unmistakeable message about the intentions of those rescuers. Maybe the theory is that boys have a better chance of actually surviving their rescue – but surely rescue should be about aiming to save everyone, not about picking and choosing.
The irony in this is that these same female social roles that are the source of vulnerability also put women in an ideal position to combat climate change. As the individuals in charge of household resources, they have the capacity to make a difference on the day-to-day emissions and environmental impact of families worldwide, and as primary care-givers they have the power to bring up an ethically responsible new generation. The majority of energy in developing nations still comes from biomass fuels like wood and charcoal, the management of which is the work of the women. In OECD countries, women are more likely to recycle and make more ethical consumer choices, and the International Labour Organisation reports that ‘women have a smaller carbon footprint than men due to different consumption patterns and lifestyle (…) regardless of whether they are rich or poor.’ Yet in many countries there are still gender differences in training and expectations, and therefore women are often not included in discussions on energy and climate change mitigation.
So, yes, I am frustrated and frightened by this partly because I am a woman. But those feelings are largely because, as a human, I resent the fact we’re putting up even more barriers to climate action than there needs to be. The current social limitations on women mean that a ‘gender sensitive’ response to climate change is clearly necessary, but surely the real solution would be to address the constructs that are causing these disparities, rather than embedding them in environmental policy. As a result, we’d also be opening up the climate discussion to a group of individuals that could have valuable knowledge, experience and influence on the topic, and as 50% of the world population that’s one statistic that certainly can’t be ignored.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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