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Why Paul Hawken's Drawdown offers no help for climate change--especially for women and girls

Sandra Lindberg

This post is in response to a member of this list who asked us to consider Hawken's book.

Over half of the planet's human population is female. Paul Hawken's Drawdown (New York: Penguin, 2017), purportedly designed to offer "the most comprehensive plan" to address climate change, offers just 3.5 pages of text designed to "help" women and girls. The rest of "Women and Girls" holds large, 3-color photos of a gentle looking indigenous woman, a newborn infant and smiling girl students in a Kenyan school (and, on the last page, a small photo of education activist Malala Yousafzai, though she is not listed as a contributing scholar to the book). All the photos make women and girls look quite harmless. Fragile, even.

Suggestions offered in "Women and Girls" argue that re-naming what women do (i.e. call them "farmers" rather than "farm helpers") and make sure they go into debt by taking out micro-loans will solve a lot of women's problems. Laced through the pages the writer's suggestions propose women simply need access to education, training and assistance in order to enjoy improved lives. Though the exact nature of this assistance is not specified, the implications are that the male patriarchal Western capitalist system holds the answers women need.

Nowhere does "Women and Girls" acknowledge that the West, or men, need to learn from women who are already successfully producing 60 to 80% of agricultural crops consumed by humans--in spite of the heavy burdens patriarchy saddles them with. Hawken acknowledges the women's ability to grow all this food (page 76) but then seems to suggest they need to do an even better job.

Nowhere does Hawken even entertain the idea that women will be consulted, their opinions about what they need and want identified, before Western patriarchy lands on their doorsteps to make their lives better.

Contrast Hawken's "Women and Girls" with Vandana Shiva's writing in Soil Not Oil about women and children and food:

To mitigate and adapt to climate change we need to stop the assault on small farmers and indigenous communities, to defend their rights to their land and territory (note: Hawken suggests the women should be encouraged to develop supposedly efficient "collective farms"), to see them not as remnants of our past but as the path for our future. Earth Democracy begins and ends with Gaia's laws--the law of renewability, the law of conservation, the law of entropy, the law of diversity. In Earth Democracy, all beings and all peoples are equal, and all beings and all communities have rights to the resources of the earth for their sustenance.

In Earth Democracy, the solution to the climate crisis begins with the cultures and communities who have not contributed to it.

(Vandana Shiva, Soil Not Oil, Berkeley Ca, North Atlantic Books, 2016, pg. 44)
If "Women and Girls" is indicative of Hawken's solutions, anything he succeeds in promoting will worsen our current climate change problems. Unfortunately, Drawdown is both misguided and evidence of the old thinking that threatens us all.


Hawken's treatment of "women and girls" is one side of a larger problem with his program, I think. He doesn't really offer any solutions at all, just ideas about what should be different. This is because he's explicitly apolitical; he thinks all of these things that need to change will change if enough people believe in them. This means that he doesn't understand (or doesn't want to understand) the role that patriarchy plays in the oppression of women and girls, as you say, Sandra. To change that would involve a lot more than the tweaks he proposes.