Women might save the planet if you pay them, study says

When Beyoncé asked, “Who run the world?,” scientists might have been listening.

A new study appearing in Nature Climate Change this week reveals that having more women involved in land management would conserve more wildlife, reduce harmful greenhouse gasses and give more attention to social inequalities than the currently male-dominated field.

In short, women could actually help save the planet — especially if offered financial incentives to do so, according to researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who suggest a kind of gender-related affirmative action to ensure balance between men and women in government and environmental policy positions.

“When policymakers think about what to do to increase conservation around the world, gender quotas don’t even come up as a viable policy instrument,” senior study author and professor Kristen Andersson tells CU Boulder Today. “This study suggests they should.”

Their assessment involving 440 native forest dwellers from Indonesia, Peru and Tanzania confirms previous studies showing women care more about the environment and social justice than their male counterpart. Unfortunately, women are woefully underrepresented in a majority of governing bodies, researchers say.

Andersson and her team designed a game which asked participants to make decisions about how many trees to harvest from a “community forest.” Players were randomly put into groups — half of which were 50 percent women, while the rest had no gender quota. Players made a random selection of how many trees to cut down, knowing one tree harvested would earn them five tokens; one the other hand, a group could garner 160 tokens flat if they chose not to cut any.

Lead author and research fellow Nathan Cook says, “We found that the groups with the gender quota reduced their harvesting rate far more when the incentive was introduced and also distributed the payments for conserving more equally.”

Researchers note that the financial aspect of the game was key to their findings. Without reward, there was little difference between how the groups managed their trees.

In fact, programs known as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) are on the rise in densely forested developing countries, such as Ecuador, Costa Rica and Brazil. PESs in effect pay forest managers in these regions — which often exclude women — to not sell their natural resources. Governments gobally are also experimenting with gender quotas: Argentina, India and Rawanda reserve 30 percent of seats in locals legislatures.

“The big takeaway here is that when it comes to environmental conservation, the presence of women matters,” said Cook.

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