Phoebe Barnard: Empowering Women’s Voices Through Girl Planet Earth

From an idea between two authors, Girl Planet Earth has developed into a platform for female empowerment. Phoebe Barnard explains it all to us.

Solutions to so many of the world’s problems start with just getting people to talk, believes Phoebe Barnard, PhD, co-founder of the Girl Planet Earth Platform.

In this piece, she speaks to Youth Time and elaborates more on this global platform for women and girls on population, consumption, planetary boundaries, and personal choice.

Girl Planet Earth started in late 2019 out of such a conversation with Dr. Chris Tucker, geographer and author of A Planet of Three Billion, after he read a paper Barnard co-authored, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency.

“It was co-signed by many thousands of scientists. Chris was excited that our paper had recommended stabilising world population through women’s and girls’ empowerment and education as one of six urgent areas of action,”, she says to start our interview. 

Maybe, she goes on, this is because she was the only woman co-author, and the only one who’d worked many years in developing countries.

“I liked the idea of ‘getting the conversation started’, and Chris and I started Girl Planet Earth,” she adds.   

As you will see by the end of this piece, Girl Planet and Barnard play an important part in making women’s voices be heard for population and overconsumption and how to address them for sustaining human, planetary, or economic health and wellbeing. 

So, let’s dig deeper and see how this works, and also to hear advice on how young people can challenge overconsumption and live a more sustainable and meaningful life.


Population, Consumption and Nature

For decades, people had stopped talking about population as a problem, and focused entirely on wasteful hyper-consumption of the wealthy, she says.

“Yes, that is a massive problem!” Barnard adds.

“But both are massive problems which need solving, together. So Girl Planet Earth–and our global women’s Facebook group, Population Conversations – is getting women and girls around the world talking again about population, consumption, the health of our planet, and choice.”

This helps women think about what their life’s purpose is; she believes.

“If they wish, it can help them shift the narrative of their lives away from marrying early and having babies to alternative (or supplementary) lives. 

“But Girl Planet and Population Conversations are both tolerant and diverse and lively spaces where women can talk about what’s on their minds.”

Much of the conversation is around culture, tradition, faith, the economy, family expectations, sexual politics, health, careers, and life challenges. 

For many women, Barnard says to our Youth Time Contributor, this is empowering, and helps them shape their lives and careers.

“It also helps them [women] to feel comfortable about choosing fewer children, or no children at all if they wish, or just to be among women where it’s okay to talk about these things.”


Exploring Potential Solutions for a Better Planet

Apart from the Girl Planet Earth platform, Barnard is working to implement urgent solutions in most of the six areas the World Scientists’ Warning paper recommended to humanity for urgent and focused action (energy, nature, pollutants, food systems, population stabilization and economic reform).

Phoebe Barnard Empowering Womens Voices Through Girl Planet Earth 1
Creating New Voices: Phoebe Barnard

In this part of the article, she talks about some of the key solutions to these far-reaching challenges, and also what’s the role of young women in creating a happier future.

Barnard is of the opinion that almost every problem we face can be solved, adapted to, or buffered by women (and like-minded men). 


According to her, some of the key solutions include:

  • decarbonizing our economy, transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewables.
  • re-framing our economy to a circular one, not a linear one, which emphasizes health, education, wellbeing, repurposing and reuse of materials, and basic security (food, water, housing, energy) and not just private profit and growth.
  • re-establishing a culture of sufficiency, not of material hyper-consumption.
  • making it okay, even far preferable to have small families, raised well, so that kids can live better, and our planet can recover a bit–so that total fertility rate averages 1.5 children per woman globally by 2030, or soon after.
  • re-localizing our future society, so that we rely on neighbours and local economies rather than importing our goods from across the world.
  • densifying our towns and cities, and re-using construction materials.
  • stopping land and habitat destruction, especially of forests and wetlands, and restoring and rewilding degraded habitats.
  • transitioning to regenerative agriculture to invest in, rather than depleting, soil.
  • extracting methane and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, both by natural solutions and innovative technologies.

All these solutions are possible, she adds.

“But time is running out very quickly. Resistance by vested interests will stop us unless we truly unite for positive change. 

“Surely everyone should want a healthy, sustainable population, more opportunities for women, and fewer children that are better fed, better educated, happier, healthier.”

This is not controversial, she goes on.


Solutions Being Led by Women

While there may be a few solutions to these situations, together with Barnard we emphasize those solutions that women can lead.

Her colleague and mentor, Fabian Dattner, has asked: what kind of leadership got us into this mess of planetary crises and inequality? – and what kind of leadership will take us forward into the future? 

Like Dattner, Barnard has been mentoring and coaching women across Africa and elsewhere in their professional and personal lives, and she sees so many solutions being led by women. 

“For example, look at all the great small and medium-sized governments led by talented women, most of them emphasizing alternative economic values: e.g. New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Germany, and many subnational governments like Scotland and Wales.”

As Youth Time is a magazine run by young people for young people, she concludes with her opinion on how youth can play their part in challenging or stopping overconsumption and live a more sustainable and meaningful lifestyle.

“Do not let older people brush you off,” she says firmly.

“Try to understand their attitudes (they have worked hard to earn their comforts), but show them how easy it can be to live modestly and without so much stuff. 

“Many people get old without ever challenging the lifestyles of their culture, or the lives that they have been “told” to have.”

On a cheerful note, she believes if youth have integrity, honesty, and purpose, they can persuade people of the transformative value of your life and lifestyle.   

She is thrilled to learn about Youth Time magazine work, and invites all women and girls to join in Population Conversations and contribute a short story to Girl Planet Earth.

A great way toward a more sustainable life is having a minimalist lifestyle. Luckily we got you covered:

Achieving Success Through Minimalism: An Interview with Andrew Rocha

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