Combating Climate Change with Condoms
September 17, 2009 By Meaghan Parker
Mountains of reports and studies have proposed expensive technological responses to climate change. But the scientists and policymakers working to protect the planet may have overlooked one of the easiest, cheapest ways to reduce carbon emissions: contraception. A recent study commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust estimates contraception would be almost five times cheaper than conventional green technologies. “Each $7 spent on basic family planning would reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton,” researchers conclude, while low-carbon technologies would add an extra $25 per ton. Slowing population growth could not only cut emissions, but also help poor families in vulnerable areas adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as land degradation, drought, and loss of food security. However, while governments of the poorest countries often cite population growth as a factor in environmental catastrophes, few address family planning as part of their adaptation strategies, IPS reports from a recent NGO forum in Berlin. Enabling women to plan their families is not only climate-friendly, it’s also right. Currently, more than 100 million women worldwide want—and can’t get—modern methods of family planning. Better reproductive health care is “an end in itself,” with climate mitigation being the “side effect,” rather than the primary goal, Barbara Crossette writes in The Nation. While many policymakers shy away from getting population in their environment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said, “It’s rather odd to talk about climate change and what we must do to stop and prevent the ill effects without talking about population and family planning.” At the Berlin forum, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark linked the goals of education, equality, and environmental sustainability in a “virtuous cycle.” As the world’s largest per-capita emitter, the United States has a special obligation to examine its growth and consumption patterns. While the lives of Bangladesh’s 140 million people are acutely threatened by climate change, each new U.S. child and its descendants will be responsible for 160 times the carbon emissions of a Bangladeshi infant according to Oregon State University researchers writing in Global Environmental Change. Unfortunately, condoms are unlikely to become heroes at Copenhagen. Some populous developing countries like India object to bringing population into the climate change debate without more focus on reducing consumption in developed countries. The Washington Post called the connection “unpopular,” and compared its odds to another “long shot”: geoengineering. Anti-contraceptive groups, development “silos,” sexism, and old-fashioned squeamishness are also formidable barriers to an open and nuanced discussion of how family planning can contribute to mitigation and adaptation. Too bad, because as Suzanne Petroni writes in the latest issue of the , “A careful discussion of the ways in which Environmental Change and Security Program Report voluntary family planning can further individual rights, community development, and, to some extent, climate change mitigation, could increase awareness not only of the outsized contribution of developed nations to global emissions, but also of their appropriate role in the global community.” A shorter version of this post will appear in the October issue of Centerpoint . Photo courtesy Flickr user OsakaSteve.