Thursday, September 16, 2010

Family Planning: The Cheapest Way To Prevent Climate Disaster?

(This post appeared in National Geographic News and it does touch on an issue that we discussed in class today. Hat tip to Sayed)

A sturdy condom could be humankind's best weapon to prevent a climate calamity, according to a cost-benefit analysis by British economists.

Contraception is almost five times cheaper than conventional green technologies as a means of combating climate change, the London School of Economics concluded after comparing all the alternatives to reducing future emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The simplest solution, in other words, is to cap human population growth.

The study looks only at the economic alternatives. The organizers of the research are fully aware of the controversial nature of the suggestion that the human population growth rate needs to be slowed, which is perhaps why they point out that that every additional person, "especially each rich person" in developed countries, reduces everyone's share of the planet's dwindling resources even further.

Distribution of resource-rich populations, as suggested by electricity consumption at night.

Image courtesy NASA

Each U.S. $7 spent on basic family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a tonne (2,200 pounds), said the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), a British think tank concerned with the impact of population growth on the environment. OPT commissioned the research from the London School of Economics.

"To achieve the same result with low-carbon technologies would cost a minimum of $32," OPT said in a statement."The UN estimates that 40 per cent of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended."

Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost

The report, "Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost," concludes that "considered purely as a method of reducing future CO2 emissions," family planning is more cost-effective than leading low-carbon technologies. It says family planning should be seen as one of the primary methods of emissions reduction.

Meeting basic family planning needs along the lines suggested would save more than billion tons of CO2 between now and 2050--equivalent to nearly six times the annual emissions of the U.S. and almost 60 times the UK's annual total, OPT said.

"It's always been obvious that total emissions depend on the number of emitters as well as their individual emissions--the carbon tonnage can't shoot down, as we want, while the population keeps shooting up."

Roger Martin, chair of OPT, said the findings vindicated OPT's stance that population growth must be included in the climate change debate. "It's always been obvious that total emissions depend on the number of emitters as well as their individual emissions--the carbon tonnage can't shoot down, as we want, while the population keeps shooting up," Martin said.

"The taboo on mentioning this fact has made the whole climate change debate so far somewhat unreal. Stabilizing population levels has always been essential ecologically, and this study shows it's economically sensible too.

"The population issue must now be added into the negotiations for the Copenhagen climate change summit in December.

"This part of the solution is so easy, and so cheap, and would bring so many other social and economic benefits, from health and education to the empowerment of women. It would also ease all the other environmental problems we face--the rapid shrinkage of soil, fresh water, forests, fisheries, wildlife and oil reserves and the looming food crisis."

All of these problems would be easier to solve with fewer people, and ultimately impossible to solve with ever more, Martin added.

"Meanwhile each additional person, especially each rich person in the OECD countries, reduces everyone's share of the planet's dwindling resources even faster.

"Non-coercive population policies are urgently needed in all countries. The taboo on discussing this is no longer defensible."

In this UN map of world contraceptive use in 2007, the scale ranges from pale yellow (less than 20 percent) to dark blue (75 percent or more).

The London School of Economics study, based on the principle that "fewer people will emit fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide," models the consequences of meeting all "unmet need" for family planning, defined as the number of women who wish to delay or terminate childbearing but who are not using contraception, OPT said.

"One recent estimate put this figure at 200 million. UN data suggest that meeting unmet need for family planning would reduce unintended births by 72 per cent, reducing projected world population in 2050 by half a billion to 8.64 billion. Between 2010 and 2050 12 billion fewer "people-years" would be lived - 326 billion against 338 billion under current projections."

The 34 gigatonnes of CO2 saved in this way would cost $220 billion--roughly $7 a tonne. However, the same CO2 saving would cost over $1 trillion if low-carbon technologies were used, OPT said. "The $7 cost of abating a tonne of CO2 using family planning compares with $24 for wind power, $51 for solar, $57-83 for coal plants with carbon capture and storage, $92 for plug-in hybrid vehicles and $131 for electric vehicles."

The study may understate the CO2 savings available because the estimates of unmet need are based on married women alone, yet some studies suggest up to 40 per cent of young unmarried women have had unwanted pregnancies, OPT added.

Said Martin, "The potential for tackling climate change by addressing population growth through better family planning, alongside the conventional approach, is clearly enormous and we shall be urging all those involved in the Copenhagen process to take it fully on board."

What do you think about this? Should the leaders meeting in Copenhagen have a serious discussion about addressing population growth through better family planning?


kdatino said...

I agree with this article because the more the population grows the more we eat into the amount of natural resources we have and of course they are not replaceable. I people did begin to family plan the population wouldn't increase. There is only a certain amount of people the earth can hold because of the amount of natural resources we carry are limited and we are abusing them.

Cody Clement-Sanders said...

In theory, there is a limit to how large our population can reach, but thanks to technology and synthetic resources, we are able to grow substantially larger than that limit. People would have to overcome certain hard-wired biological and evolutionary desires to reproduce and spread our genetic code. China implemented a strategy to try and curb this dilemma, but in doing so may have caused another social problem. The desire in most cultures to have a son is because of certain cultural beliefs of inheritance and lineage. There needs to be a change in these beliefs and certain laws regarding this in order to start making an impact, while at the same time curbing the reproduction rate globally. Sons and daughters, both carry the bloodline, and both should be entitled to the inheritance,(as well as adopted children) not just the sons, or in an even more classical sense, the eldest son.

Anonymous said...

Matt Shatel

Leaders should look into controlling population because WE are the cause of the abusing of natural resources and the rate at which we are going only soon will it hit us hard that we didnt take control when it was on the rise. Controlling population will help save resources and give us more time to think and create sufficient ideas to save the environment. - Matt

Anonymous said...

Derek Venezia

I agree with this article because almost every environmental issue society faces today stems from our overpopulation. In simplest terms, the greater the human population the greater strain we place on the Earths limited supply of resources. If potential parents did a better job planning families and used contraception effectively population growth would slow considerably. Introducing effective contraception to underdeveloped and poverty stricken countries would prove more effective as they tend to have the highest birth rates and population growth.

Sarah Dumont!! said...

First, I was a little surprised that this was published, but I am so happy that it was. I'm assuming that a good percentage of the readers of National Geographic did not appreciate this article, but the truth must be known, and spread. The simple fact ("Each U.S. $7 spent on basic family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a tonne (2,200 pounds)...To achieve the same result with low-carbon technologies would cost a minimum of $32") is simply astounding and the impact of this is just tremendous.
I now, as an older young women, understand a great deal more about our American culture as well as others around the globe. I have always respected other country's rules and regulations, as long as they did/do not infringe on basic human rights as in the document (U.N), and now I respect China's one child rule a great deal more (even though it is letting up). Although not all politicians have the countries they reside over best interests in mind, a lot of people did notice the high population and stood behind this law. When it's all said and done and the controversy aside, China has it right. I mean, I do not like to tell others what to do, but what's the point of having 12 children when they won't be able to survive in a horrendous environment filled with pollution and inadequate resources? It's ludicrous to believe technology will accomplish and defeat all odds.

Jeffrey Wolpert said...

I do agree that population growth is a huge contributor to environmental degradation, and reducing the population is necessary. However, the method to implement such change needs not be ethnocentric nor anthropocentric. For example, forcing a family in Ecuador that lives off of potatoes and local produce to downsize not only fails to understand their culture and work from within, but is completely hypocritical of Western countries that overtly consume processed/imported foods. Social change needs to come people and education, and not dictated by those who are not shining examples.

Ryan said...

Though there may be some places that more children means more workers for the farm, to take care of the other kids, etc. We don't live in a society like this anymore, so to see people in the U.S. with so many children is disappointing. I believe that the population has slowed somewhat over the last few years, due to what I am unaware, however as a country who wants to be number one in everything, I think there should be some incentives for couples to wait to have children or to stop them at 1 or 2 kids. The more people here the less there is for everyone. There aren't many good arguments to having loads of children and though it seems like a violation of "freedoms" it's just common sense and we can't implement anything more than incentives without people really causing a fuss.