Birth control and climate change

Expert urges voluntary family planning to mitigate climate change

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 15 June 2016

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod


With climate change already close to an irreversible tipping point, urgent action is needed to reduce not only our mean (carbon) footprints but also the actual number of feet on the planet, argues a leading physician and environmentalist in The BMJ.

Yet John Guillebaud, Emeritus Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health at University College London, says most climate change discussions focus only on technology and consumption.

28bn by 2100?

He points out that 45% of the world lives in areas where total fertility rates range from 2.1 to 5, and 9% where they exceed 5. In the 48 countries designated by the United Nations as least developed, the population is projected to triple by 2100.

The UN’s latest median world population projection of 11.2 billion by 2100 is predicated on continuing reductions in fertility rate, he adds. Without them, the figure will be closer to 28 billion by 2100.

A cost-effective strategy

Studies invariably show that family planning is highly cost effective compared with other emission abatement strategies, he explains.

For instance, simply by having one less child, an American woman would reduce her ‘carbon legacy’ (the summed emissions of herself and her descendants weighted by relatedness) by 9,441 tonnes, he writes. This is around 20-fold (10-fold in the United Kingdom) more than would be saved by other eco-actions.

John Guillebaud is calling on health professionals to ‘advocate for voluntary family planning’ and says ‘action on population growth as well as technology and consumption is essential to ensure that climate mayhem is both minimised and mitigated.’

Click here to read the full analysis, Voluntary family planning to minimise and mitigate climate change.

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