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Population Control, Contraception, And Climate Change

This year the topic of Blog Action Day is climate change, so I have decided to briefly mention the link between population control/contraception and climate.  This connection is finally getting attention again.  It was discussed when I was in college in the 70’s but became a political hot potato when China limited the number of children their citizens could legally have.

My roommate in college, KB, was an environmental science major.  She and I had many discussions (arguments) over how many children a family should have.  My mother had 8 children.  I also had two half-siblings from my father’s first marriage and 5 step-siblings.  She came from a family of 2 children.

At the time, I voiced the desire to have 4 children.  She thought I was being irresponsible in not limiting the number of children I had to 2 children —  one to replace myself, one to replace my husband (as yet not meet).

As it turned out, she had 3 children and I had none.  I’m not sure if hers was by choice (if she changed her mind) or not.  Mine was not, it just wasn’t meant to be, but maybe we ended up balancing each other out.

Last month, world leaders meeting at the United Nations and later in Pittsburgh included world population in their discussions on climate control.  I don’t think it would be necessary to mandate population control.  We could do more to help prevent the unwanted pregnancies by making contraception more available.

The report, “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost,” (PDF) determined that if contraception was made widely available between 2010 and 2050 to women and men around the world who wished to use it, the reduction in unwanted births could result in saving 34 gigatonnes (one billion tonnes) of carbon emissions. That’s roughly 60 years worth of U.K. emissions or 6 years worth of U.S. emissions.

Population growth is linked to changes in food and water supply and housing. Rapid increases in population growth is most likely to have negative effects – increasing food and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and human displacement.

There are more than 200 million women throughout the world who want, but lack access to modern contraceptives. This lack of contraceptive availability results in an estimated 76 million unintended pregnancies each year. This increase puts strain on regional environmental resources (water, food, housing) with increased disease if those resources aren’t sufficient.

The Lancet editorial discusses the need for better contraception available to women around the world. “It is disappointing to see that there are still tensions between the population and some of the sexual and reproductive health and rights community.”

The editorial points out a case study from Ethiopia that trained people in sustainable land management practices, while increasing availability of family planning. The area saw an immediate improvement to the environment with better agricultural practices, which in the long term will be sustained and not eroded by a rapidly increasing population.

Contraception is important to population control which is important to the health of our planet and global warming. It’s all linked.


  • Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost, a Cost/Benefit Analysis; Thomas Wire; August 2009 (pdf)
  • Sexual and reproductive health and climate change; The Lancet, Volume 374, Issue 9694, Page 949, 19 September 2009 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61643-3
  • Managing the health effects of climate change; The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9676, Pages 1693 – 1733, 16 May 2009 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60935-1
  • Should contraception qualify for climate funds? by Candace Lombardi; September 17, 2009

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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