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    Contraception and climate change

    by Ala on 4th August, 2008 at 5:25 pm    

    Jonathon Porritt, environmental writer and campaigner complains of the silence on this issue and he’s right to. No one talks about it, and as soon as an obscure editorial in a niche publication like the BMJ pops up, the media hounds are onto it with their contrarian, supposedly anti-establishment drivel. But in good news, the media hounds in question were also from lesser known publications. Mercifully, something else had distracted the Daily Mail at the time.

    John Guillebaud and Pip Hayes published the offending piece. The former is the emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health at UCL and the latter a GP. The columnists and and voters in the BMJ poll thought that doctors shouldn’t be telling people how many babies to have. But no one said they should.

    The authors of the editorial were as diplomatic and sensitive as one can be in the face of such a pressing and earth threatening issue. I think if we don’t talk about things now, we may very well see a future of forced family planning, Malthusian drills and Brave New World dystopias. The authors just wanted to discuss the possiblity of making contraception more avalible, as evidence showed that the more accessible it was, the higher the demand for it became. And also merely introduce the idea that doctors, as it is in their hands to advise on family planning, might simply want to alert people to the facts.

    By telling wannabe mothers of the sevenfold increase in the world population since 1798, which is rising exponentially, and that, according to the Optimum Population Trust, each new UK birth will be responsible for 160 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a new birth in Ethiopia, it might get them to think again about popping them out.

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    9 Comments below   |  

    1. Don — on 4th August, 2008 at 6:47 pm  

      it might get them to think again about popping them out.

      It was a good article, but you may have missed the point.

    2. Elle — on 4th August, 2008 at 11:29 pm  

      It’s also worth thinking about how your actual contraception affects climate change. Obviously, it is a minor impact compared to that of an additional human consumer, however consider the waste implications of your choices, some are far ‘greener’ than others!

    3. Sunny — on 5th August, 2008 at 12:12 am  

      Well, universal contraception and lots of education. Notyhing better than education and loads of 9-5 to drive the population growth levels right down.

    4. Dave S — on 5th August, 2008 at 1:17 am  

      Of course, there’s nothing that says a baby born in the UK has to be responsible for 160 times the emissions of one born in Ethiopia.

      With the right education and outlook on life inspiring the next generation on to positive change, I hope that we can turn it around and maybe even produce children who’s actions in life cause net consumption of CO2 rather than net build-up of it.

      We can go way beyond just carbon-neutral lifestyles to actual carbon-negative ones; to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and return it to a safe level again. It can be done, and action in that direction needs to happen here more urgently than it needs to happen in Ethiopia.

      I’m about to become a dad in something like three weeks time. Sure, the two of us are not going to be having more than two children. I’m pretty convinced by the idea of aiming for zero population growth, though I also believe that the world could easily support more people if we actually shared resources fairly.

      But the point is: more people doesn’t necessarily have to mean more CO2 emissions - it could actually mean much less, if we make a concerted effort to do it right and to really change the way we live.

      In my opinion, pushing for massive social change to prevent climate change is the most important step. That means changing society right the way through, so that we just bloody well stop doing things which damage the Earth! (It ain’t rocket science! This is our home we’re destroying!)

      Then changing our individual lifestyles, because individual changes don’t mean much without significant numbers of people doing them.

      But as I’ve said before, the biggest hurdle is one of mindset.

      Does human existence really have to damage the Earth? Absolutely not! Despite our attempts to escape from nature, we are as integral a part of the Earth’s ecosystems as the birds and the bees.

      As self-aware sentient beings, we can make the choice to become positive contributors to the ecosystem we live in, rather than destroying it.

      In all honesty, I believe it’s as clear-cut as: choose not to damage the Earth, or perish.

    5. MaidMarian — on 5th August, 2008 at 8:40 am  

      I always wonder when I see an article like this why no mention of China and one-child. Population control is great, but it needs a society like China to make it at all real.

      I will leave it to others to dwell on whether or not China’s exponential growth in emissions and the like suggests that the link between population control and environmenalism is less strong than some suggest.

      On a separate point, ‘the authors just wanted to discuss the possiblity of making contraception more avalible.’ I think that they need to take that up with the church rather than the BMJ’s readership.

    6. QuestionThat — on 5th August, 2008 at 11:30 am  


      If we don’t confront and slap down fanatical authoritarian nutcases whenever they pop up we might “very well see a future of forced family planning, Malthusian drills and Brave New World dystopias.”

    7. Tim Worstall — on 5th August, 2008 at 2:56 pm  

      “which is rising exponentially,”

      It is? Someone had better tell the UN pretty quickly then. They are saying that the rate of increase is slowing and that the growth itself will reverse around 2050.

      Whatever that is, it really ain’t “exponentially”.

    8. Trofim — on 6th August, 2008 at 9:41 am  

      You probably don’t remember Ala, but talking about population control hasn’t always been taboo, and I remember it well because I was born in 1947. The early sixties were full of anxiety about the world’s outstanding problem, of population proliferation, long before the idea of global warming had become fashionable. However, in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s a new feeling started to enter our awareness, that it was somehow, not quite nice, to be critical of the behaviour, culture and ideas of people who didn’t have “white” (ie. pinkish) skin. This morphed into another idea, that people with white skin were imperialists and colonialists, non-white people were their victims, all the world’s problems were essentially due to white people, and that therefore white people had even less moral right to be advising non-white people on their behaviour. We know the rest.

    9. jungle — on 7th August, 2008 at 9:11 pm  

      The reason the left have been hostile to talking about population as a “problem” over the years is that it has historically been repeatedly used to unjustly blame all environmental and food supply issues on first the local poor and then the foreign poor, since they have the highest birth rates - despite the reality that they consume a tiny minority of the resources. (As the previous commenter’s absurd rant amply demonstrates…)

      Even now, many wrongly believe that there would be no food crisis anywhere if only those Africans would stop having so many babies, and that for that reason famines they suffer are fundamentally “all their own fault”; of course actually the reason they have no food is because the international market puts a vastly greater value on food for my cat than food for the average Somalian.

      The Optimum Population Trust talk a lot of pseudo-science about maximum yields from fertile soil. I’ve been to one of their talks and about half of it consisted of a list of assumptions for their agricultural calculations, 95% of the assumptions totally unrealistic and verging on the absurd. From this they “calculate” that the “optimum population” for X or Y country is a fixed figure much lower than it is now, and suggest that all would be utopia if this decrease were achieved.

      Yes, population is an issue. But the fundamental problem that the OPT miss is that population and consumption per head are linked - backwards. To put it simply: if the population were smaller, there would be less people to consume oil, the market price of oil would be lower, and so each person would very likely just consume more of it - more holidays, bigger cars, more imported goods, less incentive to be efficient.

      The capitalist economy’s ability to increase consumption per head to fit the size of the resources that person can afford is incredible.

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