Family Planning Helps Women, Slows Climate Change. What's the Problem?

birth control climate change image

Image credit: Liz Populational, used under Creative Commons license.

From overpopulation as the elephant in the room, to the idea that less sex and more TV might curb India's population growth, discussing population issues is always rife with controversy. So when I dared to ask whether birth control was the cheapest answer to climate change, I wasn't too surprised that accusations of advocating for "eugenics", "compulsory sterilization" and "forced abortions" soon followed. While I may risk further finger pointing for highlighting it, an article over at The Guardian by a Ugandan population activist makes a powerful case for why adequate access to birth control remains both a crucial environmental and human welfare issue. Jotham Musinguzi, regional Africa director for Partners in Population and Development, argues that family planning stops climate change and helps women. He recounts stories of women in his native country of Uganda who must walk miles to reach their nearest clinic, only to hear that their chosen method of birth control is unavailable. Not only does this lead to many unplanned pregnancies, and the resulting pressure on household economies, relationships, and food security but, he argues, it also adds to the pressures on the global environment:

"Recent research suggests that simply meeting existing "unmet need" would deliver up to one-seventh of the carbon reductions essential to slow global warming, and at a very low cost. With women empowered to plan their pregnancies, the world's population grows more slowly, as do carbon emissions."

And before the accusations of conspiracies and government control of our (or worse, other people's) sex lives start flying—let's be clear that the conversation is about voluntary birth control:

"Where voluntary family planning is available, families are empowered. Where it is not, the lack of access takes a heavy toll. In Uganda, 435 women die for every 100,000 babies born. Dying as a result of pregnancy is the leading cause of death for women. High maternal death rates such as Uganda's are an indicator of an inadequate healthcare system, which is clearly a violation of women's fundamental rights to life, health and self-determination."

Of course the other accusation often leveled at folks who talk about population issues should also be remembered—namely that it is a distraction from the real environmental problem of consumption and pollution in wealthy nations. Here too, argues Musinguzi, opponents are missing the point:

"Of course, it is naive to think any single idea or programme will yield the results we need to address global climate change. Yes, wealthy, industrialised countries must reduce their consumption; yes, nations around the world must reduce dependence on fossil fuels; yes, we must develop more effective, environmentally sustainable technologies, and yes, use energy more efficiently. But it's time to pursue all possibilities and combining efforts. The facts are clear: funding that empowers women to access voluntary family planning is a win-win for women, men, children and climate change."

He has me convinced. I hope that doesn't make me an eco-nazi.

More on Birth Control and Population Issues
Is Birth Control the Cheapest Answer to Climate Change?
Quote of the Day: Michael Braungart on Population
Is Overpopulation a Green Myth?
World Population to Hit 7 Billion by 2011
Why Eco-Activists Still Have Children
Ode to Women and Nature: Lessons for a New Green Dad