Condoms could indeed be the answer to climate change.
The world population currently stands at around 6.7 billion, a seven-fold increase since the beginning of industrialisation in the 1830s. Industrialisation is widely regarded as the moment in history when carbon emissions began to skyrocket.
There has not been much research on the co-relation between population and climate change until recently. This does not come as a surprise because population is often associated with sexuality, contraception, religion and sometimes politics; all of which are untouchable and taboo subjects in many communities. The words “population policy” create an immediate association with China’s one child policy, and the idea of a more effective but non-natural contraception will likely attract immediate attack from religious bodies. Also owing to financial incentives involved, technology-based solutions to climate change continue to get more political attention.
The common school of thought today argues that linking population to climate change is oversimplified. This has some degree of truth in it as developed nations – where only 20% of world population resides – consume approximately 80% of the world’s resources, and account for 60% of industrial carbon emission. Historically, since the beginning of industrialisation, developed nations accounted for roughly 80% of carbon build-up in the atmosphere.
Developing nations, led by the likes of China, India and Brazil, are justifying their emissions by claiming the need for development for the betterment of their people. Of course we cannot ignore the fact that these developing nations are putting exceptionally commendable efforts in minimising emissions and adopting sustainable use of resources while growing their economies. The underlying problem, however, is when these nations prosper and the spending power of their people increases, the large population armed with purchasing power, will consume more goods and services thus making more demands on the planet. With 40% of human beings being either Chinese or Indians and with the two nation’s combined GDP at 11% of global economy, there is definitely basis for concern.
While “carbon footprint” has become the talk of the town with carbon emissions and global warming taking centrestage in the last 2 years, another footprint which I believe to be more important and will play an even more crucial role in the not too distant future is “ecological footprint”.
Ecological footprint simply calculates how many “Earths” are needed to meet resource requirements (such as water, fish, clean air etc) of humans each year. Today, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste. In oher words, it takes planet Earth one and a half years to regenerate what we use in one year.
As a matter of fact, we have been operating the planet well beyond its capacity for more than 50 years now. The developed nations have already consumed what the Earth can provide. And the developing nations, with its growing populations and economies, are now asking for more rights to consume.
Well, planet Earth does not distinguish between developed and developing nations. There is only one Earth and there are only limited resources in this only planet Earth. The disheartening fact is even if the population stops growing today we are already consuming more than the Earth can provide. As such, family planning is an answer to curbing climate change and the depletion of resources, and ultimately to save humanity.
Using family planning to address climate change is not a new concept. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers population growth to be one of the most consistent factors contributing to climate change. According to the UN, 190 million women get pregnant every year. However, one-third of these pregnancies are unplanned.
Another report by Worldwatch Institute claims that if the world’s population levelled off at 8 billion by 2050 instead of reaching the more often projected 9 billion, more of our CO2 emissions would be reduced as compared to if we were to eliminate global deforestation (equivalent of the fuel efficiency of 2 billion cars doubled).
Allowing women, especially in developing nations, better access to family planning not only addresses the reproductive rights of women but also decreases the proportion of unplanned pregnancies. Reducing unplanned pregnancies is an important initiative to tackle climate change. Family planning is an ethical way to tackle climate change particularly because women and children (especially in developing nations) are most vulnerable in the face of climate change.
In many developing nations, women are also the key participants in the agricultural sector. Returning the rights of women to plan for their own pregnancies will translate into more effective planning of our resource use.
Perhaps while both developed and developing nations pursue a more energy efficient economy with lower carbon footprint, it is worthwhile to look at providing women with easier and greater access to family planning and contraception. We should not view this as population control, but instead a necessary choice for women as a group most vulnerable to climate change and resource depletion.
Condoms could indeed be the answer to climate change.
Chow Pong sells black stuff in the day and turns green at night. “I fade in and out of existence, and I walk both worlds to deliver the message in completeness.”