Population Media Center - Climate change conversations don’t usually extend to primary and secondary education opportunities or into reproductive health, but that’s exactly where people interested in sustainability need to look. If we want a more sustainable planet, we need to start with the health and rights of women and girls because improving the lives of women results in more family planning. This is important for recognizing individual rights, but also because it slows down population growth. The world population is growing too quickly to be sustained by renewable resources. Basically, reducing the carbon footprint, or any footprint, is not gaining ground when we are simultaneously adding thousands, or millions, more feet.
It turns out that the world’s population grows by 9,000 people every hour — more than 220,000 people every day. Each of these people deserve healthy food, clean water, and a place to live and sleep.
Much of this growth is taking place in Africa, where governments and leaders are talking and acting in relation to population. Many developed countries choose not to discuss population, and we didn’t see much conversation about population at the climate talks in Paris because they don’t know what to offer for solutions to population growth or they think population too controversial a topic or they don’t think population connects with climate change at all.
But in Africa, governments and leaders poignantly understand that a very high fertility rate threatens their ability to manage the country’s future and to provide essential services for their citizens, not to mention prepare their populations for adaptation to climate change. In fact, many African countries are actively working with global agencies to address family planning. Not only is family planning essential for strengthening individual health and security, but also for strengthening economies.
Of course, growing populations and strengthening economies will also lead to an increase in consumption rates, which means that a family’s carbon legacy in these developing countries will grow toward the levels of Western countries. A 2009 study titled “Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals,” looked at the relationship between population growth and global warming. It determined that the “carbon legacy” of just one child can produce 20 times more greenhouse gas than a person will save by driving a high-mileage car, recycling, using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, etc. “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle,” wrote the authors.
Many people working on sustainability initiatives around the world do understand and appreciate that overpopulation is an essential component of what is driving climate change. They recognize that consumption and lifestyle choices are also important, but are also frustrated by why population is not being discussed as an important part of the long-term strategy. Inhumane, coercive population control initiatives in the past, like forced sterilizations or China’s one-child policy, make some believe that coercion is the only way to address the population challenge, which is fundamentally wrong. Not only are these approaches inhumane, they’re ineffective.
The truth is, we can stop population growth by enhancing human rights. There is an estimated 220 million women worldwide who want to use safe and effective family planning methods, but are unable to do so because they lack access to information and services or the support of their husbands and communities. As many as 50 percent of pregnancies worldwide are unplanned and 25 percent are unwanted.