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Could Access to Birth Control Slow Climate Change?

Could Access to Birth Control Slow Climate Change?

The connection between birth control and human impact on our planet’s resources is a complex issue…where do you file it? Under Women’s Issues?  Human rights? Economic justice?  Yes, yes, yes, and also under: Climate Change. An editorial in the prestigious medical journal Lancet has called attention to the links between population growth and the negative consequences of climate change, including access to food and water, environmental degradation, and mass refugee migration.

The inter-relatedness of climate change and human rights is not a new idea. A 1994 conference in Cairo linked progress on universal education and reproductive health care as the best way to achieve sustainable (i.e., best for planet and people now and in the future) development.  While there have been some successes, the progress is inadequate and the situation is dire.

The editorial blames a lack of resources and political will for the slow progress, but also points to the issue that prevents so much movement, even among the well-intentioned: thinking in silos. It is natural but dangerous when the health community focuses on disease and the environmentalists focus on carbon and the politicians focus on, well, whatever politicians focus on.  This siloed thinking leads to unintended consequences and reliance on single-sector solutions which make a complex issue even worse.

Climate change is not a simple problem. It cannot be solved with money or technology or declarations:  all of these factors, along with a commitment to behavior change, are essential. Climate change can only be mitigated and adapted to, using all the resources at hand and a broad-based acceptance that we will be testing, examining and re-adapting to ensure our survival and that of the planet as we know it.

The editorial concludes with a call to the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen as an opportunity to highlight the centrality of women to planetary health.  It calls for the health community to “challenge the global architecture of climate change, and its technology focus, and shift the discussion to a more human-based, rights-based adaptation approach.”  The climate change talks may well focus on thinking in silos, in an attempt to break down the complex problem into manageable bits to solve. 

Global warming has come about, in large part, because we humans have been divorcing ourselves from the planet’s complex system, operating as if we were not part of a huge, interconnected network of earth, air, water, soil and creatures. Let the global public demand a holistic and woman-centric approach to mitigating the challenges of climate change.

Learn more on the Copenhagen talks.
Act now: sign the petition encouraging President Obama to protect reproductive rights.

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Photo by Meanest Indian via Flickr, under Creative Commons license

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9:06PM PST on Feb 22, 2013

Thank you for article.

9:05PM PST on Feb 22, 2013

Thank you for article.

9:05PM PST on Feb 22, 2013

Thank you for article.

9:04PM PST on Feb 22, 2013

Thank you for article.

9:20PM PDT on Oct 20, 2009

If that url doesn't open, here's its key sentence - " Here in the US, we might as well be managing the waste of 39 billion people."

That's the US population of 300,000,000 producing more than 39 times the waste of the 1 billion population of India. So, which part of the world needs more birth control??

8:44PM PDT on Oct 20, 2009

Further to Paul P's still-unsubstantiated claim that " "India may not pollute the air as much as the U.S., but it sure makes up for it in polluting water", here is an informative write-up on US pollution of water -

7:31PM PDT on Sep 29, 2009

Please see

"Population growth is not a problem - it's among those who consume the least. So why isn't anyone targeting the very rich?.....A paper published yesterday in the journal Environment and Urbanization shows that the places where population has been growing fastest are those in which carbon dioxide has been growing most slowly, and vice versa. Between 1980 and 2005, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa produced 18.5% of the world's population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in CO2. North America turned out only 4% of the extra people, but 14% of the extra sixth of the world's population is so poor that it produces no significant emissions at all.....It's time we had the guts to name the problem. It's not sex; it's money. It's not the poor; it's the rich."

7:41PM PDT on Sep 24, 2009

Paul P - still waiting for your cite re US and India contributions to climate change.

Now here is a news item you may care to rebut -
“In terms of basic energy consumption for two essential requirements of household electricity and transport, the per capita energy use in India was around 18 tons of oil-equivalent per person in the year 2005 when compared to Pakistan which was 41, for China 52, for Mexico 345, for Brazil 205 and the United States 1881 tons....India, despite having 17 per cent of the world population and a rapidly growing economy, has only 4 per cent of carbon emissions as compared to the US and China which account for over 16 per cent each“ (

The question that started this all off is "Could Access to Birth Control Slow Climate Change?". Certainly it can, but considerably less effectively than lifestyle change. The real responsibility for climate change rests on the US and the consumerism it practises and propagates.

9:07PM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

Juliet D - "Anything which reduces the number of humans on the planet will probably help offset climate change, at least temporarily."

And in the conscious reduction of humans, let us prioritise - the planet needs fewer of those humans who consume more of the planet's resources. A certain grouping of 300,000,000 humans consumes more of the planet's resources than all the planet's billions of other humans put together.

So, as we advocate birth control to the billions (and yes, I believe in birth control) I recognize the fact that this will impact on less than half of the planet's resources. What are those 300,000,000 doing to reduce their consumption of more than half the planet's resources? Sure, some of them practise birth control - but has it reduced resource consumption?

"The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not for anybody's greed" - Gandhi.

11:29AM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

Anything which reduces the number of humans on the planet will probably help offset climate change, at least temporarily. I suspect that a major epidemic or famine ( perhaps caused by environmental degradation) will put a hitch in our birth rate before we take control of our reproduction. We aren't Master of the Universe, we're sea monkeys in a tank.

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