A new study from researchers with the Population Council in New York urges the world to take climate change from a new perspective. Yes, eradicating fossil fuels in exchange for renewable energy is critical – but so is slowing population growth. The study, which was published recently in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health calls for more available and widely accepted use of effective contraception as a way to counter our consistently growing greenhouse gas emissions.
By 2100, our planet’s human population will grow by approximately 3 billion more people, to reach an astounding almost 11 billion people. While some individuals in our modern days have decided against reproducing as an act of social climate responsibility, there are still 99 million unintended pregnancies every year, reports the study. That’s 44% of the global annual total. And although not all of those pregnancies get carried to term – over half end in induced abortions – the rest in unintended births or miscarriages.
But that could change – and such a change could have a huge impact on our greenhouse gas emissions. “Slower future population growth could reduce emissions globally by an estimated 40% or more in the long term," write the authors, Dr. John Bongaarts and Dr. Regine Sitruk-Ware. "Wider distribution of contraceptives already on the market through greater investment in voluntary but underfunded family planning programs is sufficient to raise contraceptive use substantially," they add. "This, in turn, would have a profound positive impact on human welfare, the climate, and the environment.”
Yet to get there, the world has to first overcome some social stigmas, as well as logistical dilemmas. The authors explain that myths around the impact of hormones, traditional societal norms, disapproval of husbands, and dissatisfaction with available methods all pose obstacles for many women around the world. Further complications abound as well, such as a lack of access to services, unreasonable prices of contraceptives, and the fact that the use of contraceptives weighs unequally on women because of a lack of investment in male birth control options.
To counter these obstacles will require strategic and culturally sensitive educational campaigns. “Improving access to effective contraception is one such policy that thus far has been largely ignored by the international climate community," quote the authors. Investment from the international climate community by means of education, media, and policies must play a part in changing how large portions of the world view contraceptives.