Contraception and Climate Change

Joe Veix

Feministing and CathNews weigh in on the issue.

As I reported a week ago, the Optimum Population Trust commissioned a study that figured out the affects of family planning on reducing global carbon emissions. To me it seemed fairly innocuous, adding to the already numerous benefits that would come as a result of a worldwide expansion of family planning and sex education. Since then, a few other websites have weighed in, with slightly different takes on the issue.

First, Ann from Feministing notes that arguments about population control can be related to racist talking points:

Now, I do understand that rapid population growth can exacerbate the impact of climate change. And I’m all for meeting global family planning needs. But linking these goals is problematic. I know the LSE report contains a prominent caveat that this is about non-coercive family planning, but using fears about climate change as a way to expand contraceptive use is eerily reminiscent of "population control" policies, some of which were coercive and all of which were rooted in the idea that certain people should be having fewer babies. (For some examples of the historically problematic use of "population control," check out this report from Hampshire College.) I wonder whether liberals who are favorably linking to the LSE research are aware of how close its rhetoric is to racist talking points about population. Some taboos exist for a reason.

And later in the same essay:

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We all understand that empowering women to determine their own reproductive fates leads to other benefits — economic, societal, and yes, environmental. But given the history of population policy, to me the only acceptable international family planning policy is one that is motivated by increasing the empowerment and choices for women. Full stop. When we try to intervene in women’s reproductive lives for any other reason, the potential for abuse is just too high.

At CathNews, Dermot Grenham questions the argument over population control and its absorbtion of the popular issues of the day to justify its reasoning:

The population and development debate has now moved on to the effect of demographic growth on the environment and, in particular, to the role of human beings as emitters of greenhouse gases and the effect this will have on the world’s climate. This is, though, no more than a change of tactics, as the same argument that humans have the ability to solve the problems posed by climate change, holds good here as well.

Dermot is right to be suspicious of the research given its history, and Ann is especially right in suggesting that the only acceptable family planning policies involve respect and empowerment for women.

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