The New Weapon Against Climate Change: Condoms

By Eliza Strickland | September 23, 2009 6:05 pm

condomsForget, for a moment, all those fancy geoengineering schemes that would alter the face of the planet in an attempt to reduce global warming‘s impact. Population scientists argue that a cheaper and simpler strategy is to hand out birth control to those who want it–especially to people in the developing world, where birth rates are booming.

The world’s population is projected to jump to 9 billion by 2050, with more than 90 percent of that growth coming from developing countries…. In countries with access to condoms and other contraceptives, average family sizes tend to fall significantly within a generation. Until recently, many U.S.-funded health programs did not pay for or encourage condom use in poor countries, even to fight diseases such as AIDS [AP].

People in developing countries have smaller carbon footprints than those in more industrialized nations, so the benefit of slowing population growth isn’t only a matter of “fewer people, fewer carbon emissions”—it’s also a question of demographics combining with global warming’s predicted impacts. For example, researchers expect more natural disasters like hurricanes and floods in a warmer world, but when populations explode, people are forced to move onto marginal, flood-prone land. More people also put more stress on valuable resources like forests, which can themselves slow global warming, and on fresh water supplies, which will dwindle in some regions due to climate change.

Leo Bryant, who wrote the commentary in The Lancet, says family planning campaigns are often considered taboo in developing countries, and future efforts must stress that contraception is voluntary. “We are certainly not advocating that governments should start telling people how many children they can have…. The ability to choose your family size … is a fundamental human right. But lack of access to family planning means millions of people in developing countries don’t have that right” [Reuters], says Bryant. The editorial states that more than 200 million women across the world want contraceptives but don’t have access to them.

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Health & Medicine
  • Zephyr Worthington

    Hahaha, my dad has been saying this for YEARS. Looks like people are finally catching on.

  • Luiz Esmiralha

    Utter nonsense. The responsibles for the climate change are the rich countries that waste food, energy and every resource they can lay their hands on. They eat too much, they want bigger cars, they waste paper and water. Blaming those who are at the margin of the consumist carroussel is either insanity or stupidity. Instead of making fewer babies, stop eating megaburgers and driving monster trucks.

  • Rob Erickson

    @Luiz: The way I understood it, it wasn’t blaming the population for global warming, it was saying that slowing the population growth would curb some of the symptoms, as well as ease the strain on resources that dwindle as warming increases. They are talking about the impact of global warming, not global warming itself.

  • Jumblepudding

    Once again an appeal to the responsible to control their numbers, which will result in a decrease only in the number of responsible people.

  • John

    It seems odd to me that the people in the “rich” countries chose to live in these very same high risk areas that these poor over populated people would be forced to live in. Also studies that I have read about on this very web site explain how in America the population footprint has only expanded by 4 to 5 percent over the past fifty years. Our population is getting denser in the areas we already live in. Somhow though in the future peoples will magically sprawl over the landscape…..

  • Brian C.

    Better solution: terraform Mars already! Jeez, what’s the hold up :)

  • darth dakyne

    @ luiz your right to a certine degree its us in developing countries that are a big problem, has anyone thought about how much energy we use to cook the food we throw out?? does everyone know how much diesil is burned so you can eat a tomato? why do I need tomatoes from california?? they grow great on my balcony and I live in canada, wasting paper is pretty bad too, not cuz your wasteing trees, they recycle it from woodchips at sawmills, its from the energy used to run a pulp mill, and we are mostly getting that energy from non renewable resources.
    but that all detracts from the real moral of this article, and it is that overpopulation is a serious problem, not because it directly induces global warming, but that it multiplys the amount of victims due to global warming, which is a total and complete failure to plan ahead.
    so now we have this huge enviromental problem and yes I do think that people are taking steps everyday to change their habits and help (although its not nearly enough any little bit helps) but it’s not going to erase the problem we have.
    so LETS PLAN AHEAD AND THINK why not help save a million plus people from being born into refugee camps? why make suffering people suffer more by selling condoms rather giving those to them?
    as I said before every little bit helps when is comes to helping people or helping the environment…. help is help is help
    so Luiz take note, its NOT utter nonsense, what IS utter nonsense is saying we shouldn’t do something even if it is just a little, did you curb your apitite today or yesterday, in order to save food? are you driving a prius or riding a bicycle? cuz if you are then you should know about how little things help.
    now hopefully you will read this and take note, so that i can sleep just a tad better tonight knowing that I helped even just a little bit by showing you whats wrong, its not much but when I add it to MY list of little things I do my list gets a little bigger
    heres my list in case anybody is wondering:
    ride my bike everywhere
    ride my bike everywhere in the winter too
    growing a vegitable garden in my balcony for food
    growing a vegitable garden on balcony to give shade to appt.
    keeping the ac off nearly all the time because of added shade
    going mountain biking instead of dirtbiking
    composting food scraps
    not wasteing electricity for computer to bash any idea that can help the worlds problems
    and today i can add:
    useing electricity on computer to help luiz and any other person who read her comment about how dumb it was to say somthing like that :)

    wooo hooo I’m getting greener every day hope you all are too

  • darth dakyne

    @ brian C: why spread life around why we can just FIND it?? atleast thats what nasa says to me everytime I read about their ambition lol

  • silly monkey

    @ Jumblepudding : interesting take on it. Quite possibly accurate.

    @ Brian C. : We can’t even control the climate here on Earth, why would you want to go to the ecological nightmare that is on Mars?

    Back on topic:

    I think the premise of this article is incorrect. Birthrates in countries where contraceptives are lower for other reasons then the availability of contraceptives.

    Cost of living is a major factor for “Industrialized” countries, where in order to maintain the standard of living you must earn a greater income.

    @ Luiz Esmiralha : The simple fact is everyone is at fault.

  • mariana

    In some developing countries your children are your “retirement package”. When you’re too old to work or too ill, your children will take care of you. Since there may be high infant mortality you want to have a few children so at least some will make it to adulthood to look after you. Without them, you risk having to beg for food on the streets.

    Handing out condoms and suggesting people have fewer children ignores this socialogical factor that is prevelant in some developing countries. They are just not going to do it no matter how many free condoms are available.

    By the by, re: ability to choose family size being a fundamental human right….I think that idea will need to be dropped sooner or later as our population burgeons. A right to have a large family is superceded by a right for equitable distribution of resources. When resources are limited (fresh water, food) it is irresponsible to have a dozen children as that impacts others in the community. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one (apologies to Mr. Spock). :)

  • nancy @ princetoncryo

    Not a bad idea….but not a practical one. You can’t tell middle east to use C

  • Arki

    Mariana, you’re spot on about “human right” of having as many children as we want.
    That’s just a paradigm that we’ll be forced to change sooner or later.
    Cars are not the problem, food and agriculture techniques are not the problem, industry is not the problem, the problem is that we’re TOO MANY!
    But since we cannot commit genocide to lower our CO2 production, we’re looking for alternatives.
    The developing countries won’t stop producing people. It’s the classic “with the condom it doesn’t feel the same” I’ve heard from native people in my country.
    Nature will force us to implement birth control laws everywhere.

  • Melanie Hoste

    Personally, I think an increase in the use of condoms in Third World Countries is a good step forward in decreasing the human population.
    Nancy: Are you subtly saying that in the Middle East they don’t sell any condoms? If you are, then you’re ignorant. Sorry to be blunt.

    Let’s just wait until the sea starts to bubble. Then we know that we’re all doomed.


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