Fewer feet, smaller footprint

Thomas Malthus
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A world with fewer people would emit less greenhouse gases

FAMILY planning is five times cheaper than conventional green technologies in combating climate change. That is the claim made by Thomas Wire, a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, and highlighted by British medics writing in the Lancet on September 19th.

Ever since Thomas Malthus, an English economist, published his essay on the principle of population in 1798, people have been concerned about population growth. Sir Julian Huxley, the first director general of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation when it was established in 1945, remarked that death control made birth control a moral imperative. Sir Julian went on to play a role in establishing what was then the World Wildlife Fund, a nature conservation agency, linking population growth to environmental degradation.

According to Roger Short of the University of Melbourne, the world’s population is 6.8 billion and is expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. Some 95% of this growth is occurring in developing countries. In a paper published on September 21st in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, he points out that fewer people would produce less climate-changing greenhouse gas.

A companion study published in the same issue by Malcolm Potts of the University of California, Berkeley, reckons that there are 80m unintended pregnancies every year. The vast majority of these result in babies. If women who wanted contraception were provided with it, 72% of these unintended pregancies would have been prevented, according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund called “Adding it Up: the Benefits of Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare”.

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