We have heard of some truly ‘out there’ ideas on mitigating climate change. From feeding carbon-capturing algal blooms in oceans to capturing CO2 from power plants and storing it underground. Yet everyone is quietly skirting around one solution that has become the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’; FAMILY PLANNING. While one can tell the neighbour off for leaving the porch lights on (and reap moral superiority points in the process) it still isn’t acceptable to tell them to get a vasectomy. Taking the world average into account, every new person on earth is going to emit approximately 4.0 tonnes of CO2 per year (all figures in this post from 2004 data). With a world average life expectance of 67.2 years, that amounts to 268.8 tonnes of CO2 in a lifetime. This figure does not even take into  account the inevitable per capita increase in emissions in developing countries associated with lifestyle changes and higher life expectancies.It is not for nothing that China brags that its one-child policy spared the world 300 million potential green house gas emitters (though bringing women into industry and farming collectives rather than government policy should get the credit)

Figures aside, the issue of birth control is a controversial issue and is seen as an infringement on the rights of an individual. When India’s  former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi tried to implement a coercive sterlization programme, there was a strong backlash. It is believed that this is responsible for public aversion to family planning even today in the country. The Indian Government has abandoned the stick for the carrot and now encourages Indian men to get vasectomies in return for free gun licenses. However, reducing population growth need not be about CONTROL of population growth. There are around 200 million women out there without access to contraceptives and who have no intention of getting pregnant. Around 80 million pregnancies around the world are unintended, which exceeds the 78 million by which the world population grows each year. Thus, there is potential to reduce our impact on the planet by empowering women to make decisions about when and how many children they want. Interestingly, there is greater potential for family planning in developed countries than in developing ones in terms of CO2 emissions. For example, in the U.S where 15.2% of GDP is spent on health care (second highest in the world), 1 in 2 pregnancies is unintended. The per capita CO2 emissions of a U.S citizen is 20.6 tonnes (world average, 4.0) and life expectancy is 78.06 years (world average, 67.2). After the sums, preventing an unwanted pregnancy in the U.S would save 1608.03 tonnes of CO2 as opposed to even the world average of 268.8 tonnes (leave alone low carbon emitting countries)

With carbon credits being milked from a diverse range of sources, family planning (as opposed to control) could be the offset delivering the most value for money.