When I talk to people about climate change, the issue of controlling population to limit its impact often comes up eventually. I’ve always been against it for one main reason: There aren’t too many of us, but there’s a few of us wanting too much. After all, consumption per capita is highest in developed and not developing nations. Planet Earth provides more than enough resources for everyone on Earth, but not if every one of us constantly aspires to consume more. Infinite production and consumption, that is economic growth, is not possible on a planet with finite resources.
However, recently I came across another strong argument against population controls in an article in the New Scientist: Using population controls to limit climate change disrespects human rights and especially women’s rights to choose. When women are paid to be sterilised, as was done in Bangladesh, numbers increase during periods of high unemployment, suggesting the decision is not a choice. In the worst case scenario, as in Peru in the 1990s, indigenous minority women were even sterilised against their will. In both these cases, fertility control is not respected as a human right but used as a means to achieve environmental ends.
The idea of controlling population as a means to address climate change is also only based on a belief – the belief that emissions from poorer countries might rise in the future. Currently, it’s not them who are emitting the most greenhouse gases, it’s not them who are consuming the most resources. But it’s those countries who are producing the stuff we use and they will suffer most from environmental degradation and the effects of climate change. It’s not them who should be denied of their rights.
I wouldn’t want to be told how many children to have and I don’t think any woman should lose this choice.
Before population controls should even be considered as a solution to environmental problems we should first try to:
- Reduce our resource consumption in developed countries;
- Eat less meat;
- Create a low-carbon economy and aid the transition in developing countries;
- Build a circular economic system;
- Restore and protect ecosystems.