Monday, May 07, 2007

Condoms combat climate change

I make no apology for copying this important news release from the Optimum Population Trust in its entirety. It says - crisply and concisely - that population growth is the chief cause of climate change, more or less exactly what I had said in my Taboo topic: the population time bomb piece in March. Although the figures quoted refer to the UK, the principle is universal.


A radical form of “offsetting” carbon dioxide emissions to prevent climate change is proposed today – having fewer children.

Each new UK citizen less means a lifetime carbon dioxide saving of nearly 750 tonnes, a climate impact equivalent to 620 return flights between London and New York*, the Optimum Population Trust says in a new report.

Based on a “social cost” of carbon dioxide of $85 a tonne**, the report estimates the climate cost of each new Briton over their lifetime at roughly £30,000. The lifetime emission costs of the extra 10 million people projected for the UK by 2074 would therefore be over £300 billion. ***
A 35-pence condom, which could avert that £30,000 cost from a single use, thus represents a “spectacular” potential return on investment – around nine million per cent.

The report adds: “The most effective personal climate change strategy is limiting the number of children one has. The most effective national and global climate change strategy is limiting the size of the population.

“Population limitation should therefore be seen as the most cost-effective carbon offsetting strategy available to individuals and nations – a strategy that applies with even more force to developed nations such as the UK because of their higher consumption levels.”

A Population-Based Climate Strategy, the OPT’s latest research briefing, is published today (Monday, May 7 2007). It says human population growth is widely acknowledged as one of the main causes of climate change yet politicians and environmentalists rarely discuss it for fear of causing offence. The result is that a “de facto taboo” exists, throughout civil society and government.

One consequence is that “couples making decisions about family size do so in the belief that it is a matter for them and their personal preferences alone: the public debate and awareness that might have encouraged them to think about the implications of their choices for their fellow citizens, the climate and the wider environment have been missing.”

Other points in the briefing include:
  • Providing low-carbon electricity for the 11 million extra UK households forecast for 2050 would mean building seven more Sizewell B nuclear power stations or 10-11,000 wind turbines.
  • Global population growth between now and 2050 is equivalent in carbon dioxide emissions terms to the arrival on the planet of nearly two more United States, over two Chinas, 10 Indias or 20 UKs.
  • Even if by 2050 the world had managed to achieve a 60 per cent cut in its 1990 emission levels, in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendations and the UK Government’s target, almost all of it would be cancelled out by population growth.

It concludes: “A population-based [climate] strategy…involves fewer of the taxes, regulations and other limits on personal freedom and mobility now being canvassed in response to climate change…To sum up, it would be easier, quicker, cheaper, freer and greener.”

Valerie Stevens, co-chair of the OPT, said: “We appreciate that asking people to have fewer children is not going to make us popular in some quarters. Equally, expressing concern about the environmental impacts of mass migration, which currently accounts for the bulk of population growth in the UK and will have a major effect on Britain’s carbon emissions, is a quick route to being labelled racist. But these are hugely important issues and the unfortunate fact is that both politicians and the environmental movement are in denial about them. It’s high time we started discussing them like adults and confronting the real challenges of climate change.”
She added: “Government fiscal measures that support child-bearing however many children a couple has, send a signal that increasing numbers are good for the welfare of everyone. In a world needing to diminish its consumption of key resources, especially energy, this is sadly no longer true.”

*Based on 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per return flight (Department for Transport).
**Stern Review, October 2006.
***Fertility levels in the UK have been below replacement level (2.1 children per woman) for around 30 years. Inward migration is currently the main driver of UK population growth, accounting for over 80 per cent of projected increase to 2074. However, even without the effects of immigration, demographic momentum – the result of the large numbers of children produced in earlier age bands reaching child-bearing age – would have prevented any population decline up to the present. The total fertility rate (TFR) peaked in 1964 at 2.95 children per woman, but this was followed by a rapid fall in the number of births per woman in the 1970s. In 2005 the TFR in the UK was 1.78 children; it is expected to level off at 1.74 (Office of National Statistics).
The full briefing is available on the OPT’s Briefings and Submissions page.