Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Climate Change and Population Growth

A student from my ethics course sent along this link to a Yahoo News article on the relationship between climate change and population growth.

The news article starts with a strong, clear statement:
The battle against global warming could be helped if the world slowed population growth by making free condoms and family planning advice more widely available, the U.N. Population Fund said Wednesday.

But then the majority of the article goes into criticisms of this policy and, indeed, casts doubt on any need to control population growth at all:

On Wednesday, one analyst criticized the U.N. Population Fund's pronouncements as alarmist and unhelpful. "It requires a major leap of imagination to believe that free condoms will cool down the climate," said Caroline Boin, a policy analyst at International Policy Network, a London-based think tank.
She also questioned earlier efforts by the agency to control the world's population.

I've been teaching this topic in my ethics class, and the best work I've seen on the issue
supports a position like the UN's while acknowledging caveats such as the higher priority on reducing energy consumption in developed countries as well as the priority that must be put on preserving women's reproductive choices. But since providing access to family planning is generally agreed to increase rather than reduce women's control over their reproductive lives, I was surprised at the negative tone of the article. I retrieved the originals here.

Indeed, this seems to be a clear case of a news article that is slanted to favor an ultra-conservative political angle. The quoted expert is a writer for Britain's Conservative Party, and the other experts were simply misquoted as being cautious about the UN policy when in fact their editorial is strongly supportive of it.
The paper by Bryant et al., however, is the first to provide strong support for the third point – showing that the majority of the least-developed countries cite population pressure as an important determinant of their vulnerability to climate change. The fact that the affected countries themselves identify this as a local priority avoids the conflict that comes from framing population regulation as a way of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

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