Family Planning and Climate Resilience: What is the Link?

One might be tempted to say none. Among the many variables usually mentioned when discussing climate resilience, family planning is not a commonly heard one. However, in the context of development, there is a connection, and an interesting one.

In many places where international development organizations and agencies work, family planning (as in deciding how many children to have, and when) is a focal point, particularly for health reasons. Usually women tend to give birth to a high number of children, which will need to be fed on limited resources, which in turn can lead to stunting, malnutrition, and even death. But it also leads to a higher pressure on the environment. More mouths to feed = more resources needed. Those include (but are not limited to) more food and more fuel to cook it. In many of those places, food is harvested from natural stocks and/or grown, and is usually cooked on an open flame, which contributes to CO2 emissions. Gathering wood is a common practice when fuel is needed, and cutting down trees for fuel (thereby releasing carbon) is not uncommon. And, if you need to grow more food, the nutrient content in those crops may be lower than when you grow them less intensively and don't overwork the land, thereby leaving more carbon in the soil.

Paul Ehrlich talked about the link between population growth and environmental destruction in his 1968 book The Population Bomb (recently the focus of a New York Times documentary), and even though he was off on his famine predictions, he was right on the population growth bit and the consequent consumption of finite natural resources leading to environmental destruction. The concept is obviously not new -- but the link with climate resilience is. The connection is clear: if you have less children, your impact on the environment will be lower, and the local resilience is increased due to sustainability of natural resources and less carbon fuel burning and CO2 release in the atmosphere. I for one never thought of this direct link until I heard Roger-Mark de Souza say it at an event on resilience at the Wilson Center.

This is the second of a series of "lightning posts" where I report and/or discuss interesting tidbits and insights from the various events I attend around the DC area. You can see the first one here.