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Condoms for Climate Change?

“Family planning is the lowest cost way of reducing CO2 emissions and climate change – possibly less than one third of the cost of other technological fixes – without any environmental downsides.”

So say the folk at PopOffsets, a new offsetting scheme run by the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). The scheme gives people the option of offsetting their carbon footprint by supporting schemes that aim to halt population growth, for example funding family planning and reproductive health programs in Madagascar, which has the one of the fastest growing populations in the world. 

The OPT’s report that found family planning is eight times cheaper as a way of tackling global warming than solar power, and four times less costly than wind power. Offsetting one tonne of carbon in this way costs £5.

You can’t argue with their premise, that “in simple terms a ‘non-person’ cannot produce CO2 (nor can their non-descendants),” nor the imperative to slow or halt population growth. But there is something about funding this work through offsetting that hits a nerve. The sheer impossibility of measuring the emissions reduction accurately seems a substantial issue.

More concerning are the potential solutions to the measurement problem. Paying people not to have children or incentivising governments to introduce more authoritarian population controls would render the measurement easier and more verifiable, but hardly more desirable. Luckily the OPT is advocating neither, but how long until the shadowy characters that have leapt on other forms of offsetting get their sticky fingers into this pie and take things down a different route?

Given that offsetting is a way to take responsibility for your unavoidable emissions, the responsible thing to do intuitively seems to be to reduce emissions in developed countries, even if that does cost more.


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