Counter Climate Change With Condoms

Mother Earth wants you to use a condom.

That’s right: these little latex wonders are the newest old green technology. “Fewer Emitters, Less Emissions, Less Cost,” a report from the London School of Economics, checks out what would happen to our carbon footprint if all the “unmet need” for contraceptives was, well, met.

The Alternet article asks the question: “Can Condoms Save Us From Climate Change?” The Optimum Population Trust, which commissioned the report, states in their press release: “The 34 gigatonnes of CO2 saved in this way [providing contraception] would cost $220 billion – roughly $7 a tonne. However, the same CO2 saving would cost over $1trillion if low-carbon technologies were used.” Providing contraception for unmet need is cheaper per ton than a host of other environmentally-friendly technologies, such as solar power, wind power, and hybrid or electric cars. Of the various sustainable lifestyle choices individuals can take, not having kids trumps–especially in developed countries, where the monetary and carbon costs of raising a child are far greater than in developing countries.

A key point here is that no one is suggesting we take a page from China’s book and institute kid quotas. The study considers the benefit of decreasing the number of unplanned, unwanted pregnancies by providing contraception to women who want it, but don’t have it. Furthermore, the study’s findings are underestimated because “unmet need” is only measured in married couples–and obviously there are many single, sexually active people out there, who are just as likely to face the problem of obtaining contraception as unmarried women.

Increased access to birth control for those who want it should already be a top priority in developing countries, since it combats other current problems: i.e. AIDS, hunger, poverty. Our contraception-distribution efforts and legislation such as PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) have been severely weakened by conservative religious meddling that insists on teaching abstinence-only for the unmarried, creates a stigma around condoms, and ignores the gendered power imbalances that often make it impossible for women to abstain from sex or insist on a faithful husband who wouldn’t put her at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

On the downside, it’ll take a generation for the carbon-savings to go into effect. And the study has already been criticized by those who refuse to understand that it’s only looking at decreasing unwanted pregnancies, not at population control. As with abstinence-only programs, I wonder how much of this opposition actually comes down to a defense of the injunction to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Of course, beyond the Christian connotations, there are other reasons to proffer as to why we would automatically feel that, not just us, but everyone else too, should be having kids–evolutionary motivations, the nation-state’s desire to gain power by numbers, etc. (Point: They aren’t necessarily good reasons.) The anti-childlessness prejudice is ingrained in the less- and non-religious as well: it’s a pervasive perspective. However, Christianity is tops around these parts in pushing the agenda of having lots of kids, and active as the biggest obstacle to altering this.

I’m not planning to have children. As it happens (though people who hear me make that statement immediately assume the opposite), I love kids. I used to visit the toddler next-door, entertaining her while her mother took a break, for fun (and for free). I’m just not interested in a career in motherhood: so many people, and children, already suffer from hunger, poverty, disease, I’m not comfortable adding another to the mix. The environmental issue is icing on my decision.

I hardly think this choice should be a controversial one. I would be wrong. I remember mentioning this to a conservative Catholic woman a couple years ago, to her shock and consternation. Her first response: Don’t you feel the need to give back to someone? I was a little confused, and pointed out that I was planning to go into do-gooder non-profit work, where I hoped to help and give back to, um, many people. I also have trouble with the concept of creating another life to give back for, since that hypothetical child wouldn’t exist to care either way if I didn’t make the choice to bring it into this messed-up world.

As a sop, since she appeared quite distressed, I indicated that I have considered adopting. “But don’t you feel the need to give back to your own child?” was the gist of her rejoinder. At the time, I thought this a strange and unique perspective, but I’ve run across it a number of times since. Adoption carries a major stigma in our society, which I can’t understand given that it seems more altruistic and helps a child already living and in need (and doesn’t add another set of carbon footprints). (I won’t get into the racial/racism problems involved in the fact that a greater number of white couples want to adopt, even competing for newborns, but not from the larger pool of non-white orphans domestically and abroad.)

If having children is important to you–go ahead, do it. I’ve no desire to deny anybody who finds meaning in childbearing, and this study isn’t looking at you. We’re not advocating an end to all children (I’m actually looking forward to when my friends have kids I can spoil.) However: the stigma against the choice to be childless, or to adopt, needs to stop. And those on the fence about having children, not having them, or adopting shouldn’t be subjected to an unthinking societal pressure to reproduce–let them make a free decision, taking into consideration the pros and cons of each side.

The environmental issues demonstrates yet again that our current mentality on having kids is out-of-whack, poses yet another problem with our failure to provide contraception to everyone who wants it. If the only people having kids were the ones actually wanting them, the world would be far better off–and not just in green terms. Imagine that.

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One Response to Counter Climate Change With Condoms

  1. “Adoption carries a major stigma in our society, which I can’t understand given that it seems more altruistic and helps a child already living and in need (and doesn’t add another set of carbon footprints).”

    As an adopted child, I would whole-heartedly agree.