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The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)

Effective Way To Fight Global Warming

John Seager

Washington -- According to the recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "the resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century." Behind this matter-of-fact language are images of droughts, floods, and species extinction — an apocalypse for many.

Each year we add more than 70 million people to the more than 6.5-billion human fossil-fuel burners now on the planet. Yet most calls to action on global warming fail to address population growth.

We're urged to "shop smart" when we buy cars, light bulbs and all the rest. Companies are rolling out new products to satisfy our desire to make earth-friendly purchases.

For all the useful talk about new products and innovative ways to cap emissions, there is little or no public discussion about the underlying cause of global warming — human population growth.

It matters enormously whether the world's population in 2050 is 10.8 billion people or 7.8 billion people — the high and low projections made in 2006 by the United Nations. Consider how much less carbon pollution there could be in a world with 3 billion fewer people.

We're going to need all the help we can get when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. It's time to revive the global population movement that once enjoyed widespread bipartisan support here in the United States.

We already have the tools we need to achieve population stabilization. They include family planning, education for women, and the right to make personal reproductive choices.

Solutions are not beyond our reach. In recent decades, Mexico, for example, has gone from an average of nearly 7 children per family to about 2.4 children today. In the far-from-wealthy Indian state of Kerala, women now on average have fewer than two children each. In these and other places, high rates of literacy and access to health care are making a real difference.

Yet, in many of the poorest places on earth, women still have an average of six, seven and even eight children. People lack basic services. They lack freedom of choice.

Population stabilization isn't about forcing anyone, anywhere to do anything. In fact, it could free us from the tyranny that climate change may impose on millions of people and thousands of species.

So why is there no serious discussion about the need for zero population growth? Why are we so fascinated with some as-yet-unproven technologies when a straightforward answer is at hand?

When people are free to make their own choices, when they have basic education and reproductive health services, they choose to have smaller families. Given the size of the global-warming challenge, the cost of universal access to family planning is relatively modest. It can be as little as pennies per person a day.

Let's make sure that every child is planned and wanted. Let's make sure that that every woman and every couple are free to make their own choices. Each of us can consider the global impact of our personal choices about family size, just as we're now looking at the impact on our planet of so many other decisions.

As we plan those smart shopping trips, let's give equal attention to family planning for all. It's the least expensive, most effective, most overlooked way to address global warming.

John Seager is president of Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth)

© 2007 The Providence Journal

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