Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 15, No. 1, January 2019
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Population AND Climate Change ~ A Necessary Conversation

Brittany Ganguly

This article was originally published by
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, 29 November 2018
under a Creative Commons License

Image from UN AIDS Awareness | Island Nimbus | CC BY-ND 2.0

In Response to Including Population Control in Climate Policy Risks Human Tragedy

Dear Ian Angus,

We are writing in response to your article Including Population Control in Climate Policy Risk Human Tragedy.

We agree with your conclusion that population policies should focus on a women’s right to choose and like all social policy must be rooted in social justice and human rights. We advocate for policies and programs that support choice and we also recognize there is a difference between “control” and choice. Population policies should support reducing the threats to our civilization caused by over-population and these threats take many forms, climate being just one.

The examples provided in your article only focus on limited misguided initiatives which, were immediately stopped once recognized. There are hundreds of good examples of effective population policies and interventions that are respectful and accepted, often with community input. Focusing on offensive policies of the past rather than positive policies and progress, inhibits progress.

To effectively work towards population stabilization, we must talk about strategies that improve availability and women’s right to choose. This includes taking a deeper look at: What policies are encouraging people to have children (including tax breaks)? How are we identifying and communicating about unmet need? What are the effects of countries (such as the US) that are limiting the availability of contraception? These polices do have negative effects on population—these policies foster cultures that encourage population growth and the oppression of women.

To make an impact in population growth we will also need to shift norms across the globe. Europe and many parts of India have reached replacement or below replacement levels. In China, where 1-child policies have been softened, people are still choosing one child. Education programs in emerging economies need to include male partners and community leaders in order to continue influencing norms. To effectively shift norms and allow women to make informed decisions the conversation should include not only the direct benefits to the children themselves but the impact of population on climate which, is an indirect benefit to the children. If more people understood the full impact of 220,000 additional people a day on earth, would a majority of our decisions not be more informed? When they understand that every child contributes to extreme weather, drought, sea-level rise the importance of their decision shifts from the personal to the community. This is powerful.

Perhaps this begs the question; what information should a woman operate with when ‘having the right to choose’? When we educate women on the economic and health benefits of family planning this information is motivated by other reasons such as economic success for families, which benefits women and children. Could environmental information not be included in this? Is it appropriate to include how many additional pounds of carbon each birth will contribute to the atmosphere when educating any person on growing their family?  Where do we draw the line between what information is necessary for a woman’s choice and what is motivated by other goals? Are they really separable? One can reasonably argue that all the reasons for choosing fewer children (1 or 2) directly benefit the children that are born.

To make a difference in the world’s growing population and shift norms we have to start thinking about what information is included in ‘informed decision making’. In The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, Wynes and Nicholas[1] found that one of the most effective high impact strategies in reducing an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions is having one child less. Therefore, population should be on the table when considering environmental policy, considering they go hand in hand, educating about either could help both causes.


The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere


[1] Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters12(7), 074024.


Brittany Ganguly is Communications Director of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, Stanford University.

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"We live in the interval between
a death and a difficult birth."

John Michael Greer, 7 November 2018


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