Hey, hey, ho, ho, climate change has got to go!
What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!
Those were just two of the chants I heard at the Portland, Maine, iteration of the Global Climate Strike, on September 20, 2019. Students from schools throughout the city and the surrounding towns marched past delighted onlookers—many of whom joined in—and converged on the steps of City Hall, where they chanted, held signs (my favorite read, “don’t be a fossil fool”), and heard from young speakers about the threats of climate change and what they want the adults in power to do to halt it.
It was a proud moment for students across the country, and indeed, the world. An estimated 7.6 million people joined climate strikes in 185 countries! The Global Climate Strike was scheduled to precede the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, which occurred on September 23. But students have been walking out of class every Friday to strike against climate inaction for years.
With all the attention climate change gets in the news, at UN meetings (as I write this, Trump is preparing the formal U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement), and in national politics, you’d think I’d have been able to find more than three high-quality, recent articles to reprint on the connections between climate change and population growth. But alas, three is the number I found.
Which is just silly, since the connections are undeniable. People consume fossil fuels—indeed, at very different levels—and people live in the homes, farm on the land, and work in the businesses that are destroyed when hurricanes come tearing through or flood waters inundate entire towns or wildfires spread faster than firefighters can contain them. The more people we have on earth, the more people we have emitting CO2 and losing their livelihoods, and even lives, due to climate change.
And while per capita emissions might be low in developing countries right now, many of those countries are seeing growing middle classes of people who are demanding—rightfully—more comfortable lives, which come with a requisite rise in emissions.
Expanding access to family planning will have the effect of lowering fertility rates, slowing population growth, and reducing the number of future people contributing to and suffering from our current predicament—all while fulfilling people’s reproductive health and childbearing desires.
It’s well understood that the regions most vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change are the same regions where fertility rates are highest. Climate adaptation strategies in high-fertility countries would do well to include improving affordable access to voluntary family planning, along with pursuing more traditional methods of adaptation.
And in the U.S., which has one of the highest per capita emissions rates in the world at the same time that it suffers from an abysmally high unintended pregnancy rate, we must do a better job of providing comprehensive sex education, affordable access to the full range of contraceptive options, and sustainable energy alternatives. The future of the planet and humanity depend on it.