The December 2018 President’s Note addressing the stunning silence regarding the impact of population growth on climate change really struck a nerve — resulting in unprecedented comments that this must be addressed.
Yet why do so many who recognize the dire threats posed by climate change refuse to accept the incontrovertible evidence that population growth is a key driver of greenhouse gas emissions?
Pushback often takes the form of whataboutism: “What about our own sky-high carbon emissions? Why focus on rapid population growth in less developed, low carbon nations when our usage is the real problem?”
Some early references to whataboutism targeted the Soviet propaganda technique whereby U.S. criticism of totalitarianism was hit with the rejoinder, “What about all the lynchings in the American South?” Whataboutism is used to stifle discussion by pointing out some manifest failure on the part of those who raise inconvenient topics. It’s all about evasion.
Of course, highly developed nations must dramatically reduce emissions. And we cannot shift blame onto people struggling with extreme poverty, looming pandemics, and civil strife exacerbated by overcrowded conditions. Faced with few or no options, many flee their homes as a last resort.
Climate change is a global crisis. Everyone can help. Today, there are 214 million women in less developed nations who don’t want to be pregnant but who face barriers to using birth control. Here at home, nearly half of all pregnancies are still unplanned. A modest investment in U.S. foreign assistance can help smash family planning barriers everywhere, so people can have the lives they want, which nearly always results in smaller families. They win. We win. The planet wins.
It seems so obvious. What are we waiting for?