By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A study by statisticians at Oregon State University has concluded that deciding not to have an “extra” child is 20 times better for the environment than practices such as recycling, using energy efficient appliances and driving a “green” car.
“In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime,” Paul Murtaugh, a member of the study team, told LiveScience. “Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources.”
Murtaugh said reproductive choices matter when it comes to caring about the earth. Every child produced has the potential of producing more descendants, thus effecting the environment many times over.
For instance, under current conditions in the United States, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible.
The study also found that the impact of having children differs between countries. Some developing nations have much rates of population growth than the United States but their overall impact on the global carbon equation is reduced by shorter life spans and less consumption. For example, the long-term impact of a child born in China is less than one-fifth the impact of a child born in the United States, the study found.
However, as the developing world increases both its population and consumption levels, this equation may even out.
“China and India right now are steadily increasing their carbon emissions and industrial development, and other developing nations may also continue to increase as they seek higher standards of living,” Murtaugh said.
The researchers note that they are not advocating government controls or intervention on population issues, but say they simply want to make people aware of the environmental consequences of their reproductive choices.
“Many people are unaware of the power of exponential population growth,” Murtaugh said. “Future growth amplifies the consequences of people’s reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance.”
Murtaugh’s findings have been published in the journal Global Environmental Change.
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