Family Planning: First Do No Harm


In 2017, researchers out of Sweden performed a meta-analysis[1] to determine which individual lifestyle changes have the most impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The four most important were living a car- and plane-free life, eating a plant-based diet, and “having one fewer child.” This last recommendation is, in fact, the most impactful, potentially saving over twelve times the CO2 emissions than the other three combined.

It is also considered the most controversial and thus dominated all the headlines, with articles like “Scientists Say Having Fewer Kids Is Our Best Bet to Reduce Climate Change”[2] and “Want To Slow Global Warming? Researchers Look To Family Planning.”[3]


There are valid reasons to be wary of family planning, as it has been used in the past as a tool to control populations, especially women; examples include China’s one-child policy[4], Romania’s 1966 Decree 770 that outlawed abortion[5], and state bills that have closed abortion clinics across the U.S[6]. As writer Valerie Tarico reminds us, “during much of history, male-dominated governments and patriarchal religions have treated a woman’s childbearing capacity as means to a societal or economic end.”[7]

Family planning policies can also empower women, however, as long as they are written to give women the agency to decide when and how to bear children. Moreover, women who avoid unplanned pregnancies prove to be healthier, more active in the workforce, and more resilient — a key necessity for adapting to climate change.

Family Planning Done the Right Way


Researchers estimate that as many as 225 million women in developing nations want greater reproductive agency but lack education and contraception. The result is nearly 74 million unintended pregnancies globally.[8] Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) programs like A Re Itireleng in South Africa demonstrate how family planning and environmental sustainability can reinforce each other; in this community-led effort, families learned how to time pregnancies to ensure proper nutrition while also learning about sustainable water practices.[9]


While fertility rates are higher in developing nations — that of Niger, the world’s highest, is 7.6 per women, compared to 1.9 in the U.S.[10] — children from developed nations are responsible for far more emissions. Right now, a child born in the UK is estimated to produce 20 times the CO2 emissions as one born in Bangladesh.[11] It is thus important to remember that access to family planning is necessary for women in all countries, especially since family planning is ultimately “about freedom and opportunity for women and the recognition of basic human rights.”[12]

What You Can Do to Help


Family planning initiatives currently receive only about 1% of all international development aid: a shockingly low number considering how important it is for the health of our world’s women, children, and climate.[13] Moreover, developing nations in particular want more robust family planning policies: of the 40 developing nations that submitted National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) to the Global Environmental Facility requesting financial and logistical assistance, 93% of them listed population growth as a threat to climate change adaptation.[14]


Because educating girls and women and family planning are inextricable, there are a variety of organizations to which you can donate that target both; these include Hand in Hand International, Girls Not Brides, and the Malala Fund.

However, providing access to reproductive and contraceptive care in the U.S. is also of importance — and perhaps even more so, considering how much more greenhouse gases a child in a developed nation produces compared to one in a developing country. Donating to Planned Parenthood[15] and other family planning[16] organizations[17] can help ensure that all American women have the ability to determine their reproductive futures.








[8] Drawdown, 78.




[12] Drawdown, 79.

[13] Drawdown, 78.