The Debate over Climate Change and Reproductive Health

By Rachel Walden — September 18, 2009

The medical journal The Lancet has an editorial in its current issue that argues that one way to help ward off climate change is to increase family planning services and reduce unintended pregnancies.

The writers of the editorial, Sexual and reproductive health and climate change, believe that family planning proponents might gain more support and funding if they focused on how family planning can reduce climate change. They argue:

With less than 3 months to go, the UN Copenhagen conference on climate change provides an opportunity to draw attention to the centrality of women. The sexual and reproductive health and rights community should challenge the global architecture of climate change, and its technology focus, and shift the discussion to a more human-based, rights-based adaptation approach. Such a strategy would better serve the range of issues pivitol to improving the health of women worldwide.

Astute readers of the full piece will note that the editors seem to be talking about efforts to reduce population in places outside the Lancet’s UK location, given specific reference to efforts in Ethiopia and general mentions of the UN and Millennium Development Goals that seem to suggest work in developing nations.

The SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, however, takes a different stance on this approach. The current issue [PDF] of their Collective Voices newsletter is focused on reproductive and environmental justice, and includes a piece that outlines 10 reasons why population control is not the solution to global warming.

The authors – Betsy Hartmann and Elizabeth Barajas-Roman – argue that “it is not population growth that drives carbon emissions but economic systems of production, distribution and consumption based on the profligate use of fossil fuels,” and state:

Blaming climate change on overpopulation lets wealthy countries, corporations, and consumers off the hook. It is part of a long tradition of eugenic environmentalism in which environmental and economic resource scarcities are attributed to “too many people” – usually meaning too many people of color.

The authors address the issues of reproductive rights, race, and blame raised by this approach, and state that that “This strategy threatens to undermine both climate justice and reproductive justice.” The full piece is well worth a read.

Hartmann and Barajas-Roman write more about this topic at

2 responses to “The Debate over Climate Change and Reproductive Health”

  1. Great article. This argument has been made before — during the 1970s, the group Zero Population Growth also claimed that overpopulation in the developing world was responsible for environmental problems. I’m glad SisterSong is exposing this as b.s.

  2. What a madness !

    Climate change will be sorted out via technology and the number of living souls by birth control ! Thanks for separating the issues 🙂

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