Can condoms combat climate change?


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Yes, and they should, argues an editorial in the new issue of the medical journal the Lancet.

In addition to boosting the health, standard of living and human rights of women, encouraging the use of contraception also will help save the planet, the journal argues. The calculus is simple: preventing unwanted pregnancies -- especially in the developing world -- translates into reduced demand for increasingly scarce and energy-intensive resources like food, water and shelter.


More than 200 million women around the world would like access to modern contraception, and their lack of it leads to 76 million unintended pregnancies each year, according to Lancet.

Thomas Wire, a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, came to essentially the same conclusion last week. In a report titled “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost,” Wire calculated that if present trends continue, the planet is on track to have 338 billion “people-years” lived between 2020 and 2050. But if contraception were available to every woman who wanted it, so many pregnancies would be averted that the number of people-years would fall to 326 billion.

That reduction of 12 billion people-years would save 34 gigatons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise cost at least $220 billion to produce. In other words, each $7 invested in contraception would buy more than 1 ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

Among the first 40 developing countries to submit global warming adaptation plans to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, 37 linked population growth to global warming. But only six of those countries incorporated contraception into their plans, according to Lancet. That should change, the editorial says.

“It is time for the sexual and reproductive health community to use the climate change agenda to gain the traction women’s health deserves,” Lancet says.

-- Karen Kaplan