Population, Climate Change, and Human Rights

The conversations about climate change and the necessity for a new approach to protecting the environment and retooling the ways that humans interact with and use natural resources have been growing bigger and more noticeable as we begin to see real effects of climate change around the world. There are dozens of tactics and recommendations for ways to reduce individual and community carbon footprints on the climate, and perhaps one of the most oversimplified of these is: there should be less people.

Over the last few months, the medical journal The Lancet has been tangling with the question of the intersection of health and climate change. In an editorial last month (free, but requires login), the journal pointed out that

Over 200 million women want, but currently lack, access to modern contraceptives. As a result, 76 million unintended pregnancies occur every year. Meeting this unmet need could slow high rates of population growth, thereby reducing demographic pressure on the environment. There is now an emerging debate and interest about the links between population dynamics, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and climate change.

The concept of “unmet need” is important and worth stressing – support for women to choose the number of children they have and when they have them must be the result of the needs of women, not the needs of the state or the needs of the environment. Management of population must grow out of the concern and advocacy for the human rights of women; women’s human rights cannot be dismissed in favor of the “greater good” of the climate change. Women’s need for access to contraception and safer sex information is not out of step with global initiatives to reduce human impact on the environment, but the environment cannot be used to legitimize the subjugation of women’s health and rights.

This post is the Interntional Women’s Health Coalition’s contribution to Blog Action Day, an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. Read a live stream of posts about climate change on the Blog Action Day website



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