Stabilize global population and tax carbon to reduce per-capita emissions

By Frederick A. B. Meyerson, March 19, 2008

Because this is the last round of our discussion, I’d like to make specific policy
recommendations that address the related challenges of population growth and greenhouse gas

First, in a world where climate change will have significant adverse effects on resources and
human welfare, we should do everything possible to quickly slow the current annual growth rate of
more than 75 million people and stabilize global population.

To achieve this, the United States should increase its assistance for population programs by $1
billion annually and reestablish global leadership in this area. If other donor countries also
increase their support for population programs, it should be possible to achieve universal access
to family planning and to satisfy global unmet need within five years. As a result, the population
growth rate could be reduced by about 30 percent.

Supplying contraceptives and reproductive health services isn’t sufficient to reach population
stabilization, particularly where fertility rates and preferences remain high. It will also be
necessary to increase the demand for family planning services and to communicate the benefits of
smaller families. Television and radio programs, including serial dramas, have often proven
effective in reaching underserved populations and increasing awareness of contraception–and the
desire to use it. In many cases, these programs have also lowered average family size preference.
(See the
Population Media Center for

One hundred million dollars per year in additional funding could be sufficient to ensure that
these “demand-side” programs reach the widest possible audience in the developing world, and in the
developed world where needed. Some of this money should be spent on further research as to which
media approaches are most effective, assessments of the immediate and long-term results of past and
current programs, and developing new communication methodologies in a rapidly changing media
environment. There’s no bright line between “supply” and “demand” family planning efforts. If media
programs are successful, they increase the demand for services.

It’s important to remember that in a world of 6.7 billion people, every year, 50 million or so
teenagers enter their reproductive years, and we will always need new approaches to communicate
with them. A
recent Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention report
that found 25 percent of U.S. teenage girls have at least
one sexually transmitted disease and the country’s continued
high teenage pregnancy
are strong indications that this challenge never ends–even in developed countries.

While $1.1 billion is a lot of money,
it amounts to
less than what the United States currently spends on the Iraq War every three days
. It’s a
human welfare investment that can improve our image globally and help us avoid the perils to our
species posed by a rising population and an unstable or diminishing resource base as the climate
changes more rapidly.

Suppose the combination of supply- and demand-side programs isn’t sufficient to stabilize
population globally? First, I would recommend increasing funding for the development of new forms
of contraception, which has decreased in recent years because of political and social pressure. As
long as contraception in the United States has an average annual failure rate of
nearly 10
, there’s obviously work to be done. Second, we should reexamine the web of incentives
and disincentives for having children, both in the United States and internationally. Tax and other
economic incentives should be continuously reconsidered to make population stabilization more

Stabilizing world population this century, even at 8.5 billion or 9 billion people (the most
optimistic realistic scenario) won’t avoid serious climate change, but it’s a relatively easy first
step. It will make both mitigation and adaptation much less difficult than a world of 10 billion or
more people, where we’re now headed under current population policy.

Reducing per-capita emissions is the second critical (and much more difficult) task. As I
documented earlier in this discussion, average global per-capita emissions
in nearly 40 years. The only viable way to lower them is to make the price of emitting
greenhouse gases so high that it’s in everyone’s best interest to reduce consumption and turn to
other technologies for producing energy, goods, and services. This will involve significant
economic and social change and disruption, but then so did the industrial and fossil-fuel
revolutions of the past 200 years that fostered the population growth that brought us to this
demographic and climate crisis.


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