The More the Merrier for Sustainability?

My alarm goes off; I turn it off and toss to my left. I feel the cool breeze coming from the air conditioner. I am grateful to have a device like this that can regulate the room temperature to on optimal level with the press of a button. As I leave the cool air of my apartment, I realize how hot and humid it is outdoors in this month of July. I am now convinced the most indispensable equipment for survival in my apartment is the air conditioning unit.

Now imagine a world in which the average global temperature is ever-increasing, and the goods and services we take for granted become more and more expensive and limited. Demand for energy and other resources exceeds supply. We find ourselves consuming more energy to use our air conditioners as global temperatures keep rising to unprecedented levels. Add population growth into the mix, and we have a vicious cycle where that growth encourages increases in energy consumption and other human activities that intensify climate change.

According to the United Nations medium population growth projection, the scenario UN demographers describe as most likely to unfold, human population will grow to 9.6 billion by 2050. This is a substantial amount of growth and is likely to have detrimental effects on our environment. Green technology is certainly one solution, but there is also an approach to addressing climate change that most environmentalists and policy-makers ignore: improving access to voluntary family planning.

The Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment (FPESA) project, directed by the Worldwatch Institute, seeks to gather peer-reviewed articles shedding light on the linkage between voluntary family planning and environmental sustainability. This linkage is not simple, and research often treats single aspects of a relationship of many parts. For example, researchers may focus specifically on demographic change or on the empowerment of women and improvement in household livelihood.

This project is an international collaboration of researchers coming together to test the hypothesis that family planning matters to sustainability. They work to assess the rigor and quality of recent published research. The objective of this assessment is to provide a robust evidence base that can be useful for environmental leaders, policymakers and other potential allies in advocacy for improving access to family planning services.

We plan to report our findings this February, with a thorough bibliography and textual narrative on the family planning-environmental sustainability linkage.

Follow us in this important journey to safeguard our future and that of our children!

Yeneneh Terefe is a research assistant in Worldwatch’s Environment and Society Program.

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