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When It Comes to Pollution, Less (Kids) May Be More
"People always consider the financial costs, and they consider the time cost," said Paul Murtaugh, one of the Oregon State researchers, who said that he does not have children but that he is open to the idea despite his research. "We're just attempting to put on the table the ballpark estimate of the environmental cost."
So what, exactly, is the world supposed to do with this information?
The researchers behind both studies are emphatic that they do not want people to be forced not to have children. But Martin, whose group sponsored the British study, said governments could help stop unwanted pregnancies by offering contraception and, in rare cases, abortion.
The British study found that $220 billion, spent over the next 40 years, might prevent half a billion births and prevent 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The cost, measured in 2020, would be about $7 for each ton reduced, the report said -- far cheaper than solar power at $51, or wind power at $24.
But, for now, the world does not seem very interested.
"I don't know how to say 'No comment' emphatically enough," said David Hamilton of the Sierra Club. "I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, but the primary solutions to climate change have to deal with what we do with the people who are here," such as pushing for more renewable energy and a limit on U.S. greenhouse gases.
The idea of using condoms to fight climate change still has the same long-shot odds as the idea to make the world's clouds more reflective, or to seed the ocean with iron to supercharge its carbon-capturing plankton.
The Obama administration declined to comment when asked about the family-planning idea. At the United Nations, which is overseeing global negotiations on reducing emissions, an official wrote in response to a query that "to bring the issue up . . . would be an insult to developing countries," where per-capita emissions are still so low compared with those in the United States.
So the idea is not for everyone. But it made sense to climate activist Mike Tidwell of Takoma Park. He said that worries about climate change were part of his decision not to have more children after his son was born 12 years ago.
"There are moments when I say, 'Wow, it would be nice to have a second one,' so parenthood didn't pass so quickly," he said. "I see some of the consequences of this choice that involved, for me, climate change."