The Baby Offset


The Optimum Population Trust, based in the UK, has proposed a radical method to tackle climate change. The trust recently compared the costs of six carbon-reducing measures. To save a ton of CO2 requires an investment of $131 in electric-vehicle technology, $51 in solar energy, and $18 in wind. It takes $57 to capture and store a ton of carbon from coal and $13 to save enough trees. The biggest bargain? Birth control. At $7 per ton of carbon, family planning can reduce emissions by cutting the number of unintended births.

The idea has sparked controversy, not least because of the implicit suggestion that carbon sinners in the West should limit the reproductive capacity of the carbon poor in the developing world. But backed by David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Paul Ehrlich, and other prominent conservationists, Project Director Roger Martin hopes the project will cut through the politics to address the impact of a burgeoning world population.

As Martin says, “It [Popoffsets] offers a practical and sensible response. For the first time ever individuals, companies, and organizations will have the opportunity to offset their carbon voluntarily by supporting projects to provide family planning services where there is currently unmet demand.”

The Optimum Population Trust has created a website (www.popoffsets.com) that allows travelers the opportunity to reduce their impact by contributing to family planning in countries with limited access to contraception.

A calculator on the group’s website determines typical carbon emissions for individuals in different countries: an American family of four emits about 82 tons of carbon each year; a donation of $575 can offset the impact. It would cost more than $4,600 to capture and store the same amount of carbon from coal.

The project sponsors insist that they oppose initiatives that advocate coercion. Instead, funds will go to regions where contraception is in short supply. In Madagascar, for example, women have an average of five children, and only one in five women has adequate access to birth control.