U.S. carbon footprint: a one-child policy

Andrew Revkin, who reports on environmental issues for The New York Times, floated an idea recently for combating global warming: Give carbon credits to couples that limit themselves to having one child.

Revkin later told CNSNews.com that he was not endorsing the idea, just trying to provoke some thinking on the topic.

Revkin participated via Web camera in an Oct. 14 panel discussion on “Covering Climate: What’s population got to do with it?” that was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. The other participants on the panel were Dennis Dimick, executive editor of National Geographic, and Emily Douglas, Web editor for The Nation magazine.

At the event, Revkin said: “Well, some of the people have recently proposed: Well, should there be carbon credits for a family planning program in Africa let’s say? Should that be monetized as a part of something that, you know, if you, if you can measurably somehow divert fertility rate, say toward an accelerating decline in a place with a high fertility rate, shouldn’t there be a carbon value to that?

“And I have even proposed recently, I can’t remember if it’s in the blog, but just think about this: Should – probably the single most concrete and substantive thing an American, young American, could do to lower our carbon footprint is not turning off the lights or driving a Prius, it’s having fewer kids, having fewer children,” said Revkin.

“So should there be, eventually you get, should you get credit – if we’re going to become carbon-centric – for having a one-child family when you could have had two or three,” said Revkin. “And obviously it’s just a thought experiment, but it raises some interesting questions about all this.”

When CNSNews.com later followed up with questions about his comments, Revkin responded in an e-mail.

“I wasn’t endorsing any of this, simply laying out the math and noting the reality that if one were serious about the population-climate intersection, it’d be hard to avoid asking hard questions about USA population growth,” wrote Revkin.

“By raising the notion of carbon credits for, say, single-child American families,” he continued, “I was aiming to provoke some thinking about where the brunt of emissions are still coming from on a per-capita basis.”

In a Sept. 19, 2009 blog entry, “Are Condoms the Ultimate Green-Technology?” Revkin cited an August 2009 study by the London School of Economics that highlighted having fewer children as a solution to diminishing our carbon footprint.

The study was sponsored by the British activist group Optimum Population Trust, which advocates reduced population growth.

“More children equal more carbon dioxide emissions,” blogged Revkin. “And recent research has resulted in renewed coverage of the notion that one of the cheapest ways to curb emissions in coming decades would be to provide access to birth control for tens of millions of women around the world who say they desire it.

“I recently raised the question of whether this means we’ll soon see a market in baby-avoidance carbon credits similar to efforts to sell CO2 credits for avoiding deforestation,” he later added.

“This is purely a thought experiment, not a proposal.”

Furthermore, he blogged: “But the issue is one that is rarely discussed in climate treaty talks or in debates over United States climate legislation. If anything, the population-climate question is more pressing in the United States than in developing countries, given the high per-capita carbon dioxide emissions here and the rate of population growth. If giving women a way to limit family size is such a cheap win for emissions, why isn’t it in the mix?”

Revkin earned a Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and a biology degree from Brown University.

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