Should we regulate births to save the planet, as proposed by Jean-Marc Jancovici?

“Either we regulate ourselves (note: the population), or it happens through pandemics, famines or conflicts”† morning guest France news Monday, May 23, the ecologist and chairman of the Shift Project, Jean-Marc Jancovici, spoke out in favor of contraception to alleviate the demographic weight that will soon weigh on the planet. The proposal is not new, but is it feasible in practice? And who will pay the price?

It is estimated that nearly 10 billion people will inhabit the earth by 2050… But how can we welcome them in decent conditions, given global warming and resource depletion? “Nature, the planet, will not accept that 10 billion inhabitants on earth live ad vitam æternam as they do today”, the chairman of the environmental think tank continued. Faced with this cruel climatic reality, Jean-Marc Jancovici therefore proposes a solution: birth control.

According to him, France has already started to do this by trading its past pronatalist position for less stimulative policies, especially on the fiscal side. The income tax system therefore favors households with several children less than before. And in fact, on the side of the birth rate, with 1.87 children per womanthe country ranks among the low average at the global level.

But efforts are still to be made and all countries of the world, including France, concern the specialist. While these comments can be confusing or even shocking, in reality they are just the reflection of a long-standing debate.

A concept that has been advocated since ancient times

As far back as ancient times, the philosophers Aristotle and Plato promoted birth control to curb poverty. 200 years ago, it was British economist Thomas Malthus who theorized contraception as a resource conservation tool. Today, it is scientists and ecologists who are taking over, recalling the staggering estimates of population growth: more than 2 billion by 2050(from 7.7 to 9.7 billion), then 11 billion at the end of the century.

In 2018, some twenty scientists signed a column The world entitled Climate: “Reducing population growth is an absolute necessity”. The collective then described the inextricable links between demographics and the environment and described the consequences of this growth on “medium and long term”

The combined effects of the impending population growth and the inevitable increase in consumption per capita (both in developed countries and even more so in developing countries) are leading to a real catastrophe for our planet: destruction of biodiversity, threatened water resources, rising water levels as due to melting glaciers, scarcity of fish stocks, depletion and salinity of agricultural land, warming of more than 5°C in 2100 in France with peaks of more than 50°C, massive population movements.

Tribune published in Le Monde

To avoid catastrophe, the scientists described two complementary goals to be pursued: “So it will be necessary, especially in developed countries, to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions: this is the energy transition. But we cannot ignore a significant reduction in global population growth: it is the demographic transition, which has not yet been completed in many regions of the world.

A controversial regulation

In the same year, a tweet from AFP caused an outrage from internet users. On the social network, the news agency had published an infographic from an American study comparing the impact of eleven green gestures to reduce the ecological footprint. Unsurprisingly, the most effective action was: “have one less child”

Why such a taboo around contraception? In 2009, the demographer Henri Leridon, detailed in World Difficulties in implementing this method: “It is an illusion to believe that we can respond to this variable in a simple and direct way. It is a slow process, requiring education and encountering political and cultural obstacles, even more than religious ones. It is not enough to make boxes of contraceptives available to people.”

If the reactions to the prospect of contraception are so strong, it’s also because, apart from touching the intimate, the subject hides a certain hypocrisy according to its detractors. For Paul Ariès, political scientist and editor-in-chief of the magazine The interrogated by Edition“The first bellies we want to dry up are always those of poor and colored women”

Remembers the magazine though Terra Eco“where the carbon footprint of a North American is 20 tons of CO2 per year, that of an Ethiopian barely 100 kilos, 200 times less… at least make up for it”.

Photo by bibiphoto via Shutterstock

Towards a one-child policy?

In his interview, Jean-Marc Jancovici did not elaborate on the methods of setting up such contraception. However, there is little chance that a one-child policy such as that introduced by China between 1979 and 2015 will be implemented† Instead, specialists offer more incentive-based solutions based on tax and education.

In 2009, then-deputy ecologist Yves Cochet proposed cutting child support for the third child in order to lower the birth rate. For the demographer Jacques Véron, it is necessary to narrow the gap between rich countries and developing countries where access to contraception is still too little downplayed.

“It is through education and actions in favor of maternal and child health that it is possible to better empower the poorest populations to make real choices in terms of family formation”he said in a column published in The world

But the problem is even more global, he recalls: “Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate in economics, believed that the population problem was primarily a development problem. Let’s not underestimate the demographic challenge, but the regulation of the world’s population can only happen through a development that is shared by all.”

And you, do you think you have to limit yourself to the size of your family to save the planet?

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