Re: I am starting to panic about my child’s future’: climate scientists wary of starting families

Written by Marian Starkey | Published: May 13, 2024

The Guardian recently published an article about female scientists’ decisions to limit their family size due to the state of the environment. We responded with a letter to the editor which we are featuring here as it was not published.

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Dear Editor,

I am submitting the letter below in response to the article “‘I am starting to panic about my child’s future’: climate scientists wary of starting families”, from 10 May 2024.

Thanks to Damian Carrington for reassuring readers that today’s debate around population pressures doesn’t include draconian “population control” but, rather, focuses on expanding access to voluntary contraception and removing barriers to receiving an education. Both measures empower girls and women to have more agency over their own lives and childbearing decisions, which leads to lower fertility and slower population growth.

That the scientists responsible for writing and reviewing the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports have concerns around childbearing in a world whose temperature is rapidly rising is not surprising: The IPCC’s technical reports repeatedly refer to population growth as one of the three key factors in emissions projections (along with economic growth and technology).

Unfortunately, the Summary Report for Policymakers (a heavily diluted version of the technical report, which is edited line by line by governments before they give their approval for its publication) fails to address the role of population growth as an emissions multiplier. This perpetuates the continued neglect by policymakers of one of the top three climate solutions: investing in family planning and education.

Clearly, the body of scientists who make up the IPCC agree that population size matters — their model scenarios hinge on how quickly, and whether, fertility rates decline in the coming decades. Their responses to the Guardian survey affirm that sensibility. It’s time for governments to accept what scientists are telling them — that population stabilization is critical to averting climate catastrophe.

Thank you for your consideration.

Marian Starkey
Vice President for Communications
Population Connection