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Why Going Green Is Not Enough to Save the Planet

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By Alexander Nathanson

(Photo: James Cridland/Flickr)

In the 21st century, where environmental protection has become vital to the future of the planet, we have seen eco-friendly practices becoming more and more routine in everyday households. A newfound awareness and sense of responsibility seems to be sweeping over the common person who believes they have the means to reduce their carbon footprint. Of course, this is amplified by the “go green” movement that encourages people to use environmentally safe products and devices in an arduous effort to slow climate change.

But going green is hardly enough. In addition to green living – driving less, recycling more, and using energy-efficient, eco-friendly products – we also need to consider a more complicated, less talked about subject: family planning and population growth control.

The Green Movement Only Goes So Far

When we take a step back in an effort to understand the increased awareness of climate change in the public’s eye, we begin to see that there indeed was a “breaking” point (so to speak), that point being the year of 2009. That year marked the largest percent of decrease in ice cover at the Arctic, and also saw an increase in climate related disasters. For these reasons, 2009 soon became the year with the most broadcast news coverage of climate change in history.

And while all of this media coverage fueled the going green movement into the worldwide idea it has become, it also peaked the interest of scientists around the world who aimed to understand just how much a family could reduce their carbon outputs by going green.

However, nightly news coverage of climate change eventually dropped 70 percent between 2009-2011, and still continues to plummet.

While data proved undoubtedly that taking green initiatives reduces greenhouse gas emissions, an Oregon State study suggests that these behaviors are not the most effective and efficient means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that a family can take. Paul Murtaugh’s study at Oregon State in 2009 concluded that if an adult made all the “usual” environmentally friendly lifestyle changes, such as buying a car with 50 percent better gas mileage, driving 33 percent less, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and windows, replacing an old refrigerator, and recycling household trash, they would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 486 metric tons over their lifetime.

However, the study concluded that by simply having one less child, over 9,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions could be saved, equaling out to just under 20 times more tons of saved in a lifetime when paralleled to what are considered usual green reductions.

While the study is publicly available, and was published in a time where climate change awareness was at an all-time high, most of society seemed to be more focused on the emerging green trends of the times. In fact, hybrid/electric car sales in the United States have skyrocketed every year since 2009, while the average family size in this country has only dropped from 2.57 in 2009 to 2.54 in 2014.

While “going green” certainly can help reduce a family’s carbon output, the fact is this simply is not enough to reverse anything considering the rapid climate changes of recent. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by oceans is currently increasing by 2 billion tons per year. Air and land temperatures continue to increase, and 2014 was the warmest year worldwide ever recorded. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased 7 percent since the early 90s, largely in part of overpopulation and industrial revolutions in developing nations such as India.

The future of climate change does have some upsides, however. The renewable energy market is growing around the world, as it has increased 5 percent since 2009, and in that time has been the fastest growing source of energy consumption. Worldwide superpower India has implemented policy supporting solar energy expansion, and has decided to set a new goal of solar capacity a fivefold from their first estimations. And despite news coverage of climate change falling off in recent years, politicians seem to be embracing green party ideals with increasing frequency, and it is received with positive feedback from potential voters in many cases.

Addressing Overpopulation

Still, a multi-tiered approach to addressing rapid climate change needs to be taken. Fossil fuel consumption needs to plummet greatly, individuals need to continue to be conscious and frugal regarding their daily practices that could lead to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, and what needs to be combated moving forward is addressing the problem of overpopulation before it starts through active and conscious family planning, as it could be a viable solution in cracking the ever difficult issue of rising greenhouse gas emissions, and in turn further climate change.

We as individuals simply cannot give up on regular green practices just because they are not as effective as we may have initially believed, rather we must understand that there is more we can do to save the planet.

Proactive family planning needs to become a regularly practiced ideal if we really want to preserve our resources and minimize existing problems in our world such as food insecurity.

Not only can this proactive thinking improve family dynamics, but it can also help reduce population totals in the future where non-renewable resources will be scarce. Active and conscious planning, bringing to light the issue and facts around overpopulation and what it means for the future of our planet as well as continuing green practices such as active recycling, reductions in driving, and switching to more energy efficient appliances in our everyday lives is a recipe that could actually make a change in our increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

We must understand that many of these proposed behaviors and choices are becoming more of a necessity rather than an alternative, and we need to be willing to adapt our family and lifestyle choices if we are to have a lasting positive impact on the land we inhabit, rather than pointing ourselves toward further degradation.

Alexander Nathanson is an intern at Vermonters for a Sustainable Population, a non-profit organization in Montpelier. He is a senior studying environmental policy at Champlain College.