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Tie your tubes and save the planet?

July 31, 2009 |  3:40 pm

Babyfoot Environmentalists tend to avoid the topic of population control. Too touchy. But the politically incorrect issue is becoming unavoidable as the global population lurches toward a predicted 9 billion people by mid-century. Will there be enough food? Enough water? Will planet-heating carbon dioxide gas become ever more uncontrollable?

Now comes a study by statisticians at Oregon State University focusing on the elephant in the room. If you are serious about your carbon footprint, think: birth control.

The greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more significant than the amount any American would save by such practices as driving a fuel-efficient car, recycling or using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, according to Paul Murtaugh, an OSU professor of statistics. Under current U.S. consumption patterns, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of an average parent--about 5.7 times a person's lifetime emissions, he calculates.

"Many people are unaware of the power of exponential population growth," Murtaugh said. "Future growth amplifies the consequences of people's reproductive choices, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance."

Given how much less the average developing nation consumes per capita, the impact of a child born in the U.S., along with all his or her descendants, is more than 160 times that of a Bangladeshi child, the OSU research found. And the long-term impact of a Chinese child is less than one fifth the impact of a U.S.-born child. But as China, India and other developing nations hurtle toward prosperity, that is likely to change.

--Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Christine Cotter/LA Times

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