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contraception in jeans pocket

The Ultimate Green Product: Birth Control

Major Wall-of-Fame congratulations to online magazine, Grist, and to Grist Research Associate Umbra Fisk, for this very refreshing treatment of the subject of contraception:

Which Birth Control Works Best — And Creates the Least Waste?

Grist’s Ask Umbra column offers “Advice for Living Green,” and on May 30 Umbra doubled down on that, venturing into the most green behavior possible. It all started with an uncommon question:

“Q. Dear Umbra,

My boyfriend and I have just started going zero-waste. It’s awesome! However, one thing that we always use ends up in the waste bin: condoms. I used to be on the Pill, but it was just not great. Also, I heard that a certain type of pill has a hormone that you pee out, and if it reaches the streams, it can change fishes’ gender! So we are using condoms, but it’s not like we can put them in our Mason jar. We truly need a better solution, but without the risk of pregnancy! What is the most environmentally friendly contraception option?”

Bravo to these “Zero-Waste Millennials” for caring enough to ask. Umbra’s answer, however, is truly noteworthy:

“Preventing the creation of another resource-using, carbon-emitting human is by far the eco-friendliest step anyone can take, even if you create a tower of condom wrappers to do so. So if you’ve found a birth control method that gets the job done for you, even if it involves some trash, don’t worry — just go forth and don’t be fruitful. In fact, I hereby declare all birth control exempt from zero-waste practices, just so nobody gets too hung up on it.”

Let me repeat:

“Preventing the creation of another resource-using, carbon-emitting human is by far the eco-friendliest step anyone can take….”

That is just so incredibly true. The footprint-lightening effect of choosing not to conceive a child (or not to conceive another one, if you already have one) is so huge, it more than dwarfs the side-effect of condoms in the waste stream. Take CO2 emissions as just one example. The average person in the U.S. is responsible for roughly 20 tons of carbon emissions each year. A “carbon legacy” study at the University of Oregon estimated that the carbon impact of bringing an additional child into the world is 9,441 metric tons. From the University of Oregon news release about the study:

 “…the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.”

Carbon footprint is just one of many profoundly negative impacts wrought by each additional passenger on spaceship Earth. Yet if you sift through the dozens and dozens of news stories and columns every week specifically about climate change and other existential crises, not to mention stories about population growth, the lack of population growth in some areas, family planning, etc., this connection – between family size and sustainability – is rarely mentioned. If more journalists would do what Umbra Fisk has done here, knowledge of the link and the solution would be much more common.

I like that Umbra is so matter of fact about it. Of course choosing to have a smaller family is the greenest thing we can do. Everyone knows that (or ought to).

So, thank you, Umbra!

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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