By Hilary White

December 14, 2009 ( – Population control groups have been using the hype surrounding the Copenhagen climate change conference to promote their solution to hypothetical impending environmental catastrophes. Earlier this month, two pieces appearing in the same edition of the Guardian revisited a report by Britain’s Optimum Population Trust (OPT) that suggests that people in wealthy first-world countries should “offset” the carbon cost of their jet-setting lifestyles by paying to prevent the births of poor children in the developing world.

John Vidal, the Guardian’s environment editor, wrote that the OPT’s report suggesting a “radical” plan to cut carbon emissions was the “best bet” to reduce global warming trends. In August, the OPT issued a report claiming to have made a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to work out exactly how much “carbon emission” a child born in the developing world costs.

Vidal pointed to the claim in the OPT report that the 10 metric tons of carbon emitted by a single return flight from London to Sydney could be “offset” by “enabling the avoidance of one unwanted birth in a country such as Kenya.”

In the same issue of the Guardian, David Burton wrote in an editorial that the OPT offset scheme, called “called PopOffsets,” could be used to save the environment and “to help the world’s poorest women.”

The OPT scheme, Burton wrote, “will give practical help: both to the poorest women in the world to enable them to control their own fertility and to humanity by tackling the threat posed by human-induced climate change.”

The report, published in August and titled, “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost: Reducing Future Carbon Emissions by Investing in Family Planning,” said that “family planning” is cheaper than low carbon technologies like windmill power generators and low-consumption light bulbs.

“Based on the study’s findings, it is proposed that family planning methods should be a primary tool in the optimum strategy for reducing carbon emissions,” the report said.

OPT insisted that only “unwanted” children would be targeted for elimination by the scheme that would provide artificial contraception to those who currently cannot obtain it.

The OPT scheme has been blasted, however, even by some on the far left, as a manifestation of a “crusade against the unique quality of human life” that typifies the environmentalist movement.

Frank Furedi, a secular humanist, author and professor of sociology at the University of Kent, and a noted climate change skeptic, minced no words in his assessment of the OPT’s suggested scheme.

Calling them a “zombie-like Malthusian organisation devoted to the cause of human depletion,” Furedi wrote in Spiked that he was shocked by the lack of outrage at the suggestion from humanists and religious leaders alike.

“There was a time when people who measured the value of human life through sombre calculations based on cost-benefit analyses were regarded with suspicion and contempt.”

“Why is it that, today, the provision of contraception can be promoted as a sensible way of reducing carbon emissions? How do we account for the silence of religious movements whose theology still upholds the unique status of human life?” Furedi added.

The human population is now about 6.8 billion and world population is expected to peak at about 9 billion in 2050 and then begin to decline. In many countries, particularly in the developed west, the process of de-population is already well under way, with negative fertility rates and rising median ages.

Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam, wrote in an op-ed in the New Statesman that assumptions such as those in the OPT report equating population growth and environmental degradation are a “gross oversimplification.”

Green points to the rapid slowing of population growth around the world and fears by some governments, like South Korea, that diminishing population will lead to economic slow-downs. In one sense, he said, “the ‘problem’ is self-solving, and indeed, if the transition gets any faster, the world could be faced by a serious shortage of working age people to look after the rising numbers of elderly.”

“If their arguments were based on logic alone, the population control lobby would probably be advocating compulsory euthanasia rather than birth control, but its preponderance of elderly white male members makes that pretty unlikely,” Green added.