The Biggest Bang for the Climate-Change Buck?

The world is full of efforts and estimates toward reducing carbon emissions. A new paper by David Wheeler and Dan Hammer argues that the best bang for the climate change buck may lie in family planning and girls’ education: $1 million spent could save 250,000 tons of CO2. Reducing slash and burn forest practices (the next expenditure category), in contrast, would only save only 66,667 tons. Other categories that produce less-efficient returns include pasture management, geothermal energy, pastureland afforestation, reforestation of degraded forests, plug-in hybrid cars, solar energy, power plant biomass co-firing and capture carbon and storage. (HT: Chris Blattman) [%comments]

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  1. Brett says:

    Well yeah, if there aren’t any people then there won’t be any CO2 emissions.

    Wait, what about all the animals… we’d better euthanize all animals. That would be truly green since then only plants would be alive.

    Wait, but the plants need CO2 to live… maybe CO2 emissions are so bad after all, and hey look! We all get to live!!!

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  2. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    How much does it cost to place birth control medication in the water supply? Pennies per capita. Simple and effective.

    The Only Breeders will be those who drink plain rainwater and single malt liquor. POE.

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  3. Eric M. Jones says:

    When you look at the numbers, educating women and encouraging family planning would not cure the US or China’s CO2 emissions. It would help India perhaps, but curing third world problems have relatively little effect. and ultimately solving some of the third world’s ills would move them up the economic ladder. And that would raise emission per capita.

    Hey, there’s a reason why farmers castrate all their male animals….

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  4. Jeremy says:

    So let me get this straight, if we lower the number of people in 3rd world countries, we can stop them from producing all those emissions from their SUVs and fancy private jets. You are right, when I think of heavy carbon emissions I think of poor people in Ethiopia.

    The added benefit will be that these countries will have less people and therefore less workforce. As we all know, countries like China and India are such non-factors economically due to their massive workforce.

    In all seriousness, the case is not closed on the “Climate Change” issue. There are credible scientists on both sides of the debate. Before we are sure that the issue is real and the effect is an actual problem, there are many other things we know are problems and we can put our money into solving those issues.

    I am disappointed to see an article associated with Freakonomics that assumes climate change is real and that “lower numbers of children” is good. I have always been impressed by Levitt’s and Dubner’s abilities to have as neutral of an approach as they can. This article in no way explores the “hidden side of everything”. These types of articles could have easily been written over 100 years ago about the coming horse manure calamity.

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  5. Angel Pine says:

    A quick look at the comments to the linked site that summarizes the paper reveals some pretty important limitations — ones that are apparent to anyone who thinks carefully about the situation, but are easily overlooked. First, the effects of a reduction in births are likely to be very slow indeed; we’re talking about reducing the birth rate by perhaps one birth in four, with the effect not showing up for many years. Second, as unwanted births decrease in developing countries, per capita incomes likely will rise, and so will carbon use per capita. Has this effect been considered by those who did the money-effectiveness calculations? Third, what’s the *total* emissions now of the population whose birth rate is to be reduced? Inasmuch as these are the poorest people in the world, their current total emissions are quite low compared to the industrial world, so the total potential reduction is likely to be quite small. It may be a very effective use of ONE million dollars (over, say, twenty years), but it might well be that only 100 million dollars would exhaust the possibilities for advancement through this avenue.

    Not to mention the very strong objections of very influential religious organizations. In short, a very misleading post.

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  6. Huh? says:

    I’ve said this time and time again, San Fransico needs to ban having kids next. Then the Happy Meals situation will resolve itself.

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  7. Brett says:


    “I am disappointed to see an article associated with Freakonomics that assumes climate change is real”

    Are you new here?

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  8. James says:

    Re #1: “Wait, what about all the animals… we’d better euthanize all animals.”

    How about getting a minimal education before you post? As in the problem is not the carbon cycle, but the addition of carbon from fossil fuels. AFAIK, humans are the only animals who drill oil wells and dig coal mines.

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