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]


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!!!

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

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.

Eric M. Jones

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....


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.


Angel Pine

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.



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



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

Are you new here?


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.


@ Brett

Yes I am new. I take it this place doesn't keep with the attempted neutral approach I was so pleased with in the Freakonomics books.

Do you know if Levitt and Dubner have much to do with this page? I have some very strong opinions about some of the concepts presented in their books, but I think they do a great job of not advocating for a particular side. It is unfortunate if this page does not try maintain that level of objectivity.



It's called 'satire' (note the purposefully extreme jump from 'family planning' to 'we're all dead'). And anyway, my point still stands that CO2 is required for plants; taking that further, research has shown that the increased CO2 in the atmosphere has the result of plants growing faster and stronger, pulling more CO2 out of the atmosphere (an adaptive ecology acting adaptively... who'd a thunk?). Just one of the many, many factors not taken into account in over-simplified climate models which can be too-easily tweaked to show the desired result rather than the truth. I do have a minimal education (but thanks for the suggestion), and because of that I can tell that with the amount of evidence against anthropological global warming, we probably shouldn't be spending millions, billions, and trillions of dollars on a problem that might not exist or might be impossible to solve.


I believe Dubner and Levitt oversee the blog, but have a very light hand and allow the individual posters to really do what they think is appropriate - for better or worse. Some of what you'll find here will echo principles of the books, some will not seem relevant/objective/appropriate at all.




How much work is being done in Carbon auditing?
Given that Enron et al managed to report such complete nonsense as fact in a field that is very closely audited and well known, how much more likely is it that there are errors or falsifications in carbon accounting.

And then those errors get multiplied by every person on earth, to really exaggerate them.

Not saying that is what happens, just want to know!


Climate change denial is the norm on Freakonomics. Haven't you all heard Stephen Dubner complain that CO2 is called a poison in schools now?

It's just in different clothing. The deniers / Republicans are taking aim at the economy instead of the science so they won't look like the Creationists eventually did.

Bang for your buck? Conservation is not the same as buying a cruise ship vacation. It's multidisciplinary. The money spent to prevent forests from slash and burn may involve education, NGOS buying land, helping farmers change their methods of growing food, and research on endangered species who will lose habitat.

These estimates are all over the map, and many are just plain wrong.



"The deniers / Republicans are taking aim at the economy instead of the science so they won't look like the Creationists eventually did."

No, we're attacking the science of it. And the economy of it. And the religion of it.


It's funny when people claim the mantle of science and bash those who are skeptical of their position. It is in fact required by science that theories stand up to scrutiny.

As the Freakonomics books clearly demonstrate, what someone perceives as the prevailing wisdom plays little role in what is the reality of the situation.

I also like the comparison to "the Creationists". I would guess this means Emmi found religion in strict Darwinian Evolution, a theory with more problems than Lindsy Lohan.


Gosh, by the logic of the paper, I've got to believe the following link gets to the most cost effective solution of all:|/pc/105625080/c/106597980/Winchester-USA-Handgun-Ammunition-Per-100/705872.uts?destination=%2Fbrowse.cmd%3FcategoryId%3D106597980

At roughly $0.26 per person (on sale), a 9mm slug is incredibly simple to procure and easy to implement. No need to set up NGOs all over the world and funnel money through the inefficient global giving business.

Rich people who want to live could buy offsets and kill a cow or horse instead of themselves or their kids. Maybe Al Gore could buy some feedlots and start selling offsets.


@Brett - So you're ready to talk science? Go ahead and explain the correllation with the C13/C12 ratios with the rise in fossil fuels. I can't wait to hear you discuss that one. (Oh, of course, deniers don't actually discuss the evidence).

@Jeremy, sorry but the Wedge theory does not work. Just because some evolution questions are still being answered, that does not make Creationism correct by default. Science does not work that way.


At no time did I say Creationism is correct, or correct by default. I simply pointed out your attempt to marginalize the people who have legitimate questions about the theory of man made climate change by comparing them to people who believe in Creationism is severely flawed.

The current evidence available requires as much faith to believe in Darwinism as it does Creationism. Your statement "some evolution questions are still being answered" is assuming they will be answered. It is not leaving the option that they can not be answered, poor science indeed.

"Deniers don't actually discuss the evidence" - quote of the day. How often have we heard the climate change side claim the discussion is over and it is time for action? If there are climate change advocates looking for debates and the skeptics are running away, that is news to me.

Eric M. Jones


Deniers, Nyeh-nyeh-nyeh-nyeh-nyeh-nyeh..., heathens, Republicans, Klingons... Antidisestablishmentarians! Please correct me if I fall into this trap. Didn't your mother ever tell you that calling people names is just not helpful?

Real science is interested in the outlier data, and if you read the "Freak" (my proposed new name for this blog) you will know that correlation is not causation. I have read the C12-C13 reference paper and don't see a single human fingerprint.

PS: Jeremy, Darwin was right. Go learn some science.

As for global warming. See, a very sober discussion of these things from an anti-AGW point of view. ...Not sayin' he's right....just sayin'....!



Please explain how the Cambrian explosion occurred using strict Darwinian evolution. I can not get over people who state something that is unproven as "right" and then call out others to "learn some science".


@Jeremy, I agree with you that activists and media can be extreme when it comes to climate change. However, scientists discuss the evidence.

Just FYI, most scientists define a "denier" as someone who flat-out calls climate change a scam and refuses to talk about the actual data. I'm afraid you fall into that category right now.

Fossil and DNA evidence has proven evolutionary theory for 150 years after Darwin died. What evidence is there for Creationism? None!