The East Coast is still cleaning up the wreckage from Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, it probably won't be the last superstorm we'll see in coming years.
While weather threats have grown, so has our population. Every year, 80 million more people join our human family. We have seven times as many people -- and 1,100 times as many emissions -- as we did in 1800.
Of course, population growth doesn't necessarily mean higher emissions. Take the African nation of Chad. Residents there have much larger families than Americans do -- about six children per woman. But per-capita carbon emissions are less than 1 percent of ours. It would be entirely wrong -- not to mention arrogant -- to blame climate change on people "over there."
But we can't ignore this fact, either: A 2005 London School of Economics study found that if everyone living in a highly developed country reduced his or her carbon footprint 40 percent over 40 years, the entire savings would be taken up by population growth. That doesn't even account for increased emissions when billions of people around the world escape from poverty, as we hope they do.
Today, more than half the people on Earth live on less than two dollars a day. Many lack basic sanitation and access to clean water. But they're no different than us. They'd like air conditioning to battle the sweltering heat. Many would like cars. Some would even like to hop on an airplane and have a vacation in the United States. But that's a recipe for climate catastrophe. By some measures, if everyone lived like Americans, we'd need five Earths to sustain us.
What we need is some equality. Call it the Great Carbon Evening-Out.
It's taken about 200 years of carbon emissions to create our current day climate crisis. It's probably going to take 200 more to set things right. We can start by reducing our own emissions and helping the developing world raise their standard of living. And we need to slow the growth rate of our entire human family in an ethical, voluntary way.
More than 222 million women in developing nations want to end or delay their childbearing but have no access to modern contraception. At the same time, half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. By continuing to invest in family planning here, and investing an additional one dollar per American per year abroad, we could slow down the growth rate, reduce our own carbon emissions, help the developing world have a better quality of life and hopefully prevent a coming climate catastrophe.
Yes, there is a cost -- about a billion dollars per year for international family planning. It's not free -- but neither are the weather disasters we're courting if we don't do something. Sandy showed us that.