A grotesque - and ludicrous - answer to global warming

British charity peddles absurd idea to offset carbon emissions via contraception in Africa

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2012, 5:16am

Browsing the internet the other day I came across something I thought at first was an inspired piece of satire.

But as I read on, it dawned on me this was no satire. It was meant in deadly earnest. is aimed at the sort of people who like to proclaim their environmental credentials at dinner parties but still drive their children to school each day in a three-tonne Range Rover.

This startling website allows them to assuage their green guilt at a stroke. All they have to do is tap in a few details about their lifestyle, and it tells them how much money they need to donate to offset their carbon emissions.

The site's backer, a British charity, then uses this money to fund contraception for women in Madagascar, because, as the website explains "an 'absent' human (i.e. one whose birth has been avoided) cannot produce CO2 (nor can their 'absent' descendants)."

You can see why I thought this was satire: prevent the birth of enough future carbon-emitters in Africa, and you can happily fly off business class to the Maldives secure in the knowledge that you are doing nothing to fuel global warming.

This idea is not only grotesque, it is ludicrous.

According to the World Bank, the average inhabitant of Madagascar is responsible for emitting less than 0.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

Given that each resident of Britain, pumps out 8.5 tonnes, (see the first chart) that means your average Brit would have to prevent the birth of 87 Madagascan babies to offset his carbon emissions.

As a result, it only needs 7,700 Brits - the population of a small country town - to offset their emissions in this way to stop any babies being born in Madagascar at all.

I've a better idea: a website that lets Madagascan women pay for contraception in Britain. By preventing just one British birth, each Madagascan mother would then be able to go on and have 87 babies without contributing in the slightest to global warming.

As Hong Kong property prices set new highs, fears continue to mount that the market is a momentum-driven bubble in imminent danger of bursting.

Yet, although some softening of prices is possible given the weakness of the global trade cycle and the mainland's slowing growth rate, this column has long argued that there is little threat of a 1997-style crash any time soon. The reason is simple: although prices have gained dramatically over the last few years, there is no sign that the current boom - unlike the one in 1997 - has been propelled by a rapid increase in leverage.

If you doubt that - and many readers do - here is a little more evidence. The second chart shows the growth in value of outstanding mortgages plotted against the nominal growth rate of Hong Kong's economy.

In the run-up to 1997, the rise in mortgage lending far outstripped the growth of the overall economy.

This time around borrowers have been far more restrained. As a result, at the end of June the value of mortgages outstanding stood at 43 per cent of Hong Kong's GDP, little different from the 42 per cent level recorded at the bottom of the city's property slump in 2003. What's more, according to analysts at Bank of East Asia, the share of homeowners with a mortgage on their properties has fallen from 52 per cent 10 years ago to 40 per cent today. That's important because if the price gains aren't driven mainly by a massive expansion in leverage, there is far less chance of a full-scale property crash once the credit cycle turns down.