PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A 2008 University of Maine at Presque Isle graduate is headed to Uganda to discuss a study he completed this summer that concluded spending money on family planning, rather than on more conventional green technologies, would be more cost-effective in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions.
Thomas Wire, who graduated from UMPI with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, completed the study in August as a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics.
The study, “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost,” was commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust, a United Kingdom think tank concerned with the impact of population on the environment.
Wire pointed out during a recent interview that his study involved performing a cost-benefit analysis of reducing carbon emissions by reducing population growth noncoercively. Investing in family planning, he said, means fewer people. Fewer people means fewer carbon emissions.
In performing the study, Wire accessed already existing projections of population growth and global carbon emissions between now and 2050. He then calculated that spending about $7 a year per person on family planning could reduce carbon emissions by 1 metric ton between 2010 and 2050. He calculated that it would take about $32 a year per person in spending on green technologies to achieve the same carbon emission reduction.
“If countries spend more money on family planning, that is going to reduce the birth rate and the level of population growth,” he said. “That is especially true in countries where there is an unmet need for contraception. That unmet need refers to the proportion of women who wish to delay or stop having children but, for several reasons, do not have access to contraception.”
Wire added that if access to family planning improves now and continues to improve, “there will be fewer unwanted births and fewer people will emit fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide.”
Hailing from Watford, United Kingdom, Wire came to the United States in 2002 as an exchange student at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. He went on to graduate from UMPI and just received his master’s degree in operations research from the London School of Economics. The study was conducted for his thesis.
Wire said he never really looked in depth at the issues discussed in his study before beginning it, considering himself more of a mathematician.
“But I started doing some research and it was impossible not to be surprised by what I read and discovered,” he said. “What I ultimately found is that family planning is more cost effective at reducing carbon emissions than most low-carbon technologies.”
Wire noted that his research is based on projections that look up to 40 years into the future. He said his study should be looked at as an illustration of possibilities rather than as a guarantee of what’s going to happen in the future.
He acknowledged that some have found his findings controversial.
“I’ve had some people tell me that they disagree with the study,” he said. “I think most people who disagree with it do not fully understand it,” adding that the study looks at family planning services for people who have already expressed a need for them, not those who might be offered such services.
Wire has received international attention for his study. It has been mentioned in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, and the story was then picked up by media such as The Economist, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
Wire said that what he has learned has enlightened him and allowed him to use that knowledge to enlighten others.
“I’ve come to realize that this is an important issue that people should be talking about and I think it’s important that different avenues for climate change are explored,” he said. “Hopefully, this study will have an impact on the way people think about family planning and climate change.”
Wire will discuss his study Nov. 19 as a panelist at a practicum in Uganda organized by AfriComNet. The practicum is titled “Family Planning Communication and Advocacy Responses in Africa.”
Wire’s study also may be in the news again in December. It was mentioned recently on the Web site for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will take place next month in Copenhagen. Wire has been told that the Optimum Population Trust plans to distribute copies of the study to all the delegates at the confer-ence.
Now based in Houlton, Wire said he is looking forward to the trip to Uganda.
“It will give me a chance to meet all kinds of different people and discuss my findings with them,” he said. “I expect that I will learn a lot from them as well.”
To read Wire’s study, go to www.optimumpopulation.org/reducingemissions.pdf.