Keya Chatterjee is a global climate change and environment expert who advocates for the Midwives Model of Care because it is better for the environment in addition to being better for women. Keya points out the astounding waste produced in hospitals by the packaging of equipment such as epidurals, and discusses the ways in which care that focuses on women and family planning reduces unwanted pregnancies. She argues that ensuring that women have the power to choose their family size ultimately slows population growth, which in turn reduces waste and resource demands on our planet.
As a mother who works on climate change policy, I feel passionately that providing women with the best health education and health care is not only good for women, but it is good for the planet; and it is especially important in an age when human actions are dramatically changing the environment.
My own personal story is that of a woman in the United States who aspired to have natural childbirth – but not for the exact same reason that most people do. I did care about better birth outcomes, and having the best preparation for breastfeeding, but I was motivated mostly by my desire to avoid the wasteful environment of the hospital. I wanted to avoid the wasteful items in the epidural kit, so that made me want to avoid the epidural; it was my midwives who enabled me to do that. My desire to avoid the pollution from hospitals may sound crazy until you begin to read about how very wasteful the United States health care system is once you account for all the pollution from the buildings, the paperwork, and the single-use equipment. A 2009 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that the United States health care system produced a whopping 8% of the country’s huge greenhouse gas pollution, compared to the United Kingdom, where the National Health Service accounted for 3% of greenhouse gas pollution. Hospital pollution is mainly a problem for women in developed countries, whose hospitals use excessive coal and have not yet seen the beauty of efficiency and conservation of resources.
Across the globe, the more adequate and compassionate the health – and other – education that women receive, the more likely they are to have fewer children. When women have a positive birth experience, are given the tools to breastfeed, healthier children are the result, and there is often less pressure to have additional children. Educated women are also more likely to be exposed to information about birth control options that are available, resulting in empowered women who have the number of children they want. This tends to have a positive effect on the environment because it results in slower population growth, and less consumption of fossil fuels that cause the climate to change. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco I had a local friend who was in her thirties and who had two children that were school age. She lived in the same village where she had grown up, and imagined that she would have the same life her mother had. Her mother had worked so hard her whole life, yet tragically died during childbirth with her fourth child. My friend told me that the day that she learned that she could get access to birth control for free, she realized that her life could be different. And indeed, it was different. She had two children whom she loved to pieces, and thanks to access to excellent health services for women in the village, she was able to keep it that way.
Of course the relationship between population and pollution is not that simple. It is people in the more developed countries who pollute the most, even with a lower head count. But my story, and the story of my friend, shows that no matter where you live, access to compassionate and woman-centered maternal healthcare is good for women, and critical on a planet with a changing climate.
JW Chung, “Estimate of the carbon footprint of the US health care sector,” JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 302, no. 18 (2009): 2009-2011.
Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert for a global environmental nonprofit organization. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya’s writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at www.keyachatterjee.com.
Image source: Environmental Protection Agency