Is Population Control the New Solution to Global Warming?
On December 10, 2009, seventy-three members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to the White House urging President Obama to add one billion dollars in funding for international family planning to his 2011 budget.
Advocates of family planning are hardly a new phenomenon. What was noteworthy about this letter, however, was that it cited “climate change” as a reason to advocate lower birth rates. “Family planning,” it said, “should be part of larger strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Slower population growth will make reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions easier to achieve.”
The 73 Congressmen who signed that letter were not alone in linking birthrates with global temperatures. An impressive array of Western organizations has recently jumped on this bandwagon, including the Sierra Club, the United Nations Population Fund, the Population Connection, and the National Wildlife Federation. The latter organization has claimed on its website that:
Rapid and unchecked human population growth and the resulting increases in resource consumption lie at the heart of most, if not all, environmental problems. Global warming is no exception. The unprecedented increase in human numbers is paralleled by the highest levels of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas production in history.
Despite the recent surge of attention to the alleged link between population growth and global warming, it was left to the Chinese to broach the subject at the UN Climate Change Conference 2009, held in Copenhagen last December 618. The Chinese government’s delegation argued that their country’s one-child-only-policy should “serve as a model for integrating population programs into the framework of climate change adaptation.” Zhao Baige, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission of China said that China’s policy of forced population control “has made a great historic contribution to the well-being of society.”
The Chinese delegates also cited the UN’s own State of World Population 2009 report, put out by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), which suggests that if the global population can be kept to 8 billion by the year 2050 (it is currently projected to increase to just over 9 billion), “it might result in 1 billion to 2 billion fewer tons of carbon emissions.”
The irony is that, despite its draconian population control measures, China leads the world in CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, this Communist nation has been praised for its contribution to the world’s ecology. Sven Burmester, a representative of the UNFPA, said, “China has had the most successful family planning policy in the history of mankind in terms of quantity and with that, China has done mankind a favor.”
Canada’s Financial Post also praised China for its contribution to the environment. “Despite its dirty coal plants,” said the Canadian equivalent of America’s Wall Street Journal, “[China] is the world’s leader in terms of fashioning policy to combat environmental degradation, thanks to its one-child-only edict.” The paper calls China’s solution a “simple” and “dramatic” fix that, if extended to other nations, would reduce global population by 50 percent by 2075.
From Eugenics to Environmentalism
Population control is not just an innovation from the Orient, however; it also has an impressive pedigree among the sages of the West. In fact, until the early twentieth century, it was politically fashionable for liberals to talk about finding ways to reduce the “surplus population.” Twentieth-century advocates of population control often drew on the social theories of men like Thomas Malthus and Charles Darwin’s cousin Sir Francis Galton, who, a century earlier, had argued that the poor were draining the world’s recourses. (One of Malthus’s solutions for reducing the “surplus population” was to introduce policies specifically designed to bring death to large numbers of peasants. For example, he encouraged poor people to move near swamps, so they would catch diseases and begin dying off.)
In the early twentieth century, Malthusian ideas on population control were linked to theories of eugenics and social Darwinism. It was not until Hitler tried to move these ideas out of the anthropology class and into the gas chamber that population control stopped being a politically correct topic—for a while.
But it didn’t take long for the specter of Hitler to wear off. Following the huge birth explosion that occurred in the decades after World War II, the issue of population control gradually returned to the national limelight. But this time, instead of being explicitly linked to theories like eugenics and social Darwinism, it was propelled by the emerging ideology of environmentalism.
While it was no longer politically correct to appeal specifically to social planners like Galton and Malthus, the basic concern of these men—namely, that because the resources on earth remain limited, there will be a demographic Armageddon if the human population continues to expand—was revived but packaged as ecological responsibility. Thus, it became politically correct once again to advocate population control. The American Eugenics Society (founded in 1922, as social Darwinism was laying the foundations for the Nazi experiment) jumped on this bandwagon but attempted to garner more respectability in 1972 by changing its name to the Society for the Study of Social Biology.
In & Out of Favor
As the twentieth century wore on, however, something happened to change the tide once again. Like the notorious beech dwellers in Dr. Seuss’s story “The Sneetches”—who kept changing their minds about wanting or not wanting stars on their bellies—in the 1980s liberals decided that it was no longer respectable to talk about population control.
The key factor this time was not that the world’s population had stopped growing, but that it had stopped growing in the West. (Many factors contributed to this. It became fashionable for women to marry late, while books like The Feminine Mystique helped make women feel guilty if their greatest ambition was to be a wife and mother. These things, together with the rise in abortion and homosexuality, meant that the birthrate in the West began to decline steadily.)
This fact alone would not have been sufficient to change the direction of the population debate, since population continued to grow worldwide (though at a significantly lower rate). However, by this time the specter of racism loomed large in the background of almost every debate. It did not take long before people began realizing that if Western populations were decreasing while non-Western ones were growing, and if the former are primarily white and the latter primarily brown, then calling for a lower international birthrate was equivalent to calling for fewer brown babies. And that left one open to charges of racism.
Thus did population control become politically incorrect once again. English journalist Anthony Browne lamented this shift in his 2006 book The Retreat of Reason:
Now that the population of the West has stopped growing, concern about overpopulation has become very unfashionable because, as Tony Benn put it, it means wanting fewer brown babies. The combination of Western guilt and fear of racism has all but killed off public concern about overpopulation in the last few decades.
But even as Browne was writing, the wheels of one more paradigm shift slowly began to turn. Thanks to the increased hysteria about global warming, talk about overpopulation has become politically correct once again. As Garry Egger of the New South Wales Centre for Health Promotion and Research insists, “The debate [about population control] needs to be reopened as part of a second ecological revolution” The UNFPA has framed the issue like this on its website:
Greenhouse gases would not be accumulating so hazardously had the number of earth’s inhabitants not increased so rapidly, but remained at 300 million people, the world population of 1,000 years ago, compared with 6.8 billion today.
The Human Virus
I first realized that there was a connection between global warming and a renewed interest in population control when I came across a report commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust in August 2009. Titled “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost,” the report argued that the best way to combat global warming would be to reduce the population through contraception and abortion. The utilitarian logic was simple: Fewer people = fewer polluters.
It is not that the self-appointed environmental gurus are no longer concerned about CO2 emissions. Far from it. But they would like us to follow the guilty trail of carbon footprints back to its source. After all, who uses all the fire extinguishers, compressed gases, refrigerators, and heated swimming pools that continually pollute our environment? It’s not the polar bears.
At least, that’s how the narrative goes. The reality is that most CO2 emissions are not the result of man-made technology at all, but occur naturally, as in the water vapor released by the oceans and through the consumption of vegetation by animals and microbes. But this “inconvenient truth” doesn’t fit the environmentalists’ story line, so they routinely ignore it. To them, the earth has a surplus population of polluters, and those polluters are the human population.
This “fact” is so obvious to them that only “deniers,” who are “motivated by religious-right attitudes,” could possibly think otherwise. Or so said population control advocate Morris Sullivan in a 1999 article for impactpress.com, titled “Population Control: How Many Are Too Many?” Claiming that problems such as global warming are “at least partially due to growing world population,” Sullivan wrote that “it’s hard to imagine anyone opposing restraints on population controls.” While acknowledging that “such people exist,” he asserted that the best of them “are well-meaning optimists blinded by their denial,” while the others “have more pernicious motivations—like greed and religious fanaticism.”
Paul Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace, was even more severe. In a 2007 article for seashepherd.org, he wrote that we humans act “in the same manner as an invasive virus” and that we are “killing our host the planet Earth.” This requires, he continued, a “radical and invasive” cure. How invasive? “We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion.”
Contracept for Credit
Even with the fate of planet Earth supposedly hanging in the balance, Western nations are a long way off from advocating the forced abortion policies of China. Nevertheless, global warming is continually put forward as a reason for increasing the availability of contraception, abortion, “comprehensive” sex education, and family planning services. The National Wildlife Federation, for example, put out a Population and Global Warming Fact Sheet (http://cf.nwf.org/globalwarming/pdfs/climatefactsheet.pdf) calling for better “family planning and related health care and education.” “Providing these services,” claims the federation, “will not only reduce poverty and improve the lives of many, it will reduce the danger of climate change and other environmental stressors.”
Dr. Barry Walters, a professor of obstetrics at the University of Western Australia, argued a few years ago that those who refuse to use contraception should be levied with a climate-change tax. In a 2007 article in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr. Walters proposed that such a tax be assessed on all couples having more than two children. He suggested an initial fine of $5,000 for each “extra” child when born, with another $800 assessed every year thereafter. However, parents could redeem themselves by using contraceptives or undergoing sterilization procedures, for which they would receive carbon credits.
Those who propose these schemes are unconcerned by the obvious fact that a sparse population is, in general, a poorer population. Consider that the more people there are, the greater division of labor there can be, the more capital there will be, the more hands there will be to tend gardens, and, as a result, the more fruitful the earth and human society can become. The industrial revolution would never have been possible if Europe’s population had remained at the levels it was at during the Middle Ages.
Proud to Be Alive
Inverting the Christian redemption story, the new religion of science sees mankind as the curse, and scientists as the prophets pointing out the path of redemption. Like the prophets of old, the modern scientist-prophets know that salvation can never occur without sacrifice. The sacrifice they are calling for is simple: We must become fewer and poorer. Only then will the world will be saved from the environmental Armageddon that is fast approaching as a result of “reckless breeding” (a term employed by Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger).
That is the message that China brought to Copenhagen last December, and it is the message that is increasingly being picked up by think tanks and activists throughout the world.
Yet, while not wanting to begrudge the polar bear his ice, we should be at least somewhat concerned at this recent shift in thinking. We should be concerned, not primarily because ice is melting (if it is), but because global warming—or at least the idea of it—is responsible for a renewed interest in population control. If history shows us anything, it is that when a civilization begins to feel guilty for existing, the results are usually unpleasant.
It is at times like these that I begin to envy the polar bear. When he stands proud and erect on his iceberg, he does not feel guilty for being alive.
He does not even feel guilty for procreating with Mrs. Polar Bear. •
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