November 1, 2011
The world did not celebrate the arrival of the seven billionth member of humanity. Rather, it shuddered. Seven billion mouths to feed with an unsustainable agriculture. Seven billion polluters crowding into impoverished cities. Seven billion violators of the planet’s fragile biodiversity. Seven billion flames to heat the planet and emit carbon.
A billion people ago, the world seemed different. When Kofi Annan descended with flowers on a bewildered mother in Sarajevo to welcome the six billionth person, we were celebrating the advancements of humanity. We had arrived at this milestone by great achievements in science (healthcare, hygiene, agricultural technologies …) which had been conquering disease, plagues, pandemics and allowing humanity to thrive. No eco-religious preachers were using the occasion to condemn man for wanting families. No prophets of doom warning us of the coming catastrophe of our humanity’s use of resources. But today even the UN has joined in the media-induced frenzy of dread over the threat we are posing to the poor planet.
I celebrated “Seven Billion Day” by studying the rantings of the paranoid self-interest group, Population Matters. If you ever need to know the simplistic answers to complex problems, this is the one-stop shop (with a boat-load of famous trustees to feign credibility). With a planet in peril from rapid biodiversity loss, catastrophic climate change, stressed water tables and plagues of urban poverty crippling already unsustainable cities, the answer is obvious: stop having babies!
This Malthusian Armageddon Complex is nothing new, but with the combined punch of the digital communication outreach tools and the culture of fear stoked by the environmental movement, groups like Population Matters are getting more attention than their “flat earth” ideas merit. The lack of evidence supporting their ideas and the naivety of their populist argumentation frighten me. For example, Malthus’ warnings of famines were only proven wrong because of the rise of fossil fuels (and we all know what that has done to the planet). While they seem, in their examples, to reject the view that mankind can continue to manage to sustain its growing population, they believe that we can manage population reduction. What a waste of energy!
Population Matters provides a table called the Overshoot Index (based on Global Footprint data) to show evidence of how the planet should only have a maximum of around 4.4 billion in order to sustain a good quality of life. It highlights which countries are the most unsustainable and in obvious need of population management. For example, Korea, with 48 million people, can only sustainably support 3.3 million. Where should the other 45 million go? Canada, it seems, has enough space for them. Singapore is completely unsustainable – all 4.5 million will have to emigrate (although they are against emigration – England might be overrun by hordes of CO2 emitters!). It seems Singapore does not have the natural means to sustain even a single nut farmer and his family. Where is the science here?
Population Matters are using a banker’s approach to sustainability: rather than making cuts to our lifestyle for the sake of future generations, let’s just cut the number of lives in the equation. Two quotes from their page on sustainability frighten me:
The choice is fewer who are richer, or more who are poorer. …
… Compared with the challenge of asking people to reduce their living standards or change the fundamental technological basis of their society, approaches seeking a reduced birth rate are low cost and proven. The unborn people who never existed, and all their non-existent descendants in perpetuity, have no impact on our planet.
This is indicative of the dark, immoral underbelly of the environmentalist movement. The problem rests with people and the solution (the Final Solution) for the planet is found in population reduction. We will not be able to enjoy the quality of life we deserve if people in Nigeria or Kenya continue to have so many babies. So how do we stop them? How do we get down to 4.4 billion? … What a bunch of morons!
Once again, it is the rich in the developed world, trying to tell the poor in the developing countries how they need to live their lives (in order to sustain the developed world’s standard of living). The arrogance of the argumentation is only muffled by the overwhelming lack of urgency of their claims. Population growth has declined (from 2% to under 1% in the last decades). Management of resources and agricultural technologies continue to expand and enhance the livelihoods of the poorest. Science and technology are addressing issues to improve living conditions, protect the environment and ensure that the planet can continue to sustain its population. The main threats to sustainable living in developing countries come from environmentalist initiatives like biofuels and organic agriculture or their campaigns against GMOs and DDT.
I cannot believe that David Attenborough (Population Matters’ patron) has taken the time to read the nonsense on the group’s pages that flash his name or photo at will. They are good at getting attention though (whether it is on the BBC or in the UN).
To the seven billionth person, I would like to say: Welcome to the human race! Please ignore those who have condemned your arrival or assume that your geography will leave you in a world of poverty and environmental degradation. To the contrary, your arrival makes the world a better place – I hope you bring it love and happiness. If you prosper and contribute to society, so much the better.