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Who Is Coercing Whom?

Source of small picture with coat-hanger in teaser was

I am frankly sick and tired of growth-promoters raising the spectre of “coercive population measures” whenever a suggestion is made that we must promote family planning or smaller families. Is there some sacred reason why fertility should not be limited if deemed necessary? In a world of 6.8 billion people going on 9 or 10 billion, or in any nation suffering from exponential population growth, there can be no “pro-creative” right.

This must not be confused with “reproductive” rights. Women should have the right not to have children. But they have no right, in the context of overshoot, to have as many children as they or their husbands want. The “right to choose” cannot be the right to abuse. Even the most jealously guarded right must be measured against equally fundamental rights, most especially the right of our species, and others, to live.

I have, at present, the "right" to drive a car. But I do not have a right to drive it over the speed limit. And it is society that establishes that limit, not me. Indeed, if society determines that there are too many people driving cars, it has the moral right to impose petroleum taxes, restrict parking permits and spaces, put tolls on highways and bridges and employ an assortment of other measures to discourage me from driving. I similarly have the right to go fishing, but I don't have the right to catch as many fish as I may like. In the face of shortages, we have come to accept that our collective right to achieve sustainability supersedes any individual “right”. The number of consumers who will compete for critically scarce resources is surely every bit as important as the number of people who go fishing and how many fish they catch. If there is a licence needed to fish, why should there not, in principle at least, be a licence required to inflict a child upon the rest of society? Am I advocating “coercion”? Absolutely. Coercion if necessary, but not necessarily coercion. Mutual coercion mutually agreed upon, if voluntary efforts, yet to be exhausted, prove ineffective. But would fertility controls represent the introduction of coercion where none presently exists? Absolutely not.

Let's get real. A great many women in the undeveloped world at least, are having children precisely because they are coerced. Coerced by husbands, priests and mullahs to have more than the number they want. Coerced by their cultural programming to give male wishes greater priority than their own. Coerced by their lack of access to birth control information, and by the denial of educational opportunities. This is where coercion makes itself most present. Not in China. Not by communist bureaucrats and law-makers. But by the dictates of domestic and religious patriarchal power.

And what of my rights? What about my right not to see my share of non-renewable resources diminished by the “personal” decision of the couple down the street to have an unnecessary child? Did they consult me about their decision to conceive another Canadian, an earth-trampling shopping machine who emits 23 metric tonnes of carbon each year, consumes 40,000 pounds of metals and minerals and accounts for over 150 pounds of curb side waste each day? Did they submit an application to the local planning authority or town council for a permit to stress the environment even further than it is being stressed? Why is their “right” to create more life considered more fundamental than our right to sustain the life that is already here? Why should the human population level of a country or a planet be subject to the whimsy and haphazard “personal” decisions of fertile individuals? Why must they replicate their own genes? Why are so many children forced to live in orphanages, foster homes and on the squalid streets of sprawling cities to fend for themselves while irrational ego-trippers generate more children just because they want to raise someone with the same pair of ears or eyes as they have? Children do not have to share your genes to share your love.

I wouldn't dream of telling anyone to have a child. So why would anyone tell me that I should move over for theirs? To paraphrase Hilary Clinton, it takes a whole ecosystem to raise a child, and as a charter member of it, I have the right to participate in the decisions that affect me. On an overloaded planet anybody's pregnancy is everybody's business. For every extra billion we grow in number, another 200 billion tonnes of Green House Gases are emitted, and to effectively reduce emissions, we must, among other things, reduce the number of emitters. Unfettered procreative rights are of little value on a dead planet. Beyond a certain point, parenthood is not a service but an imposition, not only upon humanity, but disproportionately upon the most disempowered and poorest part of it, the very people whom many Western feminists and human rights crusaders are most concerned with. How can an unsustainable population level enhance their rights? Can anyone seriously contend that the sum total of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies does not restrict personal autonomy more than the most intrusive family planning program? Or maintain that the absence of effective birth control is not the most coercive regime that women can suffer?

Just who is coercing whom?

Tim Murray, Quadra Island, BC