The venerable superstars of the population movement carried the cause on their backs for decades, but do they warrant immunity from our criticisms simply on that basis? Are the things that they are NOT saying to remain within the pale of socially acceptable comment impeding the advancement of the "neo-Malthusian" agenda? Is "overpopulation" the most absurd taboo----or is it the measures needed to reverse it?
Which Taboo Is The Most Absurd?
Having just read the transcripts of David Attenborough's recent speech "Planet and Population" and Paul Ehrlich's interview with Alex Smith, my sense is confirmed that the leaders of our movement blunt their analysis with politically correct bones that they throw out to appease critics.
This is not an accusation but an observation. It could well be that they do so because they must. Just as leaders of political parties know that to win, they must move to the centre, our leaders, being the "point men" of the movement, are acutely aware that public opinion will not accept the strong medicine prescribed by some of their followers.
Attenborough said that "all these people"---the extra 3 billion global citizens that are expected----need and "deserve" to be fed, housed etc. "Will they be able to get it? I don't know. I hope so." This is Lester Brown's attitude as well. "How are we going to feed 9 billion people?" Both men do a brilliant job of telling us how serious the burden of overpopulation is, but then after having done so, immediately rule out measures that may be necessary to reverse it. Attenborough says that reproductive health services must be made available to everyone, that they be "empower(ed) and encourage(d)" to use them, "though of course without any kind of coercion". Like Ehrlich, he states that we need a change in culture that nevertheless would be one that where "everyone retains the right to have as many children as they like". Attenborough calls the refusal to mention or deal with overpopulation an "absurd taboo", but how absurd is it to immediately invoke a human, culture-bound concept----- the freedom to procreate-----to rule out options that may be necessary to save our race? "Coercion" is the most absurd of all taboos. It is a word with undeserved connotations despite the fact that all laws that govern civilized people are coercive by nature.
Empathy For Whom?
Ehrlich, meanwhile, calls for "global empathy", that is, an extension of the empathy we have for those close at hand outward to distant humans, whose fate will affect our own. This is a current of thought I call "green globalism", a view that issued out of the John Lennon era ("Imagine there are no countries") and the Apollo missions. "We all share this place, this tiny blue marble in space, so we must work as one". Fine theme, but the practical truth is that we are a tribal species, and the conference on the Science of Morality last year (2010) in Connecticut showcased a host of studies that validate that view. We are a caring people, but primarily toward people close at hand. That shouldn't be surprising, after all for more than 95% of our existence we were hunter-gatherers living in clusters of 50-150 people. Empathy for those whose cooperation was essential to our survival became a competitive advantage. As Ehrlich pointed out, empathy is hardwired in our brains, but since our "tribe" has grown to 7 billion, our project must be to "spread it around".
Ehrlich and company are globalists. They see national sovereignty as a stumbling block to the development of a global consciousness, of global empathy. Tribalism is just a primitive stage that we must get over to survive. William Rees also shops this line. It’s the Green line. As Bruce Cox of Greenpeace Canada remarked, "You can't nationalize the environment". Trouble is, we have already lost national sovereignty to a large extent. And whose interest has that served?
Too Little Local Identification
It must be asked, is our problem today the lack of global caring and global awareness? Or is it in fact the growing lack of identification with those around us, and with our own locality? Is not the major problem the fact that a manufactured focus on more remote concerns has permitted the unfettered movement of goods and people across borders? A movement that fits the corporate agenda? I would submit that the real issue today is not xenophobia but xenophilia in the West---the perverse love of the outsider or the stranger at the expense of those closer to hearth and home. Ironically, however, while we are being enjoined to replace our alleged tribal focus with a global one, our globalist immigration policies have led to the growth of ethnic tribal enclaves within our cities swollen by emigration from undeveloped nations with unabashedly tribal mentalities. We have been persuaded to disarm our national sovereignty so that supra-national forces beyond our control are able to work the needs of one people off against the other.
Mass migration is a battering ram to knock down workers rights, national living standards and environmental regulations. Instead of the cooperation of sovereign nations, we are getting the domination of sovereign nations by corporations to serve the bottom line. And they are using green globalist sentiments of compassion and 'workers solidarity' as a smokescreen in pursuit of their mission. "Empathy" for the aspirations of migrants but none for the people whom they displace. "Empathy" expressed as unconditional foreign aid for countries like Ethiopia, which thanks to foreign aid, doubled its population since 1985. "Empathy" for Haiti which, thanks to unconditional emergency aid, tripled its fertility rate in one year since the earthquake. Empathy without strings. Empathy that triggers the population explosion that drives cheap labour into the arms of employers in the affluent north. International cooperation is one thing, but globalism is quite another. Surrendering control over our the destiny of our communities does not give us the ability to address global issues.
The Global Ship Is Kept Afloat By Secure Bulkheads
The captain of a ship cares about all of his crew and passengers. He cares about the survival of his ship---which everyone on board depends on for survival. But when the integrity of the hull is threatened by a collision with another vessel, reef, or torpedo, what does he do? He orders that the hatches between bulkheads be sealed. In other words, he secures the "borders". He prevents the potential traffic of water from the compartments that have been flooded and filled up to the compartments not yet filled up. And he consigns those trapped behind the sealed hatches to their fate. His "global empathy" requires him to be callous to the needs of those unfortunate enough to be situated in the wrong place at the wrong time. He will indeed order that the pumps be operational so that the trapped crew have a hope of survival. But that is all. Shifting the weight of a global ship is as destabilizing as shifting weight on a ship at sea. We should do all we can to help people where they live, but we wouldn't be helping the world by helping them to move where they would like.
Mandatory Optimism Trumps Honesty
One more point. Attenborough, Ehrlich, Brown----like almost all of the rest of us, are careful to leave a discussion on a note of optimism that does not connect with the argument that they present. Ehrlich, for example, spoke of the stupendous war effort that America made when it suddenly shifted from the production of automobiles to the production of tanks and planes, and they how it shifted again to the production of civilian products at war's end. That, he said, was a cause for optimism---we can make that kind of effort again to shift to a sustainable economy, an industrial economy that operates within limits. But where will this economy find enough non-renewable resources to maintain it? Can we run any kind of industrial economy indefinitely? The consensus seems to be, "Let's not go there". It would too demoralizing for the troops and besides, no one would entertain our message. That assumption may be correct. Even publishers demand a happy ending.
The sad truth is, political correctness blurs our vision, and even venerable leaders are occasionally afflicted by it. In order to court favour with prevailing opinion, things that need to be said aren't being said, while popular cant is repeated ad nauseum without contest by those who should know better. The truth is that while our problems are global in scope, they also must be addressed locally, regionally and nationally. The truth is that we haven’t the luxury of taking two decades to stabilize our population---we must reduce our population radically and rapidly. And most of all, the truth is that “empowering” women to have as many children as they would want will not achieve this goal. Only a regime of legal incentives and disincentives that enforce a majority consensus to reduce population will suffice. These truths, however, are not being uttered by population activists in leadership positions. The stakes are too high, I think, not to call them out on it. As David Attenborough said, "It is all getting too serious for such fastidious niceties."
March 22, 2011