'Too many of us?'

Last weekend I took part in a debate at the wonderful Battle of Ideas Festival in London, a weekend of intellectual jousting where the hot-button issues of the day are gnawed over by panels of divergent experts and sharp-shooting audiences. I've been on panels in previous years on immigration and religion, both familiar hunting grounds. But this year's took me into a debate I'd not paid much attention to before: the idea that people should limit their family size in order to avert a forthcoming ecological disaster. The topic -- 'Three's a crowd? The battle over reproduction and population' -- turned on a report by something called the Optimum Population Trust which divided environmentalists when it came out earlier this year. The OPT have a campaign called 'Stop at Two', which urges people to do no more than reproduce themselves because, as the OPT's Sir Adrian Stott argued on the panel, "there are just too many of us".  

Seeing that the debate was funded by BPAS (the UK's largest abortion provider) and the Wellcome Trust (which last year successfully lobbied Parliament to allow "new reproductive technologies" such as embryo cloning) I was a little nervous, wondering if I would be hissed and booed. You can hear the debate here -- feel free to scroll to my opening five minutes at 12:30 -- and judge for yourself how it went. As it happened, my arguments -- that this was the same old Malthusian phobia which recurs in every generation; that the doom-mongers always ignore the elasticity of economic productivity; that people are the solution, not the problem; that "the best contraceptive" as the former president of Tanzania once said, "is the knowledge that your children will live"; and that the ecological crisis will be solved by meeting the needs of the poor, not chasing them off the planet -- went down suprisingly well. Or at least, the OPT's went down badly, exposed as at once imperialist and nativist, and based on bad science.

But the debate made me realise how deep-seated and widespread is the populationist phobia. This excellent article in the Observer, and this other (very funny) one in Spiked offer windows onto the mind-set. Some folk really do believe that the world is facing disaster from overcrowding, despite the evidence in last week's Economist that that fertility is in fact falling.

It also made me realise how powerful is the populationist lobby, how much money and resources are poured into organisations like the OPT, with their eminent patrons, and how much corporate backing there is for lobbies and campaigns aimed at reducing the size of families.

I was pondering this recently when an email alerted me to a feisty new blog called Anti Catholics for Choice Watch. Justine Fox has taken it upon herself to expose the agenda and funding of 'Catholics for Free Choice' (CFFC), an organization mostly without members with teams of lobbyists in Washington DC and Brussels. Some 97 per cent of its $7,405,664 assets comes from private foundations -- Sunnen, George Gund, Hewlett -- which are well known for funding population-control causes. That's serious money. That's serious power.

Two thoughts:

1. The Vatican really cannot be accused of paranoia when at the UN population conferences they warn starkly of the wealthy western lobbies which persuade developing-country governments to persuade or coerce the poor to have fewer children. 

2. Imagine if that power and money were put to another use: to enhancing life, not limiting it; to countering poverty, not chasing away the poor. 

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Vince Killoran
10 years 11 months ago
"Monitor and expose" all you want:I donate to Catholic for Free Choice and read their magazine, CONSCIENCE.  I know a number of other Catholics that do so as well. It's true-they are not a grass roots movement, but most publications and lobbyist in Wash., D.C. (including USCCB) aren't either.
The pages of CONSCIENCE are filled with a wide variety of views. About the only thing the contributors agree with is that abortion should not be re-criminalized.
10 years 11 months ago
You are correct about Catholic For Free Choice.It's a lobby funded by foundations to undermine Catholic pro-life teachings.. They do not ask for membership, nor do they have meetings etc on their website. The just ask you to be plugged into their e-mail agi-prop.
They tried to be 'ponied' into a Catholic progressive lay based coalition convention in Detroit 2011.. but cooler/knowledgeable heads nixed them..Their 7+ million plus budget/assets makes it an organization to be monitored and exposed.
10 years 11 months ago
I don't know anything about the Anti Catholics for Choice Watch but I have two concerns ...
One is that people who are against contraception always seem to bring up the idea that contraception is promoted by wealthy westerners to get rid of the poor in undeveloped countries.  I think that's an unfair and untrue characterizarion.
The other thing is about the science - from what I've read, yes, birth rates are dropping in developed countries, but that doesn’t mean there are not and will not be too many people for our environment to sustain us, not to mention the toll in deforestation, pollution, loss of other species, etc.  Just one example -  a 2007 story in the Guardian (which comments on a UN study involving more than 1,400 scientists) notes ..... "human consumption had far outstripped available resources. Each person on Earth now requires a third more land to supply his or her needs than the planet can supply ....."
 - http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/oct/26/climatechange
James Lindsay
10 years 11 months ago
Someone needs to let Obama know that the populatioists want to limit the number of his cousins back in Africa. He may then see the issue a bit differently.

We need to fight the populationists on social equality grounds, rather because of an idealized view of sexual morality by celibates. When left wingers attack the populationists, it is much more effective.

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