I consider population control to be the albatross of the environment movement. It usually stinks, but we just can’t get rid of it. Recently, the Global Population Speak Out (GPSO) is attempting to de-stank discussions of population control and the environment. The premise of the GPSO is:
What if a large number of qualified voices worldwide, many of whom might not have emphasized the topic previously, were to speak out on population all at once? The strength of numbers might help weaken the taboo and bring population to a more prominent position in the global discussion.
Oh, good, let’s talk about it! Too bad that the GPSO webpage utterly fails to acknowledge the nasty history of population control. The onus of population control has fallen almost exclusively on women who are either ethnic minorities or poor. In the past, the excuse for population control wasn’t the environment – it was preventing the undesirables from breeding. This is NOT ancient history. Radical Doula says it better than I can:
There is a long history of this [forced sterilization] in the United States. In the 1970s, it was discovered that hundreds of Mexican-origin women were being unknowingly sterilized at an LA hospital. They were being told the operation was reversible and given forms they couldn’t read (because they were in english) to sign.
These abuses promoted a campaign by a group called CESA (Committee to End Sterilization Abuse), spearheaded by Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias that was able to pass federal guidelines regarding sterilization–requiring forms in the person’s native language, and a waiting period to give consent. Many times these women were being asked if they wanted the procedure while in labor.
Diagnosed with a small uterine tumor in 1961, Ms. Hamer checked into the Sunflower City Hospital to have it removed. Without her knowledge or consent, without any indication of medical necessity, the operating physician took the liberty of performing a complete hysterectomy.
And forced sterilizations continue. In 2007, the Czech Republic was forced to compensate a Gypsy woman sterilized against her will, and hundreds more were probably also sterilized. In 2005, nine mentally disabled women in Canada were compensated for forced sterilizations.
So okay, that’s population control as eugenics. What about population control as environmentalism? Well, it has been just as nasty. Paul Ehrlich, entomologist and author of The Population Bomb advocated “coercion in a good cause.” As Madhu at Reconciliation Ecology pointed out, Paul Ehrlich’s and David Duke’s (former KKK Grand Wizard) descriptions of Old Delhi in India are near indistinguishable. Can you guess which is which?
Idealistic Youth #1:
“As we crawled through the city, we encountered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming… People, people, people.”
Idealistic Youth #2:
“Small animals were not the only beings in great abundance. So were people. Along one long sidewalk, I saw hundreds of wooden shelves about the size of a refrigerator lying on their sides. Each served as home for at least one person. Even less fortunate souls lay on the grass or in the brown dirt with a tattered blanket serving as their only shelter. Some had only rags to protect themselves from the elements. About a block from the YMCA, an old man grunted as he squatted and defecated in the gutter. A little further on, a bony couple engaged in mechanical sexual intercourse while two children sat beside them, taking little notice of their parents as they played in the dust. Millions in India live out their lives on the public streets awash in the dried mud. There they are born, and there they bathe, eat, sleep, excrete and copulate. As attested by the teeming population, the one thing they seem to do best is breed.”
More recently, the racism has taken on anti-immigrant tones. In 2004, the Sierra Club was nearly taken over of by an anti-immigration faction that campaigned under the guise of controlling population growth. (Burned by this, the Sierra Club now won’t even use the phrase “population control.”). Just this year in California, a group called Californians for Population Stabilization ran ads “blaming California’s social, economic and environmental problems on undocumented immigrants.” The ads included a stereotypical Latino gang member smirking for police photos and made-up statistics.
Anti-immigration sentiment persists, as nicely illustrated by this history of the population control taboo, linked to off the GPSO webpage. Reading it in order to understand the taboo, I noticed that the authors use a lot of right-wing buzzwords, like “politically incorrect” in quotes and phrases like “dared not risk appearing to be racially insensitive.” Turns out that the first author, Roy Beck, is an anti-immigration activist whose organization, Numbers USA, appears on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s listing of anti-immmigration groups.
So how does this connect to GPSO? GPSO says again and again on their website “there exists today a taboo of sorts against public discussion of the population issue” but they never say why. I’ll hazard a guess – it’s a taboo because those who advocate for population control are so often racist. If GPSO wants to lead a global conversation on population control that includes everyone – not just middle class white people – they’ve got to acknowledge population control’s sordid history and explicitly repudiate it.
But I’ll do believe that human population is a factor in environmental decline. And I do want to talk about it. In fact, I’ll call my plan “feminism.” Check out the data (from Population Reference Bureau):
So no need to fear the population issue taboo. Just add a dollop of legal rights, add some education, throw in some job training and childcare and voila! The birthrate drops!