Author Topic: Over-population Theory. Blaming the Victims.  (Read 191 times)

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Richard Mellor

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Over-population Theory. Blaming the Victims.
« on: December 07, 2017, 06:07:47 PM »
Over-population Theory. Blaming the Victims.

I am bringing this over from Climate and Capitalism. I haven't read A Redder Shade of Green but I did read Too Many People, an excellent read indeed. The issue for me was exactly as Ian Angus explains it, that the overpopulation argument always ends up harming the poor and in particular those in the underdeveloped world.  This argument inevitably leads there, I know honest people who make the population argument and whose carbon footprint is greater than that of 30 Nigerian families. It also inevitably undermines the important issue, the way society is organized, the way human society produces food and everything else we need. In short, it let's capitalism as a system of production off the hook.

Here is a criticism of Ian Angus' viewpoint. Angus answers it below.

by Donald J. Kerr

I  bought the book because his earlier work on the Anthropocene was quite  instructive, particularly his article in MR in 2016. In this book, I  read chapter 7, ?The Return of the Population Bombers,? and decided it  was not worth reading the remainder.

In this chapter, he created  his own ?straw man? and proceeded to destroy it. His straw man was a  caricature of those who see world population as a problem. He described  them as bigots, lobbyists, advocates of compulsory birth control,  directed only at poor countries, immigrants as enemies of the  environment. He fails to understand that over-population is a real  problem while at the same time being very difficult to fix without  trampling on human rights. Creating a straw man is a cheap and facile  style of argument.

The problem with over population includes: loss  of biodiversity, production of waste, plastic pollution, climate  change, fish depletion, over-development, etc. I am involved in  conservation of the ecosystem in a few watersheds near Georgian Bay. We  are always fighting against population growth which is encroaching on  natural areas. My perspective is that population growth should be  resisted everywhere (not just poor people) while, at the same time,  allowing refugees but discouraging other migrations.

Angus fails  to clearly identify capitalism as the proponent of population growth  along with all other forms of growth. Economic growth is not the same as  economic performance where equality is valued as well as valuing the  natural world. He says it divides our progressive forces by claiming  that too many people is the problem. Can he not accept that we need to  combat on all fronts, especially neo-liberalism and excessive growth as  well as over-population? None of these battles is easy but all are  important.

by Ian Angus
Don,  thank you for taking the time to explain what you thought of that  chapter, and why. Your thoughtful comments are part of the discussion of  ?essential arguments? that the book aims to stimulate.

You charge  me with creating a ?straw man? ? with misrepresenting the views of  people who see population as a major environmental problem. I plead not  guilty, on two grounds.

First, because the connections between  overpopulation ideology, compulsory birth control programs and  anti-immigrant bigotry are very well documented. Overpopulation  arguments have been used for decades to oppress the poor and people of  color around the world and to justify anti-immigrant campaigns that  Betsy Hartmann calls ?the greening of hate.? As the noted socialist  scholar David Harvey says, ?Whenever a theory of overpopulation seizes  hold in a society dominated by an elite, then the non-elite invariably  experience some form of political, economic, and social repression.? 

That?s not a caricature or a straw man: it is reality.

Second,  because throughout the chapter I strongly distinguish between bigots and  the ?many activists who honestly want to build a better world and are  appalled by the racists of the far right [but] are also attracted to  populationist argument.? In fact, much of the chapter is devoted to a  discussion of why long-disproven overpopulation arguments continue to be  used by ?people who actually care about the environment, who aren?t  just using green arguments as an excuse to bash immigrants.? In short, I  didn?t say you are a bigot, I said you are wrong.

The  environmental crisis demands rapid and decisive action, but we can?t act  effectively unless we clearly understand its causes. If we misdiagnose  the illness, at best we will waste precious time on ineffective cures;  at worst, we will do even more damage. Focusing on population growth  isn?t just ineffective, it is harmful. Instead of confronting the real  eco-vandals, it targets the victims of environmental destruction, people  who don?t destroy forests, don?t wipe out endangered species, don?t  pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.

You say that we need to ?combat on all fronts.? The problem is that fighting to cut immigration and birth rates is incompatible with fighting for social justice. It?s not that we don?t have the  resources to do both ? it?s that populationism is an anti-social,  anti-human ideology, no matter how sincere some of its advocates may be.  The suggested readings listed below address these issues in more depth I  can do in a short reply.

Obviously we have a serious  disagreement, but the left can only gain from frank and open discussion  of our differences. C&C welcomes further comments on this important  subject: please be concise and respectful.

Some recommended readings on population and social justice
The chapter of A Redder Shade of Green that Donald Kerr criticizes is also available online:
Simon Butler and I addressed the issue in depth in this book:
Over 120 Climate & Capitalism articles tagged ?population? are listed here. You could start with these:

Source: Over-population Theory. Blaming the Victims.