The second of two articles I wrote in 2009, upon leaving The Greens.
See also, Part 1: Why I left The Greens.
Population Policy: An Invitation to Racism
The Australian Greens Victoria are currently debating a population policy. There are those who passionately argue that there are “too many people” and “something must be done”, and others who recognize the racism that come with any call to restrict population.
our environmental impact is determined by the combined effect of population numbers and the way that people live – Vic Greens draft Population Policy
In a world of six billion people, surely this is common sense? Maybe, but it’s wrong. The false assumption is that our level of resource consumption as a species is a simple result of lifestyle multiplied by number of people.
But: The vast majority of people on this planet consume next to nothing. The 5.15 billion people who earn less than $10 a day (80% of global population) have a negligible effect on carbon emissions and natural resource depletion.
The poorest Africans and Asians produce 0.1 tonnes of CO2 each a year, compared with 20 tonnes for each American. – The Economist
Most proponents of the population policy perspective within the Greens will acknowledge this. The implicit racism comes into effect when they say things like:
“If everyone in China wanted to drink a beer a day, we’re all screwed” – John Doyle, to a public lecture at Latrobe University, Wodonga campus, 2008.
What does that really mean?
It means that in order to protect our privilege, the rest of the world must be kept poor, for the “common good”?
Should we build walls around western society, to protect the privilege of those within? Yes would seem to be the answer of those within the Greens calling for “zero population growth”.
People who support a population perspective would attack me at this point. They would say the above is a strawman, and that the draft policy states:
Victoria has the ability to reach zero population growth, and better fulfil its global ethical obligation for humanitarian migration, by shifting the emphasis on skills importation to skills creation.
Of course, the above statement is bullshit. Population growth in the west only exists because of immigration. Any call for zero population growth is necessarily a call to halt immigration.
One person I often chat with about population within the Greens raises the objection that immigrants:
“soon take on the carbon profile of their host country”.
The immigrant is the problem! If they come here, they will want to consume as much as we do! BAD!!
Soo, our consumption is the problem is it? The proponents of a population perspective, like the vast majority of the Australian Greens, will, when asked about the cause of the environmental crisis, identify “consumerism”. Clive Hamilton, author of Afluenza, really is a perfect fit for the inner city Greens.
This also, is bullsh-t. Earlier I highlighted the base assumption of the population perspective:
It is not just the “population” part of the “population multiplied by lifestyle equals environmental crisis” equation that is a load of crap.
There can be no doubt, that western societies consume a lot. This consumption is not a product of “lifestyle” (which, btw is basically code for “greed”). It is not the greed of the working class that caused the levels of resource consumption that we see in western society.
The consumption is a product of the production, the ‘greed’ was generated to clear the marketplace.
Capitalism is predicated in growth, because capitalists (be they individuals or corporations) must sell even more product at lower prices, or be squeezed out of the market by competing capitalists.
In times past, capitalism sought out new markets abroad, until capitalism embraced the entire globe. There being no new rich markets to tap, the only way to sell even more is to generate new demand in existing markets.
To give an example, the greedy ‘consumer’ did not create the ipod. Did you, sitting back with your walkman, ever ‘demand’ the ipod?
The ipod was developed by a company trying to sell electronic product into a market place already flooded with walkmans. The idea was developed and marketed by a company engaged in competition with the sellers of portable tape and CD players. The marketing worked, and surprise surprise, that evil worker demanded the ipod over the walkman!
So, this environmental crisis we’ve got, is it a product of “lifestyle times population”? Clearly not.
The entire premise of the proposed Population Policy is bullshit. Worse than bullshit, it gives voice to the closet racists. Why would the Greens ever consider adopting a policy that clashes with it’s commitment to social justice so fundamentally?
1. The Greens are too scared to mention capitalism. They’ll say things like “growth is bad”, but because they do not criticize the economic system that prioritizes growth over human need, they are left with criticizing those consume the product.
2. The Greens, whilst having a sound ideal (environmental and social justice), lack a clearly stating analysis of the underlying causes of the environmental problem. This effectively extends an open invitation to all and sundry (and often contradictory) “environmental” ideas.
3. The consensus system leads to a tendency toward compromise among contradictory ideas. A process to overtly rejecting something as bullshit is nigh on impossible.
When women reach a certain basic level of health, well being, economic power and access to birth control, fertility declines. It happened in the Western World, and it’s happening in the developing world.
World population will peak at 9 billion in 2050, and then it will slowly decline.
Given the choice and the reasonable assurance of their child’s survival, most women, irrespective of the society, will have around two children. A stable population is achieved at an average of 2.1.
The Economist has a an excellent feature on declining world fertility.
I have to agree with this sentiment:
forcing poor people to have fewer children than they want because the rich consume too many of the world’s resources would be immoral.
And disagree with this one:
the human race will have to rely on technology and governance to shift the world’s economy towards cleaner growth.
What is really needed is a total change in economic and political power structures.
More: John Passant writes about Clive Hamilton and the Greens:
Clive’s book Affluenza blames working people for wanting a few consumer goodies. For him over-consumption rather than overproduction is the problem. Hamilton fears the masses.
Read more at The Greens and Clive Hamilton.
In 2011 Ian Angus and Simon Butler published Too Many People?: Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis, I wish I’d had a copy back in 2009!
I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Simon Butler at last week’s Renegade Activists Conference in Melbourne, hopefully the audio will be online soon.
Until then, check out this talk by Ian Angus on the politics of population politics at Socialism 2012, Too Many People? The Return of the Population Bombers.
Be sure to check out Part 1: Why I left The Greens.