Recent crises have reenergized the population control movement. Worried about food shortages? Reduce the number of babies born, its advocates argue. Concerned about global warming? Contracept or sterilize more women. Want to bring down gas prices? Promote abortion around the globe. As “Going Green” columnist Bryan Walsh puts it in the latest issue of Time magazine (June 2, 2008), “Population is the essential multiplier for any number of human ills.”
Not so long ago, the population controllers would have been embarrassed to openly promote such ideas. After all, they have cried wolf so many times that most sensible people have stopped listening. The movement’s leading prophet of doom and gloom, Paul Ehrlich, has been repeatedly and utterly wrong. His 1968 jeremiad, The Population Bomb, warned that, with the earth approaching its carrying capacity, hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s. Instead, the estimated 6.66 billion people alive today live longer, eat better, and have higher living standards than ever before. Even Walsh has to admit that the “green revolution has vastly increased food production, while [Western trade and investment] have helped lift hundreds of millions in the developing world out of poverty.”
Another reason for their self-conscious silence was the massive human rights abuses that occurred in forced-pace programs. Supported, encouraged, and funded by Western governments, developing world dictatorships embarked upon programs that mandated contraception, sterilization, and even abortion for millions of women. China’s notorious one-child per couple policy is only the best known of dozens of programs that have violated the right of couples to determine for themselves the number and spacing of their children.
Now, however, the population-control minded environmentalists are back, and in full cry. Walsh, for example, blames the sudden spike in food and fuel prices on too many people, arguing that “if we can’t curb carbon emissions in a world of 6.8 billion [these guys always exaggerate the numbers], it may be impossible to do when there are 9 billion of us.” Leaving aside the question of whether we should control carbon dioxide — a trace gas on which all life on earth depends — blaming global warming on too many babies is the twisted logic of a profoundly misanthropic mind. How much carbon dioxide we produce is a result of how much fossil fuel we burn, not how many children are born. Nuclear power, for example, produces zero carbon dioxide.
Repeating the mistakes of his mentors in the population control movement, many of Walsh’s assertions are simply wrong. For example, his claim that “while population growth has slowed drastically in many countries in Western Europe and in Japan, where women are having fewer and fewer babies, it’s still rising in much of the developing world” is demographic nonsense. Birthrates are falling everywhere, not just in “Western Europe and Japan.” Europe as a whole — not just “Western Europe” — is losing population from year to year. Latin America is not far behind, and even Asia is averaging only 2.4 children per woman — and falling. The only region that still enjoys robust fertility is sub-Saharan Africa, most of whose countries, however, are plagued with HIV/AIDS, which is reducing population growth. Population growth everywhere is slowing, not rising, and the population of the world will probably peak before mid-century. In other words, what we are seeing is not a population bomb, but a population bust, with serious consequences for the whole realm of human endeavors.
Despite all this, Walsh and other like-minded environmentalists are determined to ratchet the birth rate down further, but how? He gently reproves “state-mandated birth control” as “essentially unfair.” Unfair?!? The Indonesian women who a few years ago were rounded up at gunpoint and sterilized might have difficulty with that weak characterization, not to mention the millions of Chinese women who are forcibly aborted each year.
Leaving that point aside, Walsh argues that “the key to limiting population growth… is to give control over procreation to women.” This assumes that women in the developing world are eager to follow their “sisters” in Hollywood and Manhattan down the road to “liberation” from childbearing (and from marriage, for that matter.) In fact, many women in the developing world (and in the U.S. as well) express a desire for more children than they are able to have, not fewer. And, as far as their health needs are concerned, they want access to clean drinking water, medicine and nutritional supplements, not handouts of birth control pills. Does Walsh truly believe that woman in the developing world will be rioting on the docks if they don’t receive their monthly shipments of contraceptives from the U.S.?
Meeting the real health needs of women in the developing world would mean funding primary health care for women and their families. Instead, the controllers ignore the views of women, view their fertility as a threat, and act to neutralize that perceived threat by disabling their reproductive systems. To paraphrase feminist Angela Franks, if women’s fertility is causing social, economic, environmental, or health problems, as the controllers believe, and if women refuse to acknowledge this reality, it is for the greater good that they be persuaded, or compelled, or forced to stop having children. Kingsley Davis and other population alarmists have long said that it is necessary, in the interest of reducing population growth, to make it less pleasant for women to do what so many of them enjoy doing, namely, raising children.[i]
Still, population control organizations find it highly inconvenient that their programs are not greeted with joy by their “targets,” and they go to great lengths to disguise or explain away this fact. Overseas, they work overtime to create the impression of robust popular and government support for their anti-natal programs, recruiting local surrogates, suborning government ministries of health and education, launching media blitzes, and sponsoring contraceptive giveaways. This façade falls away in discussions with donors, in which they arrogantly suggest that the women’s reluctance to contracept comes about because they either don’t know their own minds, or because they simply don’t know what’s good for them (or their country, or the environment, etc.). To the American public, they sell a different line, that women overseas have an urgent, pressing “unmet need” for contraceptives.
Walsh is ultimately not concerned about women at all, as his last paragraph reveals. If Americans don’t influence their government to push contraception, he writes, “they may find out very soon just what the limits of the earth are. It’s not just feminism to support population control — it’s environmentalism.”
He sounds a little bit like Paul Ehrlich after all, doesn’t he?