The taboo that isn’t: Mother Jones on population

12 May, 2010 — Climate and Capitalism

Mother Jones magazine opens a discussion of the population problem. Sort of.

Mother Jones is a once-radical now-liberal magazine that promises ‘smart fearless journalism.’ An example of what that means is the main headline on the cover of the current issue: ‘Who’s to Blame for the Population Crisis?’

That’s the lead-in to ‘The Last Taboo’, by Julia Whitty, the magazine’s environmental editor.

Sadly, there’s not much new here … the usual retailing of scary statistics, with a particular focus on the threat posed by those unreasonably fertile women in India and other Third World countries. A prominently displayed pull-quote alerts us:

‘Every minute … 157 new people join the world’s population. 4 are in developed countries (27 babies born, 23 people dying). 153 are in developing countries (237 babies born, 83 people dying.)’ (emphasis in original)

Witty calls overpopulation the ‘last taboo’ because, she says, no one wants to talk about it.

‘What unites the Vatican, lefties, conservatives, environmentalists, and scientists in a conspiracy of silence? Population.’

Populationists regularly make this claim, apparently blind to the irony of using op-ed pages, major magazines, TV editorials and the like to complain that they are being silenced.

Today Mother Jones opened an online discussion forum on the topic. But the topic is not whether population growth is actually a crisis, but ‘Why Is Population Control Such a Radioactive Topic?’

They assume that there is a population crisis — the issue to be discussed is why it isn’t discussed.

The participants include Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb and The Population Explosion and other books. Again with a total lack of irony, this writer of multiple bestselling books that advocated compulsory birth control says:

‘We don’t talk about overpopulation because of real fears from the past—of racism, eugenics, colonialism, forced sterilization, forced family planning, plus the fears from some of contraception, abortion, and sex.’

The online forum will be open through Friday May 14. It’s not surprising, given Mother Jones‘ editorial slant, that so far most of the commenters think that the world’s problems are caused by poor women having too many babies.

The word capitalism has only appeared once, and socialism not at all.

Now that is the last taboo.


PS: Michael Swan reviews Whitty’s ‘misinformed nonfiction’ in the current issue of Swans Commentary.

‘She systematically fails to grasp the historical dimensions of the population issue. In lieu of a viable argument she simply repackages imperial myths with a ‘new’ sustainable façade, facilitating the neoliberal onslaught on the majority of the world’s humans.’

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Dissecting those ‘Overpopulation’ Numbers: Part One – Population Where? by Ian Angus

28 April, 2010 — Climate & Capitalism

Is global warming caused by too many people? This begins a series of articles in which Climate & Capitalism editor Ian Angus shows that population numbers can conceal far more than they reveal.

A recent Washington Post article criticized three new books on global warming because “none of these authors discusses population growth in any kind of depth.”

To reduce emissions, the reviewer wrote, we should be “helping people to have smaller families …[by] providing the means for family planning to those who want it but don’t have access.” That, he assures us, is “a lot easier than retooling the global economic system.” [1]

Like many environmentalists, the Post writer firmly believes that population growth worsens global warming by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and that the solution is to slow or reverse population growth by providing birth control to people “who don’t have access” – that is, to people in the Third World.

And yet, anyone who carefully reads the many websites, articles, speeches and books that argue the “too many people” thesis will find that they offer little or no evidence to support such conclusions.

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Women’s Rights, Population and Climate Change: A Debate

17 January, 2010 — Climate and Capitalism

Should supporters of women’s rights campaign for population reduction? Two very different feminists perspectives …


The articles below were originally published in the Fall 2009 issue of On the Issues: The Progressive Women’s Magazine. They are reproduced here by permission.

* Betsy Hartmann, author of ‘The ‘New’ Population Control Craze: Retro, Racist, Wrong Way to Go,’ is the director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College. She is the author of Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control (South End Press, 1995).
* Laurie Mazur, author of ‘Population & Environment: A Progressive, Feminist Approach’ is the director of the Population Justice Project. She is the editor of A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice and the Environmental Challenge (Island Press, 2009)

Climate and Capitalism will soon publish a commentary on some of the issues discussed in this exchange.



by Betsy Hartmann

It’s back to the bad old days of the population bomb. That was the title of an alarmist book by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich that appeared in 1968. He suggested that world catastrophe would ensue unless women in poor parts of the world were prevented from having too many children.

This fall’s junk mail carried an alarmist appeal from Population Connection, using its former name of Zero Population Growth (ZPG). According to ZPG, you can blame just about everything on population growth, from traffic congestion, overcrowded schools and childhood asthma to poverty, famine and global warming.

Retro racism and sexism are back in vogue, but now with a bit of a faux feminist twist. Along with the bad news that women’s fertility is destroying the planet comes the good news that family planning is the solution. In other words, you don’t have to feel guilty about blaming poor women for the world’s problems because you can help them improve their lives by having fewer babies.

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Population Control: 10 Reasons Why It’s the Wrong Answer By Simon Butler

30 May, 2009 – Green Left Weekly

We need to build stronger links and collaboration with movements for climate justice in the global South – not draw up plans to reduce their numbers

Without doubt, climate change is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. The scientific evidence of the scale of the threat is overwhelming, compelling and frightening. Climate tipping points – points which if crossed will lead to runaway global warming – are being crossed now.

We live in a time of consequences. So it’s crucial that the climate justice movement – made up of those determined to take a stand now to win a safe climate future – campaigns for the changes that can actually make a difference.

In Australia, a discussion has surfaced about whether population control measures should be a key plank in the climate action movement’s campaign arsenal. Below are 10 reasons why such a decision would hinder, rather than help, the necessary task of building a movement that can win.

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