social justice


This is in response to a discussion about population control and climate change on an e-list I’m on. In particular, it’s in response to a line by a mate, Jono:

it’s not the number of people that is important, but rather the power of the argument. Population control arguments need to be challenged wherever they occur, because they turn the climate movement into a war against human rights rather than for human rights.


Population control doesn’t have to infringe human rights. Some of the best ways of reducing the rate of population change are PRO-human rights: accessible education, equality in power relations between men and women, access to contraceptives, the aged pension.

Population is inseperable from environmental impact – if the population is low, but consumption per capita is very high, then you have a problem. If you have a really high population with small per-capita footprint, you still have a problem. At the moment, it’s obvious that the current global average per capita footprint is too high for the current population. The UN predicts 9 billion people by 2050, (150% of current population), which means that for us to have the same over all impact by then, we will need to have reduced our average percapita footprint to 2/3 of what it is now. To put this in perspective, current Australian GDP per capita is US$40-50,000, globally it’s about $10,000, so we’d have to reduce our footprints to about 15% of what it is now. That sounds doable, but that doesn’t take into account that we have to REDUCE our over-all impact, not keep it steady. (I realise I’m only talking about averages, but I think median figures would likely show even greater disparity).

There’s no reason why population control has to happen in the third world. It doesn’t matter where it happens. In fact, it’s probably better that it happens in the rich minority world, ’cause one less person here is heaps more impact reduction than the same person in the minority world. And that could potentially mean we have more room for refugees (not that population is the barrier now).

Ultimately, it’s about how you do it. Of course there’s plenty of fucked up ways to control populations. But the same can be said for any problem (Green Dictatorship, anyone?). We definitely shouldn’t be supporting any kind of punishment/penalties for people who feel the need to have more kids, but we should definitely encourage any positive measures that would help to slow down population rates, and oppose those that do the opposite (like Costello’s ” one for Mum, one for Dad, and one for the Country” – ugh… how would you feel to find out you were the one for the country?)

Seems to me that reducing populations and rates of change should definitely be a part of any broad climate campaign. We just have to make it abundantly clear how we mean to go about it – ethically and compassionately.

Daniel,

You argue that the major defining factor of population size is food limits. Australia (to give an example), currently has a birthrate less than 2 births per woman. We have an overall annual immigration, so our population is growing, but if we had no immigration, our population would be decreasing. Australia is a fairly affluent country: plenty of food, people are educated, well supported with social services, and generally feel secure. They don’t need the added security of a large family (I don’t claim that this is causal, but believe it may have some impact). This seems proof that it is at least possible to disconnect population growth from food supply (and then be able to decrease food supply due to decreased demand). You answered this in response to Q&A 122: “the country has traversed the “demographic trap” and gotten through the growth phase of the population dynamics”.

Obviously, as you have pointed out, there’s plenty of food in the world, and if it were (able to be) shared out equitably, then no-one would starve. This being so, wouldn’t the best course of action be, after figuring out the relevant system dynamics, to attempt to give those in the highest population growth areas the same security we in the affluent, and low-population growth, minority world have? This might include immediate food aid for a period or, preferably, some kind of “food asylum”, which might lead to an immediate population spike, but a combined approach of social support services and education, seems like a population growth control method that is more than equitable, just might work, and doesn’t seem like a “sci-fi fantasy”, as you label other birth control schemes.

As an aside, what do you think of permaculture? Seems like a way of at least starting to break the food lockup, and something that doesn’t rely on some kind of fascist revolution.

(This was originally posted on the Ishmael.org guestbook)

I just finished reading Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael for the second time (I previously downloaded the audio-book, which was amazing, but I think the book is slightly better). If you haven’t read it, read it. I’d say it’d be life-changing for anyone wants to do something about the state of the environment but don’t know where to start. For the ones how have already started, it’s perhaps even more recommended. That said, the rest of this post won’t make sense unless you already have read the book.

Ishmael answers a lot of questions for me – primarily the one that goes “if this isn’t the right way, then what is?”. But of course the answer isn’t final, it isn’t an end point, it’s just an opening. It’s another method of looking at things, and realising how much could change. Which basically means that it brings up more questions than it answers. (more…)

I’ve just started the Big List of Environmental issues – on Envirowiki. You should add to it. Hopefully, after a few decent edits, this page will list all the big issues, and after a few more related issues.

The reason that all the links are red is that those pages haven’t been created yet. Click on the links to start editing! Also, check out some of the blue links – some of those pages could do with some improvement.

You don’t even need to log in to edit pages on envirowiki, but if you’re not logged in, you’ll need to enter the answer to a maths captcha after you press save (to make sure you’re not a spambot).

Happy editing!

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