Wish you weren’t here

Some top environmentalists say the way to a greener planet is to have fewer people. Is an environmentalism without humanity the answer?
Brian Lilley | Apr 18 2009 | comment  



I would have thought that Jonathon Porritt might not be invited to many parties, what with calling for half of Britain’s population to be done away with in the name of sustainability. Instead, Porritt, an English environmental activist and population control champion, is asked to give advice to Prince Charles, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the executives at Marks and Spencers. Perhaps they all want to keep Porritt close to ensure they don’t become targets of the great human cull?

Kermit the Frog sang “it’s not easy being green”. No kidding when you’ve got friends like Jonathon Porritt , one of Britian’s best known eco-warriors, telling The Times of London that the world needs fewer people. “I think we will work our way towards a position that says that having more than two children is irresponsible”, Porritt claims. While you may have thought this type of Malthusian thinking had been left for the fringe, it’s becoming a key green message today, even if you won’t hear much about it in this greenest of months.

April, in case you hadn’t noticed, is Earth month. It used to just be Earth Day (April 22), but thanks to Sydney, Australia’s Earth Hour, we now have a month of Earthy goodness that started with calls for all of us to sit in the dark for an hour on March 28th. We’re all inundated with headlines about greening our lives, but they tend to be useful items such as “9 Ways to Green Your Home,” rather than the message being touted by the editors at Fewer People Monthly* “Don’t have kids, off your Granny – What you can do to save the planet!” 

I’m having a bit of fun with Mr. Porritt but the man is deadly serious. The UK, he says, has too many people to have a sustainable environment and the ability to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets is in danger if the population rises. On his blog, Porritt lays out a 12-step program to get the human population to kick the reproductive habit, or at least his 12 arguments of why they should. On his personal website he argues the UK could reduce its population to 55 million by 2050 instead of the projected population of 77 million by convincing all women to have no more than two children and to cap immigration at the same level as emigration.

Yet Mr. Porritt, along with such luminaries as Paul Ehrlich, is a patron on the Manchester based Optimum Population Trust, which claims the UK, should have a population of between 17 and 27 million people depending on the global hectare per person. As for the rest of the globe, “the world population needs to contract to a maximum of 5.1 billion” but “the sustainable population is 2.7 billion.”

Well if some of us have to go, I nominate the board of the Optimum Population Trust to go first.

It’s not that I don’t see the benefits of living green, I do. Living a green lifestyle is actually one that eschews the consumerist culture we live in. Why buy stuff we don’t need? Living green can save money, important if you are raising a young family. And speaking of families, contrary to the smaller- families- are- better crowd, large families actually reduce their ecological footprint by sharing a living space and resources, a point Michelle Martin illustrated in a piece here at Mercatornet last year.

The problem with admitting that you might be an environmentalist is the people you end up keeping company with. Prince Charles, a committed environmentalist in his own right, issued a stern warning recently at an enviro-summit in Rio de Janeiro saying, “The best projections tell us that we have less than 100 months to alter our behaviour before we risk catastrophic climate change.” Well, isn’t that cheery?

What is the average punter to think if he hears the Prince essentially say, change now or in 100 months we are all done for? Likely he’ll ignore the warning. After all, Paul Ehrlich, the man at the OPT with Porritt, told us in his book The Population Bomb (1968), that millions would die from mass famine and starvation due to overpopulation around the world. Apart from the African famine, caused by exacerbated by civil wars and incompetent or corrupt governments, those predictions never came to be.

The other problem with the view of people like Prince Charles is his call for global action, “If we can redouble our efforts to unite the world in meeting perhaps its greatest and most critical challenge, then we may yet be able to prevail.” The Prince, like many in the green movement, have decided that the only way to change is to have global leadership, summits, treaties and protocols like Kyoto. All of this betrays the slogan of the green movement, perhaps one of the best known around the world, “Think globally, act locally.” Instead, the globalist green movement calls for thinking globally and acting globally, not something that you or I can do.

Each of us has a responsibility to live in a way that respects natural resources, the area we live in, the air we breathe and the water we drink. What the current crop of green movement leaders needs to learn is that there are many ways to do this, many ways to convince people to join in the cause without saying “The Earth would be better off if you weren’t here.”

And that I guess, is my problem with the modern environmental movement. It has gone from looking to ensure that all people and animals have access to clean air, water and soil to grow food in and become one that says fewer people are good. Even the Sierra Club, America’s oldest environmental group, says the world needs fewer people, though it advises members not to use the words “population control”

I tend to agree with American academic and agraian philosopher Wendell Berry when it comes to movements. Fundamentally, Berry distrusts them saying, “ People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and priveleges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a ‘peace movement’ becomes violent.”

I may agree that we need to do a better job when it comes to taking care of our land, air and water. I may agree with many of the ideas that are central to the environmental movement such as preserving our natural environment through living more gently on the Earth. But, if being part of the Green movement means signing up with the likes of Jonathon Porritt and his fewer people philosphy, then I’d rather stand with Wendell Berry. Because if we are not preserving the Earth for future generations of people, who are we preserving it for?

Brian Lilley is the Ottawa Bureau Chief for radio stations 1010 CFRB in Toronto and CJAD 800 in Montreal. He is also Associate Editor of Mercatornet.

* Fewer People Monthly is not a real publication

This article is published by Brian Lilley and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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