The Re-Birth of Population Control

Human Life Seen as a Carbon Problem

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, DEC. 13, 2009 ( The Copenhagen climate summit has brought with it an outpouring of opinions on environmental issues. Among these is a disturbing return to the Malthusian position of seeing population control as the solution to the world’s problems.

A planetary law imposing China’s one-child policy on all nations is what is needed, according to an opinion article by Diane Francis, published Dec. 8 in the Canadian newspaper, the National Post.

Francis predicted this would reduce the current world population of 6.5 billion down to 3.43 billion by 2075. While more extreme than most, Francis is hardly alone in advocating population control.

Just prior to the Copenhagen summit, Britain’s Optimum Population Trust launched a carbon offset scheme, reported the Guardian newspaper on Dec. 3.

As explained by John Vidal, the paper’s environment editor, this allows rich consumers to offset their jet-set lifestyle by paying for contraception in poorer countries.

According to Vidal, the trust’s calculations show that the 10 metric tons of carbon emitted by a return flight from London to Sydney could be offset by preventing the birth of one child in a country such as Kenya.

It seems neo-colonialism is still alive in the attitudes of some environmental activists who don’t see any problem in urging developing nations to curb their population so that the carbon emissions of richer countries can be offset.

The launch of the scheme followed a report published in August by the trust titled: “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost: Reducing Future Carbon Emissions by Investing in Family Planning.”

The conclusions of the study stated: “The cost/ benefit analysis found that family planning is considerably cheaper than many low carbon technologies.”

“Based on the study’s findings, it is proposed that family planning methods should be a primary tool in the optimum strategy for reducing carbon emissions,” the report advocated.

Disaster predictions

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) joined the Malthusian chorus with the publication of its State of World Population 2009 Report.

Greater access to “reproductive health” was constantly urged by the report. This U.N. term is understood to include access to condoms, contraceptives and abortion.

“We have now reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster,” stated Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA’s executive director at the London launch of the report Nov. 18.

The report was greeted in the press with titles such as “UN: Fight Climate Change With Free Condoms,” (The Associated Press, Nov. 18).

“Birth Control: The Most Effective Way of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” trumpeted the Nov. 19 headline in the London Times newspaper in its coverage of the report.

Confusingly, alongside the call for reproductive health in developing nations were other statements that contradicted the thesis that less people in poorer countries would bring the world back from the precipice of environmental disaster.

“The dominant responsibility for the current build-up of greenhouse gases lies with developed countries,” the report admitted.

“The linkages between population and climate change are in most cases complex and indirect,” it also conceded.

A better guide to the issue of population and the environment came in a special report published by The Economist magazine in its Oct. 31 issue.

In the editorial that accompanied the report the magazine pointed out that the trend to lower fertility in developing countries is already advanced. “Today’s fall in fertility is both very large and very fast,” it said.


We can limit the human impact on the environment in three ways the editorial maintained: population policy, technology and governance. Regarding population there is not much more to be done the magazine argued. Only “Chinese-style coercion” could bring about a speedier reduction in fertility.

Notably, for a publication that in no way espouses religion, the editorial also added that: “Forcing poor people to have fewer children than they want because the rich consume too many of the world’s resources would be immoral.”

The report itself proposed that the way to deal with carbon emissions and environmental concerns is not to try and reduce fertility but to alter economic growth so that it is less polluting and to make it less resource-intensive.

British sociologist Fran Furedi explored the return of Malthusianism in a piece written for the Web site Spiked. His Dec. 7 commentary harshly attacked the proposals of the Optimum Population Trust for being “a zombie-like Malthusian organization devoted to the cause of human depletion.”

“Throughout most of history, human life has been valued in and of itself; it has been seen as possessing a special quality that could not be reduced to quantities to be measured by misanthropic accountants,” he observed.

Furedi based his comments on a humanist perspective and not on a religious foundation. There is a unique quality to human life he argued. He also wondered why other humanists were not interested in defending human life and standing up for ideals developed in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

Losing faith

“A world that can place an equal sign between a baby and carbon is one that has lost its faith in humanity,” Furedi lamented.

Another interesting commentary was published on Dec. 9 by the Australian Web site, On Line Opinion. It was written by Farida Akhter from Bangladesh. According to the article, she is the executive director of an organization that works with communities in Bangladesh and she also runs a feminist publishing house.

Akhter reflected on the UNFPA’s State of World Population report and argued that it is a simplistic approach to consider that women can solve environmental problems simply by reducing their fertility.

Targeting the developing nations simply doesn’t make sense, she affirmed. Citing data from the UNFPA report she stated that the world’s richest half-billion people are responsible for 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

So, she continued, even if we reduce population growth in the poorest countries their contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions or consumption of resources will be not be significant.

“Let’s not make women the target for contraceptives in the name of solving climate change,” she concluded.

A sentiment shared by Jennie Bristow, editor of the British publication, the Abortion Review.

She also wrote an article for Spiked on the topic of population and ecology, on Oct. 6.

Bristow defended abortion and contraception, but also pointed out that history is full of examples where these practices have been imposed upon women by authorities who wanted to decide how many children should be born.


Her essay was critical of the pro-life position, yet she also argued that: “Serious questions have to be asked about how genuine the commitment to free choice is among those who ultimately would like women to choose not to have children, or more than a certain number of children.”

We do indeed have a responsibility towards the environment pointed out Benedict XVI in his June 29 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”

What is at stake, however, is something more than just ecological issues, the Pope added. Respect for nature also includes a respect for human life. “Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others,” the encyclical argued (No. 51).

If the two become opposed, then “herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today,” the Pontiff continued. A contradiction being proposed by not a few voices in the debate over how to approach environmental issues today.

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