[This post has been edited to reduce ranty-ness. 9/7/10]
The popular over-population myth is still around—clearly debunking efforts have been insufficient. Over-population is blamed for such woes as famine, pollution, environmental degradation, price increases, child slavery, global warming, “too many Muslims” , war, terrorism, animal extinction, Peak Oil, disease, crime, alcoholism and more. I provided links to some of the more surprising claims so that enterprising readers can see that I am not just making this up!
But wait, an astute reader might say, haven’t most of these things (with the exception of “too many Muslims” and global warming) occurred since time untold? Aren’t famine and poverty and disease, etc. all things which have existed since long before over-population was a twinkle in Malthus’s eye? Why yes, yes they have. Are they proven to be causally linked to over-population? No, not really.
Also, there are some interesting facts to consider. Such as:
The world already produces enough food to equal 3,200 calories per person, per day.
Only certain humans lead environmentally unsustainable lifestyles.
The major role of inequality is ignored by most over-population proponents.
Almost no one mentions that the continuous growth and perpetual consumption required by capitalism has created a global economy which is unsustainable no matter what our fertility rates are.
Also, people keep sounding the “population bomb” alarm, but yet we keep growing and no bomb has gone off.
So inspite of sketchy evidence, why would over-population be the popular, mainstream, one-size-fits-all answer to this shameful list of problems? And why do we automatically think the cause of pollution, hunger or whathaveyou is “fertility rates”, i.e. women’s reproductive choices? And not just any women. When you dig deeper into this issue, you will find that we are talking about certain women, and their unacceptable reproductive choices. Did you know that worldwide fertility rates are falling precipitously? They have actually “dropped by half since 1972, from six children per woman to 2.9.” Some parts of the world have below replacement level fertility, meaning more deaths than births.
So upon a little reflection, it seems wacky at best to blame women’s fertility for the list of woes. Why do it? Well, historically, as now, it is easiest to blame the least powerful for the sins of the most powerful—and make them pay for it. The people with the highest fertility levels continue to be poor third world women of color. Yet they have a vanishingly small environmental footprint and consume a tiny fraction of resources when compared to Western people, wealthy people, and white people.
What’s easier? Blaming the poor third world women of color, or getting the wealthy and the powerful to reduce their addiction to consumerism, capitalism, and The Bottom Line?
Instead of an over-population problem, we have a politico-economic problem. Why do we have mass starvation and impoverishment as well as a small elite who are wealthy beyond imagination? Why do third world countries produce commodities for export to rich countries, instead of growing food for themselves? Why are third world countries always in debt to rich countries, despite being richer in natural resources?
The other half to this myth is that getting impoverished women to reproduce less, without actually alleviating their poverty, will require coercion: forced sterilization, forced abortion, economic penalties for non-compliance, etc. In other words, the Big Solution to over-population right now seems to be abusing the human rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Brilliant solution! Review women’s experience with the One-Child Policy if you are in any doubt.
How does a smart person reduce fertility? They start by augmenting, not violating, human rights. The most consistent indicator for low fertility is high standard of living. The more a society satisfies human rights, the fewer babies. So even if you happen to buy into the myth that poor, third-world women of color just have too many dark-skinned babies, it is still clear that destroying wealth inequities and focusing on economic policies that generate sustainable wealth inside third-world countries is the best way forward.
Why do I think discussions of “high fertility” and “over-population” are really about punishing poor, third-world women of color? Well, take a world-wide gander at who has high fertility and who has low fertility. Clue: European and American fertility is currently below replacement rate, i.e. fewer births than deaths, i.e. population decline without immigration. The sick reality is that no one is getting their panties in a knot about “too many” white babies. To the contrary.
I am providing hella links because I know whenever you challenge a popular, useful myth, there will be people who insist you are making it all up and will demand impossibly high standards of proof on your part, while feeling no commensurate responsibility to provide any proof for theirs. So my proof is right here in this rant pudding.
I can only rant for so long today, but FYI, it was instigated by a white, Western feminist pondering government-enforced restrictions on women’s fertility to stop this self-evident “over-population” problem.
PS. Don’t even start with me, because of course I am pro-contraception and pro-abortion, when the woman chooses it. Reproductive choice is reproductive choice is not government restrictions.