Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Population: careful now

There seems to be few issues more controversial in the Green movement than that of population. You take a basic fact like the world has a finite amount of resources and therefore human beings can't expand indefinitely and before you know it you're planning the eradication of 80% of your fellow Earthlings.

There are a number of problems you might face if you were to seek to develop an actual policy on population.

Firstly, there are no votes in it what so ever. None at all. Which means if votes are the sort of thing you actually like receiving you need to consider how much of your time you want to spend on it.

Secondly, almost any measure that you suggest to deal with the 'problem' will be hopelessly unrealistic. That might be because you've just advocated something utterly misanthropic or completely ineffectual.

Thirdly simply by raising the topic you invite speculation as to how fit you are to hold any opinion what-so-ever, partly because people so rarely discuss the issue. Do you really want to taint every political statement you ever make with the suspicion that you might be secretly plotting granny's early demise?

The current Green Party population policy is disappointingly sensible despite the fact that we are, I believe, the only political party that has actually seen fit to have one. If you're going to have a reputation for being ruthless authoritarians or crazy haired loons you should at least play up to it a little - where's the wacky proposal to depopulate Denmark or to enforce an annual hibernation in the mountain caves of Suffolk? A glorious opportunity for humour missed - it's almost as if the Greens were posing as a proper political party or something.

For me the most pressing issue facing the world is climate change, climate chaos, funny weather, what ever you want to call it. Population growth only interests me in that context, but as soon as you look at it you realise what a false 'problem' it is for climate change in the short or medium term.

For a start all humans do not equally effect the climate. A million Tanzanians don't equal a million Britons - their average carbon footprint is just a fraction of that of the average Brit. Which means the environmental impact of a million Tanzanians could be offset a number of times over by abolishing Tesco. Which would only involve a small amount of coercion and a large amount of joy, not a sterilisation or human rights violation in sight. So why make work for yourself?

Population discussions in the context of climate change completely miss the point that any action you'd advocate to reduce global population levels (which might be able to shrink it a little over a hundred years) simply don't measure up to the social changes that would make significant reduction in our footprint, and are thousands of times more controversial.

Human activity is causing climate change so let's try to eradicate the harmful activities not the human beings. I'm certainly not opposed to discussing population, which is not an inherently racist topic, but I'm yet to be convinced that reducing the human population is as worth while a goal as liberating them.


Jock Coats said...

Actually, don't quote me on which one of them, but I'm sure I heard either Chris Huhne or Nick Clegg talk about population control at a party event once. I think it must have been Chris when he had the environment brief because it was in a talk on that sort of subject.

Nothing so crass as any kind of targetted reduction of course. I think the line was that it was statistical fact taht the more educated women are the fewer children they have. For all sorts of reasons - the ability to to work and save for old age ather than rely on children supporting you, the ability to "negotiate" sexual encounters better. And so we should ensure that women especially have access to decent education services, especially in the developing world where the problem is most obvious.

Jim Jepps said...

Hi Jock, thanks for this - very interesting.

I agree education is vital - for all kinds of reasons. It's also the case that where life expectancy is lowest birth rate is highest. If we can improve people's lives, help them live longer - by pulling them out of poverty, ensuring decent health services etc. we also reduce the birth rate - but through 100% progressive measures and not a hint of coercion.

Why some people immediately reach for the stick rather than the carrot is beyond me - it may say rather more about their attitudes than effective policies.

Green Gordon said...

Send 'em to Canada.

peter said...

My solution is neither misanthropic nor ineffectual.

It's heroic

We start by colonising the Moon, then moving on to Ceres, Mars, and the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

We then develop inter-stellar travel and colonise the stars.

Jim Jepps said...

GG: I've heard Canada is nice. It's a bit like Alaska but without the Palins.

P: I'm for the Moon idea - but can you make rockets out of sustainably sourced hemp?