I will more than likely do what David Attenborough says. Guilt gave way to submission some time ago, after too many evenings on the couch listening to that melodious voice recount the fall of the most magnificent landscapes and awe-inspiring creatures on earth.
I have come to see him as some kind of righteous, ecological God who wisely pleads with imperfect mortals like me to change my ways. I trust him and I fear him. If he says it’s harming the planet, I’ll believe him.
Attenborough, like many others, has at times mentioned overpopulation as one of the many things that poses an existential threat to the planet. I know it’s one thing. I heard serious people talk about it at COP26 and Davos. I read the articles. I am aware of the ethical issues associated with having large families.
In 2021, climate justice activism is not a niche. The damage to the land has finally shifted to a post-denial period, which means that a whole political spectrum of people from the far left to the far right believes in the need to take action to ensure the sustainability of the land. planet. Maybe I didn’t fully appreciate this until I saw pictures of leaflets men gave to women at climate change protests, not asking them, but telling them not to have a children. Instantly uncomfortable, I realized that my unconditional acceptance of the overpopulation argument had perhaps left me blind to deeply embarrassing politics.
It only took a little superficial research, which I should have done much earlier, to understand that there is a well-established link between concerns about overpopulation and eco-fascism. White supremacists and environmental fascists blame some growing populations, usually those of color and the poorest, for the environmental demise. These extremists plead for a sort of “purge” of these same populations, under the guise of pleading for a more sustainable future. This fascist philosophy was mentioned in the manifestos of two prominent mass shooting terrorists in Texas and New Zealand. The same type of theory is used to bolster right-wing anti-immigration arguments, with xenophobes voicing concerns about the growing demand for resource depletion as a means of trying to suppress migration. Vile online forums that promote eugenics and violent population control often include memes proclaiming “save the trees, not the refugees.”
The danger of these fascist arguments is not only the potential they have to radicalize men which can lead them to terrorist extremes; it is their ability to disguise themselves as subtle and even legitimate virtuous arguments for climate justice. While you can truly argue that humans are putting pressure on the environment, the truth is that human activity is more likely to damage the planet than number of humans. This is before considering the problems of seeing human beings as adversaries of nature, rather than part of it. But blaming climate change on overpopulation appeals to us, because we can’t resist a practical way to avoid overthinking the dramatic daily changes we are all going to have to make. It is a deeply unfair thing to the Irish. Many countries with growing populations are in the south of the planet. It is cruel to blame them for climate change when we know for a fact that our selfish lifestyles in the north of the world are ravaging their homes as we speak.
The overpopulation argument has the potential to be very contagious, as it appeals to a group of older men who find any theory compelling that young women are stupid and stupid irresistible. I have seen countless claims, not yet supported by decent evidence, that women my age all choose not to have children because of the environment. In my experience, the women I know who choose not to have children do so more than likely for socio-economic reasons, including not having secure semi-permanent housing. If an existential threat to the planet wasn’t powerful enough to persuade us all to stop eating meat, I doubt it could instantly quench the primordial desire to have children.
Which brings me back to my initial unease about men lecturing women about their reproductive choices at a protest. Women in this country have just escaped the 35-year-old rule imposed by pious men who have grown far too excited about our reproductive choices. Controlling pregnancies usually means controlling women, and I thought we might have learned from our own history why it is wrong to view women who have “too many” children as some sort of social evil. We don’t need to be immersed in another era of this, even if it emerges from the belly of a durable and salvaged Trojan horse.