Population does matter – it matters that it’s not controlled

A letter to Green World.

Of the four letters in the latest issue of the Green Party magazine: Green World (GW82; Autumn 2013) three argue for population control.

Letters in Green World issue 84; 3 argue for population control

Roger Plenty, Alastair Bonnett and Rupert Read argue respectively that consumption is too excessive to curb, that debate against control is “mired in invective and cliché” and that control is “common sense”.

Bonnett concedes that it is in the rich West where population needs to be taken “most seriously” and describes population control as a “people” policy. He finishes that concerns about population control are “clichéd, invective, ancient or ill-informed”.

Apart from the passing mention to Western rich families, none of the writers acknowledge the huge ethical nor pragmatic issues that come with implementing population control.

Population control is sexist. Take the case of China where 118 boys are born to every 100 girls. Chinese culture, like too many countries, highly values men. Having a son becomes even more critical when a couple can only have one child. Many couples therefore resort to aborting female foetuses and female infanticide. The scale of this problem is horrifying. As New Internationalist writes we have “a scandal of global sex selection where 117 million girls have either been aborted or murdered” (New Internationalist; NI 466). Supposing a girl does survive population control and grow up; it will then be her and not her brother’s reproductive rights that are denied.

Population control is classist. Say we mimic China and bring in fines against those who flout population control. The fines will have the biggest effect on the poorest. Even if the fines are ‘progressive’ the rich don’t even pay the low tax thresholds levied now. But beyond income, it’s the poorest in low pay, no-pay jobs[1] that are most likely to live in unhealthy, dangerous, and toxic environments. They also happen to have less access to sexual health clinics and sexual health advice[2]. Meaning their less likely to have control over their reproductive rights anyway. Stigma that there are ‘scroungers’ who have children only to leech state benefits will only increase.

And then there’s ethnicity. The consequences of endemic racism are also enormous. And again include less control over reproductive rights [3]. Added to a more devout religious culture that prohibits sexual protection, Africans have a higher birth rate than those in the Western world[4]. It’s naive to think this fact will escape racists when there is a policy against large families.

Say Greens somehow manage to pass a law for population control against rich Western families only. Society rarely blindly follows the law. Population control will be used as a tool to further stigmatize these groups. In particular there is a huge risk that this policy will be used to further the already virulent facism in the Western world. (“Greens agree no room for immigrants” would doubtlessly be one of the few tamer headlines).

As one of seven children all of whom were removed from our biological mother, I am all too aware of the burden she (and by implication we) ‘placed’ on society. Forced sterilization was often tossed around as a solution to this mess: “Well, if she can’t look after them then…” For all of her ‘flaws’, her right to her body was hers and only hers.

The writers also fail to consider their huge bias towards population control. As men, who are living, it is a policy that will never affect them. I’ll admit I’m also biased. As a Green, i’m somewhat aware of the sexism, racism and countless injustices that so many people face. Hence, i’m in favour of social justice and against oppressive policies. Surprisingly, the writers appear to be free of this bias.

Bonnett describes debate over population control as “get[ting] us nowhere”. Yes, this debate isn’t productive. It detracts from the urgent fight against consumption and in particular the devastating consumption of non renewable resources by multinational companies.

Bonnett is right once more: one thing does matter. It matters that he and other Green Party members are pushing so relentlessly for such an oppressive policy. It matters hugely.


[1] Shildrick et al., The Low-pay, No-pay Cycle.

[2] Glasier et al., “Sexual and Reproductive Health.”

[3] Davis, Mills, and Lewis, “Racism, Birth Control and Reporductive Rights.”

[4] CIA World Factbook, “Birth Rate – Country Comparison.”

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