A Stanford professor and author of The Population Bomb recently published a paper in a scientific journal re-emphasizing climate change and population growth pose existential threats to humanity and in an interview with Raw Story said that giving people the right to have as many children as they want is “a bad idea.”
“The only criticism we’ve had on the paper is that it’s too optimistic,” said Paul Ehrlich, Bing professor of population studies at Stanford University and president of the Center for Conservation Biology. “You can’t negotiate with nature.”
The study, published the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal earlier this month says that climate change is “driven by overpopulation, overconsumption of natural resources and the use of unnecessarily environmentally damaging technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service Homo sapiens‘ aggregate consumption.”
“Overall, careful analysis of the prospects does not provide much confidence that technology will save us or that gross domestic product can be disengaged from resource use,” the paper continued. The way to stop this is to “stop treating population growth as a ‘given’ and consider the nutritional, health and social benefits of humanely ending growth well below nine billion and starting a slow decline. This would be a monumental task, considering the momentum of population growth. Monumental, but not impossible if the political will could be generated globally to give full rights, education and opportunities to women, and provide all sexually active human beings with modern contraception and backup abortion.”
“Giving people the right to have as many people as many children that they want is, I think, a bad idea,” Ehrlich told Raw Story. “It’s not giving people the right to have as many children as they want, it’s giving people the right to control their reproduction so that they don’t have so many children that their children’s and grandchildren’s lives are in danger.”
“Nobody, in my view, has the right to have 12 children or even three unless the second pregnancy is twins,” Ehrlich continued. “That may be a hard-nosed view, but if you look at the entire situation, it’s crystal clear if we keep the populations of the rich growing, then the poor aren’t going to have a chance, and eventually, the descendants of the rich aren’t going to have a chance either.”
Ehrlich’s argument is one that he’s been making since 1968, when he published The Population Bomb, a work that argued unimpeded population growth would lead to mass starvation. His argument wasn’t necessarily warmly received among reproductive rights activists, who favored allowing women to make their own choices rather than placing limits on population. A 1994 United Nations conference in Cairo marked the point at which women’s rights activists began to highlight dangerous outgrowths of population control policies, including sex-selective abortion and forced sterilizations, debunking many of the policies that were guided by the Population Bomb and re-taking control of the conversation.
Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice and a scholar on women’s rights, responded to Ehrlich’s remarks in an email to Raw Story. “An enormous amount of progress has been made over the past 20 years, especially since Cairo to frame fertility control as a rights and empowerment of women issue. To be clear that things like China’s one child policy and other efforts to legally limit or mandate how many children a woman should have are simply violations of human rights and can’t be tolerated.”
She continued that Ehrlich’s self-described “hard-nosed” comment that no one should have more than two children “is simply counter productive to expanding the circle of those concerned about both population growth and also very committed to a rights based approach to fertility control. It revives old baggage and suspicion of the depth of commitment environmentalists really have for women’s empowerment.”
“I worry that Ehrlich sets back the possibility of greater feminist attention to the importance of climate change — which if not changed will so seriously damage the lives of women,” Kissling said. “Feminists do need to become a larger part of the discussion regarding climate change and sustainability and the need to move toward smaller families and less consumption.”
It’s something that Rinku Sen, president and executive director of the Applied Research Center, agreed that it may be difficult to have a legitimate conversation about population growth without buy-in from communities of color. “My general position is that any reproductive policy has to have education, equity and autonomy. It has to be grounded in those things,” she told Raw Story.
“As both a moral and a practical matter, as the poorer countries of the world begin to advance technologically and use energy in different ways,” Sen continued, “the notion that they would now be restricted in ways that the weather counties of the world have not been is a nonstarter. That’s not going to fly.”
Sen noted that if you take Ehrlich’s two-child plan seriously, it could be problematic. “I think people of color and communities of color are going to be very cynical about how that gets enforced, and whether that gets enforced evenly,” she said. “And are whether wealthier people are going to be allowed exceptions, for example, to buy child credits off of somebody else?”
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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