Print media may not have the clout of yore, but most Americans are still eager to talk to the New York Times. Yet strikingly, in last month's "Breaking a Long Silence on Population Control", Mireya Navarro reported that most environmental groups contacted for the article "generally declined to discuss the issue or did not return calls".
Back when Paul Ehrlich was forecasting reproductive Armageddon in 1968, slowing world population growth was a chief green cause. But when Western fertility rates unexpectedly plummeted, while those in the developing world remained high, population as an issue got awkward. Even organisations specifically dedicated to lowering population growth played down support of family planning per se, cloaking their rhetoric largely in terms of improving "women's rights", which roughly correlate with fewer births — thus reducing the prime directive of the UN Population Fund to a quiet little knock-on effect.
Rising population is a magnifier of every environmental issue out there —biodiversity, energy, water table and fish stock depletion, deforestation, pollution and climate change. Stubbornly high growth rates in countries like Niger and Yemen also exacerbate economic inequality, for poor, high-fertility nations cannot keep up with the ever-rising demand for jobs, education and healthcare. So why, for liberally-minded greens, has population grown so toxic?
Simple: it was all very well to plead for us to have smaller families; pleading for them to curtail fertility smacks — of imperialism. Environmentalists thrive on the appearance of self-excoriation — we are too numerous, we are destroying Mother Earth — although, in the movement's holier-than-thou parlance, we means you. But it's no fun feeling loftier than destitute people halfway round the world. Sanctimony only gratifies when one feels more righteous than the neighbour next door. If poverty is entrenched by excessive breeding too, low-growth advocates are in danger of seeming to blame the poor for their plight, and to put the onus on the weakest to ameliorate problems that weren't of their making. It doesn't seem fair.