Oh, you Malthusians, aren’t you clever? One child per human and carbon contributions are cut; that’s the solution to climate change! The Guardian’s “radical centrist” (oxymoron much?), French President Macron, can therefore be excused for making exceptionally racist comments about Africa, because he’s got the balls to say what diplomats won’t: there are too many people on this planet. This Neo-Malthusian argument has grown in popularity over the last few years, whereby population is divorced from mode of production, and blamed for food and energy crises and, indeed, biospheric change.1
People who spout the population control nonsense need a history lesson (and a good ear-flicking, in my personal opinion). Let me bring you back to the mid-1800s, when Britain was busy maniacally exterminating colonial populations by letting them starve. Rather than relieving starvation in times of and leading up to famine, grain merchants exported record amounts of wheat and grain despite the growing food shortages in both Ireland and India, while government ministers allowed Malthusian ideas of population pressure, as well as Smithian doctrine of the invisible hand of the market, to explain away famines as results of putatively natural laws. 2 Over one million people died from disease and starvation in Ireland between 1845 and 1851, and the population fell from 8.5 million to 4.5 million over the next one-hundred years. How’s that for controlling a population? Pretty impressive! Seems like all of those incidences of disease and mass starvation are nature’s way of balancing our planet... Climate crisis, we will match you by outliving you!
This Malthusianism is the insipid, eugenicist nonsense that makes centrists and right wingers all sound the same to me, because it boils down to a single narrative: a war on the working class. Population problem? Blame the Africans! Issue with distribution of birth control, food stamps, and housing? Blame those breeding working class! Most of the world’s wealth is owned by a small cadre, but no, that person in the queue with four kids is the real enemy: heckle and shame her!
Last month, the idea of murder by capitalism became tragically apparent when Grenfell tower burned to the ground and carried away 80 people (possibly more). People were calling out the Tory government for their disgraceful response, their lack of care towards people, and their general uselessness. Corbyn went to Glastonbury and, despite the absolute horror of that incident, there was a sudden sense of clarity about the real violence of capitalist greed. But within a few weeks, several articles in major newspapers turned the narrative away from irresponsible governments and capitalists and back on the masses, back to individual responsibility around anthropogenic climate change. Is this a coincidence? I’m not sure.
This rant was triggered by comments under a Guardian article that suggested that a woman considering IVF was destroying the environment, and that she should adopt a child instead of raising our carbon quota. As a new father, I say loudly, back off from telling parents and people how, when, and in what manner they should procreate. Go read a history book that is not sponsored by a right-wing thinktank, and historicize your thinking.
1. For critiques of Malthusian ways of thinking, see Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life (2015).
2. Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (2006).
Michael Paye is Associate Editor at Warscapes magazine.