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Too many people? No - too much capitalism!

The climate summit scheduled for Copenhagen in December is in big trouble before it even gets under way. Major divisions have opened up between the United States, Europe and China and there are serious doubts about whether an effective international agreement can be reached on cuts on carbon emissions.

It appears that the US wants a completely new treaty, rather than a Kyoto Mark II. This would delay any action on CO2 emissions by years, while scientists insist that deep cuts are needed right now to prevent a climate catastrophe. China, in turn, is saying that any deal at Copenhagen must not penalise developing economies like its own.

Inadvertently, the Chinese have hit the nail on the head. There is a deepening global economic recession and each country is desperate to promote a “return to growth” (and profits). So Copenhagen will necessarily avoid any decisions that jeopardise this objective.

Yet it is precisely the grow-or-die nature of capitalism that is historically the principal cause of climate chaos. We don’t expect the leaders of world capitalism to accept that and create a sustainable, not-for-profit economy in place of the rapacious market-driven madness currently in place.

So now the search is on for “cheaper” so-called solutions to global warming. And rising to the top of the list is the old chestnut of “population control”. Put simply, the argument is that there are too many people on the planet and cutting their numbers would help in tackling climate change.

Heading the charge are bodies like the Optimum Population Trust, whose new report suggests that family planning is more “cost effective” because it is five times cheaper than low-carbon technologies in reducing carbon emissions. The US-based Worldwatch Institute is campaigning “to slow, and ultimately end, the unsustainable growth of world population - a critical force behind many of today's most serious problems”. Other organisations like People and Planet and the Green Party say more or less the same thing.

Of course, population growth is an issue. But is not the cause of the explosion in carbon emissions over the last 30 or so years. The problem is not population numbers themselves but land distribution and distribution of resources. People aren't hungry because the population of their country is too big. They are hungry because they are poor and can't afford food.

They are hungry because they are seen as sources of profits by the agri-corporations who control the production and supply of food, and who work with corrupt governments to plunder resources. Deforestation and over-fishing, for example, takes place for their benefit and not for the people in countries where population growth is fastest. This is the case in the criminal destruction of virgin forest to make disposable nappies or to grow palm oil plants so the advanced economies can fuel private cars.

In any case, the countries where population growth is slow, or even negative as in Germany and Italy, are the countries that use the majority of the world's resources. No one is suggestion reducing populations in these countries!

Advocates of population control pure and simple effectively hold human beings in general responsible for and identify them with an economic system over which they have no control whatsoever. They ignore completely the fact that it is unlimited growth in the drive for profit that is destroying the planet.

As for capitalist politicians heading for Copenhagen, bringing population numbers up the climate agenda helps them to sidestep the main issue – the need to make deep cuts in emissions immediately. They can simply blame the world’s population for the crisis!

There is a more sinister dimension to the question. In an economic crisis, where there is too much unusable labour power, there is always a reopening of the question of population growth. This is about capitalism not wanting to feed mouths that are not creating profit. The elimination of surplus people in the context of capitalist crisis like the one we're in now will take the form of famine, war and genocide.

Penny Cole and Paul Feldman
18 September 2009

Phil says:

Total agreement. Here in Oxford we have the Oxford University-based "James Martin 21st Century School", a huge cross-disciplinary research body funded by an American billionaire (James Martin) whose public position is that the ecological crisis needs to be tackled primarily by reducing population. Fortunately most of the academic trustees on the Board do not agree with him on this point.

Fiona says:

In what sense is population growth an "issue"? Is it a positive issue or a negative one? What is the optimal population number for the planet, if there is one? Can population grow indefintely under any system - capitalist or socialist and have no negative consequences? I do not believe actually that anyone except for few fascist nutters believes in "elimination of surplus people" rather the issue taxing people who are concerned about this and related issues is, how to achieve a balance in all populations by the family planning, raising the status and influence of women and eliminating poverty, methods. Or are we gone all Roman Catholic now? Make deep cuts in emissions and at least debate the population growth issue as well. Does that make me a eugenicist?

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