Not even the journalists reporting from the Copenhagen summit on climate change understand all the complex economic and technological strategies for reducing the world’s carbon footprint and averting catastrophic global warming — let alone the rest of us. There’s cap and trade, emissions trading schemes, carbon taxes, discount rates and a phonebook of acronyms. But there is one equation which could be a very easy sell to save the world: fewer people = fewer carbon footprints.
This has been the theme of the United Nations Population Fund and other Malthusian groups for years. But it has been repackaged as a carbon offset program by a British group, the Optimum Population Trust, which British sociologist Frank Furedi describes in the on-line magazine Spiked as ‘an odious… zombie-like Malthusian organisation devoted to the cause of human depletion”. Forget planting trees, wind power or solar energy. The cheapest way to reduce human-generated carbon output is contraception.
To help people invest in contraception and family planning, it has devised what it calls “PopOffsets” — “the first project in the world that, simply and transparently, enables individuals and organizations to offset their carbon footprint by funding the unmet need for family planning”. At the PopOffsets website you can calculate how much it will cost to offset your carbon footprint for a year if you invest it in family planning. The OPT has calculated that every US$7 spent on world family planning will prevent one birth in a developing country. As it repeats over and over again, “a ‘non-person’ cannot produce CO2 (nor can their non-descendants”. It estimates that “every £4 spent on family planning saves one tonne of CO2. A similar reduction would require an £8 investment in tree planting, £15 in wind power, £31 in solar energy and £56 in hybrid vehicle technology.”
Preventing births of poor people (most of them in Africa) is basically the OPT’s plan for the planet — rather than helping them grow richer.. As it puts it, “one less birth into poverty is not only one less person to suffer poverty and the expected severe impacts of climate change, but also one less to produce more greenhouse gases in (hopefully) escaping poverty”.
Incredibly, this proposal is being backed by some glittering names. David Attenborough, the famous documentary maker, is a patron of the OPT, and a strong supporter of limiting population. Paul Ehrlich, an ardent campaigner for population control, Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee expert, and James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia hypothesis are amongst the other patrons.
Professor Furedi — a secular humanist with a Marxist background — argues that this Malthusian initiative discounts human ingenuity and creativity and shows a distrust for humanity itself:
What is truly disturbing about this, from a humanist perspective, is not simply that there is a silent crusade against the unique quality of human life, but that there is an almost complete absence of anger about it, a lack of any critical reaction against it. In modern times, there have always been small coteries of Malthusians, eugenic fantasists and bitter misanthropists who were estranged from children and who regarded babies as an imposition on their existences. Thankfully, these people tended to be consigned to the margins of society. Not any more.
Why is it that, today, the provision of contraception can be promoted as a sensible way of reducing carbon emissions? How do we account for the silence of religious movements whose theology still upholds the unique status of human life? And why are prominent so-called humanists so uninterested in countering this lethal Malthusian challenge to some of the most important ideals that emerged during the Renaissance and later developed through the Enlightenment?
However repugnant and racist this idea seems, its simplicity could be attractive to many people.