by Malcolm King
Green Left Weekly
The Australian environmental movement is under attack by populationist and anti-immigration forces in a calculated attempt to divide the Green Party vote at the federal election.
The Stable Population Party (SPP), the Stop Population Growth Now (SPGN) Party in South Australia and their mother organisation, Sustainable Population Australia, are “green washing” their anti-immigration policies to make them more palatable to the electorate.
In Australia the thin edge of the population control wedge is the SPP. It wants to create a one in/one out immigration system, stop building houses for first home buyers, stop the Kiwis arriving, reduce child support payments and especially parental leave, stop 457 visas and slash international student numbers.
In uncertain times such as these, the populationists blame immigrants (and poor African women) for all of the woes of modern society.
Between 1960 and 1980 more than 20 million people worldwide were cajoled or forced into having intrauterine device implants, hysterectomies or vasectomies. In the US they were mainly the mentally ill, single mothers and the disabled.
By the 1970s, the evangelical fervour of the Third World populationist push of the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Trust and former US secretary of defense Robert McNamara, had failed to make a dent in population growth.
For all of their scientific studies, propaganda, research and the millions of dollars spent, population control simply did not work.
The reason is contraception is only one factor in a web of variables in the life of a woman living in the Third World. It is important but not as important as earning money, providing children with clean drinking water, healthy food and a good education.
Population control is far more complex than implanting IUDs, injecting people with the contraceptive Depo Provera or offering them cash to be sterilised.
The anti-population literature from the 1960s and 70s is hauntingly familiar to the strident language used by the SPA and its allies here. They turned political problems into biological problems and human history was recast as natural history.
The SPP, SPGN and the SPA have been picking at the scab of immigration for some years. Like Pauline Hanson in a koala suit, they cloak reactionary politics in the garb of environmentalism, but — unlike the Greens — they have no environmental credentials.
They “green wash” their policies by appealing to environmental values, while promoting the tired idea that Asians, and now Africans, are waiting to invade via immigration.
The fear is not mixing races. It’s that these newcomers will destroy flora and fauna while eating us out of house and home.
The populationists invoke the concept of lebensraum, as the Nazis did, suggesting that nations are bodies, and that political borders must accommodate biological processes of growth.
They are fixated by boundaries, systems and limits to growth. For the SPP and their fellow travellers, trends on fertility, mortality, and migration provide the best measures of degeneration.
In the mid 1940s a Princeton demographer, Dudley Kirk, had “nutted” the population problem out. He predicted that the Western pattern of mortality declines and rapid population growth would spread across Asia.
There was no alternative but to assist development in order to reduce birth rates. While miracle cures and herbicides might rapidly cut mortality, Kirk said fertility would not begin to fall until peasants moved to cities, earned paycheques and enrolled their children in school.
This is exactly what is happening now in large Asian cities — except no one told the urban planners. He also correctly predicted that the “Asiatic peoples” would become westernised and that population growth would slow.
He was correct. In some European nations and Japan it is now going backwards.
By the end of World War Two, the stage was set for the populationist seed to burst into flower and promote the cause to foreign governments in India, Ceylon, Africa and Asia.
The critical flaw was a lack of post-procedural care. Infection was rife. Women after childbirth were vulnerable and easy targets for those pushing sterilisation.
But the real problem — shared by their contemporary Australian colleagues — was the objectification of the people they were trying to help. They were seen as statistics rather than living, feeling human beings.
One well-known example of what went wrong with “global family planning” is the Dalkon Shield IUD made by AH Robins corporation.
It featured rows of prongs that made it resistant to expulsions but also made it painful to insert or remove. Its fatal flaw was a multifilament “tail” that provided a path for infection.
By the time women flooded hospitals in America with life-threatening complications in the early 1970s, the manufacturer had offered Dalkon Shields in bulk and unsterilised to USAID at a discount price.
About 440,000 women in 42 countries used them by the time the recall order was issued in 1975. Many women in the Third World — who had no local doctor or none they could afford — died of septicemia. This was a tragedy of unimaginable proportions.
Another dramatic example was the mobile vasectomy camp, which appeared in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
During a five-week intensive family planning campaign in 1960, almost 15,000 people were sterilised. In 1962, 158,000 Indians went under the knife as the Ministry of Health encouraged the use of mobile units to sterilise people institutionalised for tuberculosis, leprosy or mental illness.
The genesis of the populationist environment movement really started with the publication of books in 1948, Fairfield Osborn’s Plundered Planet and William Vogt’s Road to Survival.
Vogt favoured sterilisation bonuses to be paid to the shiftless. Vogt’s chief concerns — cheaper contraceptives, education and linking food aid to population control — helped set an agenda that would persist for 30 years.
He showed that even though everyone shared the same “road to survival”, of course those that survived would be white, male and from the West.
Today we also see networks and communities of common interest in the SPP, SPA and SPGN, John Tanton and the Social Contract Press, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA and Population Matters (UK) who were organised to politically control immigration.
They have sought to curry favour with community and environmental groups to “greenwash” their anti-immigration message.
Roy Beck, the head of NumbersUSA, visited Australia in January. He did the rounds of the populationist groups and also met Terri and Bindi Irwin on the Sunshine Coast.
Recently Bindi publicly said population growth in Africa needed to be cut and girls as young as 15 should implanted with IUDs.
Beck is one of the leaders of the immigration restrictionists in America and the master “greenwasher”. His job is to convince environmentalists that they too must oppose immigration if they are to save the environment.
The SPP, SPGN and Population Matters (UK) say that women in Africa are to blame, yet they also blame the Australian government for allowing so many immigrants and refugees into Australia.
These black women are guilty in Africa and when they immigrate to Australia, they are guilty here too. The SPP and the SPGN want it both ways: the power to repel immigrants from our shores while hounding them in their homelands.
The birth rate in Mali is 6.29 births per woman. In the US it is 2.1. So, if the problem is population, then Mali is where they should start.
But the average person in Mali is responsible for 0.06 tonnes of CO2 per year while the average person in the US is responsible for 17 tonnes. So, the average person in the US is responsible for about 283 times more carbon emissions than the average person in Mali.
In this context, complaining about another Malian baby seems foolish.
The populationists say that if we aspire to a world where Malians have a better quality of life than they do now, then they will each use more resources and this will only be possible with a lower population.
They are wrong. It is possible for a society to live well and use less of the world’s finite resources, although to do that would require an end to the constant growth that capitalism requires.
Their certainty that population correlates to consumption comes from the belief that we should learn from ecology — too many rabbits in a garden can eat all of the flowers and then have none left. Each new rabbit means an equal increase in the rate of consumption of flowers.
But humans are different. We are the only species with such vast inequality. Talking about population serves to shift blame from the rich in the West onto those who are least to blame.
The SPP and SPGN have done nothing to reduce Australian consumption rates, restrict mining industries or hold polluters accountable. Yet they’re working overtime to convince environmentalists and community groups to do their dirty work by blaming immigrants for environmental degradation.
It is the emancipation of women, not population control, that has enabled feminists and environmentalists to forge a new consensus to promote empowerment, not control.
If the horrors of the Third World population control push of yesteryear are not evidence enough of perpetuating a reckless invasion on the reproductive health of the poorest of the poor, what does it say about the regressive and manipulative tactics of Australian populationists who want us to walk down that path again?
[Malcolm King works in generational change. He was an associate director in the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in Canberra.]