Too Many People? review by Greek environmentalist

This timely work methodically reviews and demolishes the pseudo-science of Populationism … reinforcing humanist and internationalist arguments exposing the methods and politics and pseudo-statistics of populationist organisations

Too Many People? Population, Immigration and the Environmental Crisis by Ian Angus & Simon Butler (Haymarket Books) Paperback, ISBN: 9781608461400, October 2011

reviewed by Antonis Petropoulos
Athens, Greece

As the worlds population has reached 7 billion and overpopulation alarmists dominate mass media, this timely work methodically reviews and demolishes the pseudo-science of Populationism, in a readable yet informative and documented manner. ‘Too Many People?” is co-authored by two leading lights of the global Green Left / Left-Green currents, Ian Angus, editor of the Climate and Capitalism online journal, based in Canada, and Simon Butler coeditor of Australia’s Green Left Weekly. The book is published by Haymarket Books, the nonprofit, progressive book distributor and publisher, a project of the Centre for Economic Research and Social Change.

Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus’ prophecies had become out of fashion during the past 200 years, however the rise of the conservationist movement and Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s ‘The Population Bomb‘ (1968) gradually changed this, with many people now thinking that population growth is the root of all evils. According to them, there must be an absolute level beyond which global population is unsustainable and we have already reached it.

Among them, well-meaning conservationists, biocentrists, deep ecologists, but also nativists, racists, xenophobes and assorted misanthropists who call for even tighter immigration controls – as leading women’s rights activist and author Betsy Hartmann, dubs it in the short but powerful foreword, “it’s the greening of hate”, or a ‘distress’ and ‘antipathy towards ‘people of the South’ or ‘aliens’, as former Green Presidential Candidate, Joel Kovel notes in the second foreword.

Even if you are an oil-monger, It is hard to dispute that the planet has its limits, climate change being a resounding proof. However, the key question, and the title of the first chapter, is “are people the problem?” or rather their lifestyle, and in particular the unsustainable lifestyle of the tiny minority, the 1%? Are the local, family planning decisions of the poor and the powerless the problem or the global decisions of the rich and powerful, or – as the book calls them – the ‘military-corporate polluter complex”? Another question, is, will world population stabilize in this century after peaking at around 9 billion in 2050.

The authors tackle the above questions in a clear and methodic manner, providing ample information and leads to the reader who wants to research further. The book is divided into 5 sections: “Blaming People” discusses a key debate in the early years of the green movement, “Failures of Populationism” tackles key populationist assumptions, “Control and Coercion” scrutinises the abysmal human rights record of Cold War Era population control programs, including compulsory sterilisation, coerced abortions and even infanticide, but also more indirect forms of social engineering, “Greens vs Immigrants?” demolishes some pseudo-green arguments for reducing immigration and “Production, Consumption, Revolution’ argues that populationism directly tries to hinder the attempt to replace the anti-ecological, capitalist system with something better.

There are also 4 appendixes containing articles which elaborate on the above arguments. Appendix 1 points out that Malthus main goal was to argue that most people will always be poor due to naturally-occurring overpopulation, not to preach against the latter. Appendix 2 reveals the shortcomings of the populationists’ cherished IPAT formula (Impact equals Population times Affluence times Technology). Appendix 3 is leading US Socialist Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) defence of pro-immigrant policies, while Appendix 4 is a petition by the Climate Justice & Migration Working Group, stressing that Climate Change has already displaced up to 50 million people – environmental refugees/migrants.

The book contains an extensive, 19-page bibliography, a detailed index, and is highly readable.

The main strengths of the book lie in reinforcing humanist and internationalist arguments exposing the methods and politics and pseudo-statistics of populationist organisations, and the rich and right-wing financiers of populationists studies and policies. But also in stating the obvious facts, that the correlation between emissions growth and population growth in various countries is an illusion, when one checks the numbers, that per capita green house gas emissions are not related to population, or population density, but to the socioeconomic model and the polluting industries of a country, and that within each country the rich have fewer children but emit significantly more than the poor. And, most importantly, that if the Iraq war was ranked as a country in terms of annual greenhouse gas emissions, it would rank ahead of 139 countries!

Population growth is slowing down, inequality is growing within and between countries, however pro-establishment Populationists and anti-immigrant groups are intent on causing a distraction from both the social and institutional causes of the global economic crisis and the urgent economic and social changes needed NOW so as to drastically cut down emissions and avoid catastrophic climate change. If there is overpopulation, it is the overpopulation of billionaires: The top 147 in Forbes World’s Richest People in 2002, had a total wealth equal to the total annual income of 3 billion people.

As leading ecologist and activist Barry Commoner once said, quoted in the book, “pollution does not begin in the family bedroom but in the corporate boardroom.”  He added that populationist solutions are “equivalent to attempting to save a leaking ship by lightening the load and forcing passengers overboard.” Business-as-usual attitudes, of course, are equally wrong – the leaking ship needs fixing! A belief in the ability of humanity to do so, will determine both attitudes towards populationism in the future, and – more importantly – the actual fixing of the ship!

A must read which will become a classic.