A population bomber is outraged

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“Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves.” -Bertrand Russell

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“Conventional people,” Bertrand Russell wrote, “are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves.”

A case in point is a recent blog entry in which populationist film maker Dave Gardner is personally offended by an article that doesn’t even mention him.

Gardner used to be a regular participant in discussions of population here on Climate & Capitalism. Every comment he submitted was published in full, and the debates, though vigorous, were all polite. But when others pointed out the reactionary implications of his support for population reduction and strict immigration limits, he stormed off in a huff.

His current fury has been roused by my recent article, The return of the population bombers. When I first saw his post, I hoped that he was initiating a debate the article’s central theme, the conservative impact of overpopulation ideology in the past and today. But unfortunately, he doesn’t deal with the substance of my article at all.

Instead he focuses on a few out-of-context sentences, words he seems to regard as personal attacks.

His response involves insisting that he is “a perfect example” of a populationist, and that those horrible sentences don’t describe him. To paraphrase: I don’t focus on population alone! I have never noticed any racism in populationist circles, and I don’t dislike foreigners! I’ve interviewed lots of experts and they agree with me. How dare Angus claim to see into my heart?

It’s all very solipsistic. Apart from the discussions he initiated on this website, I’ve never written about Gardner at all, much less claimed to see into his heart.

Nevertheless, he feels justified in calling me “prejudiced … intellectually lazy … possibly even deceptive and dishonest.” My motive? I am “jealous of the traction overpopulation is getting.” But fear not: only “the clueless” will be fooled by my fallacies.

Bertrand Russell might have been amused, but I suspect not. As furies go, this is pretty unimpressive stuff.

But don’t take my word for it. If you have time, read his article, and please let me know if you find anything it that hasn’t been answered many times over, in Climate & Capitalism or in Too Many People?


More from the editor’s notebook…


  • Exactly right Chris McCabe!
    Some aspects of ecological footprint are dependent on lifestyle – energy for example. Most of the oil consumption in the world is related to consumer demand-driven capitalism…which unfortunately is being adopted in some of the most populated nations like China, India and Indonesia.

    However, there are some parts of our footprint which are directly related to population, regardless of what the author of this piece wishes to believe. We all have to eat! So, as a result, topsoil erosion and freshwater loss are highly correlated to population levels; especially now, in an age when the only reason why we are able to feed 6 of the 7 billion people living on earth is because of mechanized agriculture, pumping fossil aquifers, and the rampant use of phosphates and oil-based fertilizers and pesticides. And how long can this go on for?

    It’s one thing to have the Catholic Church and all of the other religious fanatics against birth control, but the anti-population control theme of this site is a headscratcher. We live on a finite world (the Earth isn’t growing larger as far as I can tell)and we have a growing population that U.N. agencies believe will top out at 10 billion. Can the biosphere of the Earth sustain a population of 10 billion? Or 7 billion? Odds are that because of the loss of biodiversity (200 species per day), topsoil loss and declining fresh water availability, that the permanently sustainable human population on planet earth is less than 2 billion…and likely falling with each passing day that we are in ecological overshoot.

    Today, the human consumption of the biosphere is over 40% Hear that! 40%! That means that one animal – human apes will soon be consuming half of the photosynthesizing plant life that the earth is able to produce.  We have consumed so much of this environment, and are still unable to stop, that in all likelihood the human race will be extinct within two centuries.  What a legacy to leave to our children.  And after the failures of growth-dependent capitalism, we find socialists who are no more in touch with what is happening in the natural economy, and play the same games of living in denial and pretending the earth is just a big, giant candy store that will pop out whatever we need. 

    The human race needs a complete makeover, not just a new economic system like the communists are obsessed with! We need a sustainable world population level and a way of life that is not dependent on increased consumption of energy and natural resources. Just fixing one part of the problem won’t save the future for coming generations.

    • Anyone who can write that socialists are for “just a new economic system,” clearly knows very little about socialism in general, and even less about the ecosocialist perspective that this website is devoted to. Before making such vacuous comments, please take a few minutes to skim some of the many articles we have published on the need for comprehensive, radical change.

      It is precisely because ecosocialists recognize the need for a “complete makeover” that we reject the superficial numerology of populationism.

      Tom Athanasiou of EcoEquity isn’t a socialist, so far as I know, but he makes the point clearly and succinctly:

      “If ever there was a measure of the green movement’s confusion, it is that so many environmentalists honestly believe that by soberly intoning that there are just ‘too many people’ they somehow cut across all the moral and political agonies of globalization, of rising human migrations, mass extinctions, atmospheric instability and all the rest of it. In fact, “overpopulation” explains none of these things, and as long as we cling to it we remain the confused citizens of an incomprehensible world.”

  • Population is just one of the problems we must address, not a matter for a grudge-fight! To address it, social justice & education must be high priority items.

  • Sorry to hear that, Ian. I’m quite certain you’re mistaken in your assessment, as the quote you included from your book confirms. You picked the fight. I feel no need to convince people that your effort to replace capitalism is a bad idea. So, just know that if you pick the fight, I will defend those who advocate making wise and responsible decisions about family size around the world.

  • Dave, I briefly considered writing a detailed reply, but decided not to, for two reasons.

    1. You said nothing that hasn’t been answered many times over — so I included a link to a long list of articles that do just that. I see no value in rewriting them.

    2. Terms like “prejudiced … intellectually lazy … possibly even deceptive and dishonest” can not be called an invitation to collegial debate. I’m a big boy, I can take the heat, but I’m interested in discussion, not insults.

    I’m sure you are completely sincere in your belief that “We are rowing the boat in the same direction,” but as George Orwell wrote somewhere, truth is more important than sincerity. Simon Butler wrote an entire book explaining why populationism and social justice are incompatible. I see no reason to retract one word of that.

  • Ian, I was looking forward to your response, but if this is it, then I’m disappointed. It appears you’re too entrenched in your position to really consider what I had to say. You certainly aren’t responding to it here. And my offer at the end of my apparently furious rant stands: we should be able to coexist, and even support one another. We are rowing the boat in the same direction. I fear it is your misassumptions that propel you to continue taking potshots at “populationists.”

    Dave Gardner
    Director of the documentary
    GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth
    Sustainable population & consumption advocate and proud of it