Columns, Divine Politik, Opinion

Divine Politik: Population control isn’t progressive

When I walked into my ecology lecture two weeks ago, I settled into my uncomfortable desk and got ready to continue learning about coral dying, rainforests burning and ice melting into the sea. The class, although taught by a wonderful professor, is rather grim — we sit in a cramped room while the sun sets and scribble down notes about the Earth’s impending doom. 

But during this one lecture, I heard an unexpected topic broached by my professor who usually speaks at length — in a manner somehow both cheerfully resigned and bitterly pointed — about the systemic failures of our politicians and the ghastliness of Big Oil. This time, I heard him eagerly laud a policy I have grown to hate —  population control. 

My disdain for this concept may seem counterintuitive or strange, as I do care deeply about the environment and am profoundly worried about the fate of our world. I do not deny, even slightly, that overpopulation is certainly problematic and leads to its fair share of crises, particularly in the Global South. 

But I have never been able to shake the profound wrongness of trying to cull historically oppressed populations — primarily those of people of color— instead of placing blame on the corporations, governments and industries that are gutting the natural world.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

Should women be granted access to birth control, family-planning methods and sexual education? Of course. Should girls be allowed to go to school and get jobs to see the world outside of their homes and realize that there is more to life than being a mother? A resounding yes to that as well. Should families be cognizant of the resources and stability they need to grant their children an abundant life, and not have children solely due to societal pressures, lack of sexual safety or misplaced desires? Absolutely. 

All of these ideas and policies lead to women having fewer children, and all of them are virtuous and necessary — clear examples of ethical ways to slow population growth. 

But the truth is that many current ecological initiatives are operating under either the misguided assumption or the capitalist lie that poor families having fewer babies will save the planet. We know the main culprits of environmental ruin — think Exxon and Chevron, which also saw unprecedented capital gains during the last fiscal year — and it is not a traditional Catholic family with seven kids in Guatemala. 

What is also frustrating is that many people who seek to curb population growth are intelligent, progressive people who truly want to help and are saddened by the wretched conditions of the post-colonial world. However, this also creates confusion as to how they do not see that their actions and ideas are, in and of themselves, neocolonialist — and not even that effective. 

Hundreds of years ago, Western invaders forced people in the Global South to live by Eurocentric values, adopt Christianity and blame themselves for the “backwardness” of their living conditions. Today, Western politicians, scientists and activists are trying to force people in the Global South to live by Western secularism, abandon their moral and religious beliefs and essentially sterilize themselves in order to fix the environmental crisis that the Global North created. 

In both cases, the agency and freedom of people in the Global South are completely ignored. They are forced to abandon their cultural values and take it upon themselves to fix the plight of the world— a plight they had no hand in creating. 

The main cause of catastrophic climate change is burning fossil fuels, and the countries that burn the most fossil fuels are all — with the exception of India — in the Global North. But the countries in Africa that contribute the least to climate change will be the ones who suffer most, who will starve, overheat and go to war as the Earth warms. 

Instead of nations in the West taking accountability for the harm they perpetuate by burning coal, digging up oil and building factories, the onus has shifted to marginalized families who live in these condemned, already vulnerable countries. The onus has shifted to women so traumatized by their babies dying that they bear many to cope with the loss of one or two. It has shifted to devout families who view many children as a joyous gift from God and to young girls who don’t want Americans to inject them, tie their tubes or give them pills that have troubling side effects. 

Overpopulation is a climate issue, albeit a small one, and liberal politicians certainly have a duty to be concerned and action-oriented regarding the environment. 

But when Western policies to offset climate change revolve around ignoring the autonomous wills of people in the Global South and coercively reducing their populations instead of, say, using green energy or implementing carbon taxes, perhaps we are not quite as progressive — or post-colonial — as we think. 



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  1. With its conspiratorial, fact- and citation-free assertion that evil capitalists are forcefully injecting or otherwise sterilising people in the Global South, this has to be the strangest article I’ve ever seen in the FreeP. I’m more than a little surprised that the paper has lurched from top-shelf investigative journalism in the Shiney James case to this, all within one academic year. Modern population control is about providing options, something that the author seems to support, rather than “culling” (a term that wouldn’t be out of place in an abortion clinic bomber’s manifesto) populations that grow because women don’t have options. EVEN WITHOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, there is a limit to how many people any given area of land can support. The author seems blind to the inherent racism of advocating anti-population control policies that will doom mostly black and brown people to fighting among one another for resources.

  2. You are correct but short sighted…. and it is not a traditional Catholic family with seven kids in Guatemala. It is a traditional Catholic family with seven kids in the USA.
    Population Control here in the USA always fails to mention we have 4% of the world’s population and use about 20% of the world’s energy. Thus we are the first people who should be talking about p0pulation control among us who make $1,000,000 a year or more, but no they are on the covers of gossip magazines wondering if another kid would help their image……