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Anti-immigration groups organise against book that exposes population myths

By Ian Angus

January 31, 2012 -- Climate and Capitalism -- Simon Butler and I wrote Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis to promote discussion among environmental activists about two questions:

  • Is population growth a significant cause of the global environmental crisis?
  • Should the environmental movement support population reduction programs as solutions to environmental problems?

Since the book was published in September 2011, we’ve been very pleased by the eagerness of activists around the world to join in that discussion. Some readers are convinced by our arguments, some are not – in either case we look forward to continuing discussions while we work together to build a global movement against ecocide and for environmental justice. We expected such debates, and will continue to welcome them.

But we’ve also been targeted by the anti-immigrant groups who use population-environment arguments to campaign against what they call “mass immigration” from poor countries to the affluent global North. We weren’t surprised by this since Too Many People?  strongly condemns such policies:

Support for immigration controls strengthens the most regressive forces in our societies and weakens our ability to deal with the real causes of environmental problems. … Immigrants are not pollution. Anti-immigration policies divide the environmental movement along race, class, and gender lines, at a time when the broadest possible unity is essential (p. 133).

In most rich countries the anti-immigration lobby is well-organised and very vocal. We didn’t expect them to accept our criticisms silently.

But we have been surprised by their apparent inability to produce even a semi-rational critique of Too Many People? So far, we’ve only seen insults – we are “cornucopians” (advocates of unlimited growth) whose “pseudo-environmental” book is “population-taboo reinforcing.”

Lacking arguments of their own, anti-immigration groups on three continents have resorted to publishing and distributing an article they don’t actually agree with, by an author who rejects what they stand for – just because it is critical of Too Many People?

Here’s the story so far …

An adventure with populationists

On January 26, 2012, I spoke at Concordia University in Montreal, at a student-organised meeting to introduce Too Many People? In the week before the meeting, several faculty members at Concordia received this email from San Diego, USA, 4000 miles away:

From: Stuart H. Hurlbert
Sent: January-25-12 6:23 PM
To: Recipient List Suppressed:
Subject: Ian Angus & Overpopn Myth

Concordia Colleagues,

Ian Angus, co-author with Simon Butler of “Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis,” apparently is coming to talk to you soon on the “overpopulation myth”

Public meeting, Thursday, January 26
7:30 p.m., Concordia University Greenhouse
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., 12th floor
Montreal

As a longtime environmental scientist and population activist in the U.S., and descendant of Nova Scotia Tory refugees, let me offer in thanks for that refuge, a couple of items that may prepare you and your students for some of the ‘wisdom’ you will hear from Mr. Angus.

First, is a document from the Population Institute of Canada, as far as I am aware the premier organization up north for instilling sanity and science into discussions of population issues. It is titled “The Myth of Overpopulation?!” and is attached.

PIC has also recently achieved some reknown/notoriety for its big fight (unsuccessful) to prevent AAAS (i.e., its all-American board of directors) from vetoing an exhibitor booth on population at its upcoming meeting in Vancouver. An article by D. Schindler et al. describing that sorry episode should be online in The Social Contract within a week or two.

Second, Veteran British fellow socialist Alan Thornett has published a highly critical review of Angus’s and Butler’s book. His critique, followed by a reply from the book’s authors, and commentary by others, can be found at http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=6308.

Good reading to you!

With regards, Stuart Hurlbert

This self-proclaimed “population activist” was easy to find on the net. Among other things, Stuart Hurlbert is:

That’s quite a revealing CV – no wonder he doesn’t like our book!

Despite the salutation on his email, Hurlbert doesn’t seem to have any actual “Concordia colleagues”. At least, there were none among the people who filled the meeting room and took part in lively discussions that carried on for almost an hour after the meeting adjourned.

That isn’t to say his views weren’t represented. Shortly before the meeting started, two people went around the room handing out copies of the very articles that Hurlbert recommended – “The Myth of Overpopulation” and Alan Thornett’s review of Too Many People? (more on that later).

One of the distributors was none other than Madeline Weld, a co-author of Hurlbert’s most recent article in The Social Contract. She was there as president of the Population Institute of Canada (PIC), the group that Hurlbert called the “premier organization” of its kind in Canada. She and her colleague had travelled from the Ottawa area, about 180 kilometres, just to ensure that my “population denial” (their description) was counteracted.

Weld also attended a meeting for Too Many People? in Ottawa in November. There she forthrightly condemned “mass immigration” as the cause of a variety of social and environmental problems, and spoke positively of China’s one-child policy.

This time she was more circumspect, never mentioning immigration or any other specific population policy. She described herself as a feminist – a claim that was undermined by her insistence that women in the Third World have too many babies because they are ignorant about birth control. And, as another participant said, her assertion that the genocide in Rwandawas caused by overbreeding was a classic case of blaming the victims for a disaster rooted in centuries of imperialist plunder.

Her associate, who didn’t give his name, was less cautious. Prefacing his remarks by a declaration that he was “not a racist”, he treated us to a rant about the problems caused by hundreds of thousands of “them” coming to Canada, subsidised by “our” taxes.

I don’t know if this was a deliberate “hard cop, soft cop” tactic, but neither member of the PIC delegation had much impact that I could see.

Co-opting a critic

By distributing British ecosocialist Alan Thornett’s critical review of Too Many People?, PIC was participating in an international campaign to use a disagreement among socialists to discredit our book. As the case of Hurlbert and Weld shows, at least some of these groups are coordinating their efforts.

The first group to move on this was Optimum Population Trust, an influential  British group that blames immigration for rising housing costs, loss of green space and biodiversity, overcrowded trains, traffic congestion, rising pollution, water shortages, energy shortages, overfishing, Britain’s failure to reduce carbon emissions and just about every other social and environmental problem you can think of.

Just 24 hours after Alan Thornett posted his review, OPT reposted it on its website, Population Matters. It may well be the first article by a socialist that Optimum Population Trust has ever published.

Another group that isn’t known for publishing socialist views is the US-based Population Media Center (PMC). But it does distribute anti-immigration articles, including, a few weeks ago, an article by Madeline Weld that denounced Canada’s “misguided policy of mass immigration”, which “drives population growth and environmental degradation”. PMC included an introduction that described her essay as “a case study of how and why global overpopulation is inextricably bound up with mass immigration”.

A week after OPT, Population Media Center also reposted Alan Thornett’s review, adding this introduction:

Please note this review of the population-taboo reinforcing book Too Many People: Population, Immigration and The Environmental Crisis. Importantly, the scathing review is written by prominent eco-socialist Alan Thornett, who is reportedly a member of the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International and a long-time leading member of Socialist Resistance, the British Section of the Fourth International.

PMC’s very transparent aim was not to explain socialist policies of any kind, but to separate the good socialists from bad socialists, implying that good guys like Thornett and the Fourth International agree with PMC.

The next outfit to claim Thornett’s criticism as their own was Candobetter, an Australian website that hosts a variety of bloggers, most of whom seem to believe that overpopulation is the world’s biggest problem.

One day after PMC alerted them to the existence of Thornett’s negative review, Candobetter posted it under the headline A real Ecosocialist review of that cornucopian book, Too Many People. In fact, Thornett never called us “cornucopian” – no one who has actually read the book could make such a charge – but accuracy would have interfered with drawing a line between a “real Ecosocialist” and us.

Candobetter’s anonymous editor (he posts as “admin”) continued this divide-and-rule effort in his introduction:

Alan Thornett, an ecosocialist, amazes positively in this thoughtful review of yet another pseudo-environmental book. Simon Butler and Ian Angus’s Too Many People predictably attempts to stifle linking population numbers to ecological survival…. Even more surprisingly, this article was first published by a British Trotskyist organization…. The review below, published by Socialist Resistance, demonstrates sound thinking, in our view, on ecology and on democracy.

After Candobetter gave that advice to ecosocialists, the torch was picked up by Stuart Hurlbert and Madeline Weld, which is where our story began.

They have nothing to say

Alan Thornett’s criticisms of Too Many People? are expressed in strong terms, as are our replies. We have real disagreements on important issues – stating them firmly helps to establish clarity.

But despite his criticisms, Alan says clearly that he agrees with the book’s central argument:

The authors are right to say that population is not the root cause of the environmental problems of the planet. It is capitalism. They are also right to say that stabilizing the population would not in itself resolve them.

Our disagreement focuses on whether, within that framework, Third World population programs are appropriate both as environmental solutions and steps towards empowering women. Alan says yes; we disagree.

I have been told that Alan’s views on that question are not shared by most members of Socialist Resistance or the Fourth International, but that members of those organisations are free to debate these issues publicly. If so, that’s a welcome change from hiding disagreements behind closed doors, as many left groups do. Open discussion is always preferable, even though, as this case shows, reactionaries will  try to use such debates to promote their own ends.

Throughout Too Many People?, Simon and I distinguish between reactionaries who promote population control and immigration restrictions to protect the status quo, and sincere green activists who (mistakenly in our view) believe that environmental problems can be ended or eased by reducing Third World birth rates. There is no doubt whatsoever that Alan Thornett is in the second group, and I look forward to further discussion with him on that basis.

The groups that have published and distributed Alan Thornett’s review don’t agree with what he wrote or believes. There isn’t one word in his review that supports the anti-human, anti-immigration policies those groups promote. As was very clear at the Concordia meeting, they may distribute an ecosocialist’s article, but their views couldn’t be farther from ecosocialism.

The very fact that they have resorted to such tactics shows that they view Too Many People? as a threat. We’ll see if they can produce their own reply to what we wrote, rather than calling us names and hiding behind articles they don’t agree with. So far, it seems they have nothing to say.

* * *

UPDATE #1: Madeline Weld of the Population Institute of Canada (PIC) has posted her own report of the Concordia meeting, titling it The “Eco” Marxist Case For Population-Denial—Ian Angus’ book launch in Montreal. It is published in Candobetter, the Australian site that hailed Thornett’s criticism as “a real Ecosocialist review.”

Her report is interesting mainly for what it reveals about populationist thinking -- her quotations from others are selective and often inaccurate.

Not surprisingly, given her silence at the meeting about PIC’s actual policies, she carefully omits any mention of the help she got from US anti-immigration zealot Stuart Hurlbert. She is equally silent about her fellow PIC member’s anti-immigrant rant.

Weld says that she was alerted about the event by “Joe Bish of the Population Media Center … [who] was was hoping that PIC had human resources in Montreal to attend the book launch and hand out copies of the unfavourable book review”.  This confirms my judgment that her attendance was part of a coordinated attempt by anti-immigrant groups to exploit what Weld calls “the public rift among those who call themselves ‘ecosocialists’”.

Much of her report is devoted to complaints about the “left-wing bias” of the speakers and sponsors. My favourite sentence: “It is probably symptomatic of the politicized population-denial culture of our progressive universities that sustainability advocates were involved in hosting the book launch of a population-denying Bolshevik.”

As I wrote above, “they may distribute an ecosocialist’s article, but their views couldn’t be farther from ecosocialism”.

UPDATE #2. Madeline Weld has also published “Into the Bowels of the Denial Camp”, an account of last November’s  meeting in Ottawa for Too Many People? You might expect it to be published in Canada, but for unexplained reasons it, like the article mentioned above, is published in Australia, in the February issue of the Sustainable Population Australia newsletter (PDF).

In both articles, she understates the number of attendees by about one-third.

Comments

overpopulation

Cancer rate rising already 44% and we still need to talk about overpopulation. We are supposed to be rational animals. Where is the problem with keeping an average of 1 children for 2 decades and then balance and make humanity ecologically, economically and socially sustainable.

Let poor children grow healthy and to run and play in a near forest instead of a street full of pollution and dirt ffs.

The real way to deal with population

The anti-immigrant advocates shoot themselves in the foot just by being who they are! Disgusting! Global population is a key issue, long-term, for the true sustainability of a multi-generational human project on the planet, but population will take care of itself once peace and justice are restored to our world! Contented peoples tend to replace themselves and average small family size. The oppressed of the world are not contented, obviously. Don't try to limit the number of oppressed people, but try to throw off their oppression and empower them to empower themselves. Much better way to go!

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