A 1973 Supreme Court decision known as Roe versus Wade legalized abortion on the basis that a woman has a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment to the US constitution.
Obama said it was “important to protect a woman’s right to choose”.The Obama campaign ran ads in swing states highlighting the opposition to abortion of the Republican Party presidential ticket of John McCain and the openly pro-life Sarah Palin.
Obama will not get his communion on Sunday mass. The US Roman Catholic bishops warned president-elect Barack Obama against enacting an “evil law” that would deregulate the “abortion industry”, saying it would alienate millions of Americans and sow disunity.
Much I don’t want to write on the abortion issue. Its subject is ugly; it makes me instinctively recoil. I have chastised people who bring it up at environmentalist meetings. The people who talk about it obsessively have often been callous about human life, and consistently proved wrong throughout history. And yet… there is a grain of insight in what they say.
The subject is overpopulation. Is our planet over-stuffed with human beings? Are we breeding to excess? These questions are increasingly poking into public debate, and from odd directions.The food prices are going up, and everyone thinks it’s to do with not enough food, but it’s really [that there are] too many people. It’s a little embarrassing for everybody, nobody knows how to handle it.
Every year, world population grows by double digits million people — equivalent to another Britain and Ireland whooshing fully-populated from the oceans. At the turn of the 18th century, there were 600 million people on earth. At the turn of this century, there were 6.6 billion. By the time I am in my sixties, there will be more than nine billion — at which point there will be more people alive simultaneously than in the first 17 centuries after Christ combined.
The overpopulation lobby say this will inevitably leave more and more people chasing after a diminishing amount of resources on an ecologically-ravaged planet. At their most pessimistic, they say human beings will, in the long sweep of planetary history, look like a big-brained version of a locust cloud. They eat everything in sight and multiply fifty-fold — until they have consumed everything, when they turn in desperation on each other, munch off their siblings’ heads, and then fall out of the sky dead.
They say with a frown that this global swarming is driving global warming. How can you be prepared to cut back on your car emissions and your plane emissions but not on your baby emissions? Can you really celebrate the pitter-patter of tiny carbon-footprints?
Yet this subject seems to leech out all the dark toxins of environmentalism — a movement I believe is the most urgent and important in the world. There has always been an element of green thinking that viewed humans as a parasitic infestation, wrecking the Eden of planet earth.
If environmentalism sounds — or is — misanthropic, we will lose the argument. Most human beings will never think the world would be better off without us. Nobody thinks they are the surplus human being who should not have been born. These strident arguments hand a huge gift to the anti-greens, who always said we were anti-human beneath the surface.
It also looks like displacement. The places where population is growing fastest — sub-Saharan Africa, rural China and Bangladesh — have virtually no carbon emissions, and pitiful food consumption rates. The gap is so huge that to be responsible for as many gas emissions as one British person, a Filipina woman would need to have two dozen children until her man passed out. Can we really sit in our nice homes, with a fridge-full of food we will mostly chuck away and an SUV in the drive, and complain that she is the problem?
Once this gut-reaction has kicked in, I then think of the horrible history of overpopulation predictions. Most famously, the 18th century demographer Thomas Malthus said mass starvation was inevitable because population increases geometrically while food production grows arithmetically. He didn’t anticipate the coming of the Industrial Revolution. His successors in the 1960s, like Paul Ehrich and the Club of Rome, similarly didn’t see the Green Revolution that was galloping around the corner of history.
So it is tempting to say now that the overpopulation argument will smack into some new technological development. It’s not quite true to say there is a diminishing amount of resources, because the genius of human beings is to find new ways to use what is there. Two centuries ago, nobody could have conceived that the sun’s rays or the waves in the ocean were a resource to be used — but solar and tidal power make it so.
And yet, and yet… why do my own arguments leave me echoing with doubt? A dark voice in my head says: you would accept that, to pluck an absurd number, 100 billion people would be too many. You don’t think human genius is infinitely expansive; there is a limit to what it can solve. So isn’t the question just where you draw the line? If 100 billion is too much, why not nine billion?
But if this is a problem, is there a solution that isn’t abhorrent? Some people seem to reach instinctively for authoritarian answers. The government of China has bragged that its “greatest contribution” to the fight against global warming has been its policy of punishing, imprisoning or sterilising women who have more than one child. Some environmentalists — a small minority — eye this idea jealously.
There is a far better way — and it is something we should be pursuing anyway. It is called feminism. Where women have control over their own bodies — through contraception, abortion and general independence — they choose not to be perpetually pregnant. The UN Fund For Population Activities has calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries didn’t want their last child, but didn’t have the means to prevent it. We should be helping them by building a global anti-Vatican, distributing the pill.
The argument about overpopulation is distasteful, often discussed inappropriately, and far from being a panacea — solution — but it can’t be dismissed entirely. It will be easier for 6 billion people to cope on a heaving, boiling planet than for nine or 10 billion — and we will only get there by freeing women to make their own reproductive choices. To achieve this green goal, it’s necessary to mix some oestrogen into the environmentalist palette..