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by Patrick Hayes
Ignore the miserable misanthropists who think the Beckhams set a bad example by having too many children.
‘I am so proud and excited to announce the birth of our daughter Harper Seven Beckham’, enthused footballer David Beckham on Twitter last week. His announcement set the Twittersphere and tabloids ablaze, with celebrities and columnists welcoming the birth of the Beckhams’ fourth child and engaging in avid speculation about the origin of the name. Victoria Beckham’s former Spice Girls bandmate, a heavily pregnant Mel B, declared, ‘Yipeee another spice baby is born, damn it wish it was me this AM cos I feel like I’m about to POP!’
How could anyone with an ounce of humanity in them fail to feel a little of the Beckham’s joy in the arrival of their first daughter? Well, over at Population Matters (formerly the Optimum Population Trust) the news was hardly greeted with joy but rather as an opportunity to chastise the Beckhams, and by extension anyone else thinking of extending their family, for their ‘irresponsible’ behaviour.
Population Matters chose to ride the wave of publicity following the birth of the curiously named Beckham baby by brandishing the celebrity couple as ‘bad role models’. Evidently, Simon Ross, the organisation’s chief executive, is concerned that Posh and Becks may start a trend for larger families, just as David Beckham once sparked a (short-lived) fashion for men wearing sarongs.
Reacting to Harper Seven’s birth, Ross told the Observer newspaper: ‘There’s no point in people trying to reduce their carbon emissions and then increasing them 100% by having another child.’ He also chastised London mayor Boris Johnson for having brought four kids into the world.
So, despite adopting a less-creepy and more balanced-sounding moniker, Population Matters has lost none of the Malthusianism that also informed it when it was known as the Optimum Population Trust.
Far from seeing every child as a blessing, it seems for Ross they are instead a curse. Rather than welcoming Harper Seven and other newborns to the human race, they are seen instead as little carbon emitters, as pesky blights on the planet who are hindering attempts to reduce humanity’s footprint.
Such a prioritisation of the planet over people has fast become a mainstream position, even if its supporters seem to imagine they are a daring minority. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has now joined the fray. The Observer has cited her as saying ‘We need to have a far greater public debate about population, whether it focuses on improving family planning or reducing global inequality – and looking again at how we address the strain on our natural resources… The absence of an open and honest discussion about this issue means most people don’t give much thought to the scale of global population growth in recent years.’
The naturalist and Population Matters patron Sir David Attenborough has claimed that discussing family sizes is an ‘absurd taboo’. Yet it has become an everyday occurrence, shamelessly discussed and debated by a wide range of commentators, rather than an unspeakable taboo that only a few brave, enlightened individuals are daring to break.
What’s truly absurd is the idea that we should restrict our family sizes in order to avoid eco-disaster. And that’s not just because this notion can appear ‘unpalatable’, as Lucas says, due to the ‘horrific consequences of China’s one-child policy and of other draconian efforts to regulate procreation’. Rather, it’s because Lucas’ assertion that as long as controlling population growth is off the table ‘then there’s very little chance of finding the solutions we need’ has time and again been proved staggeringly false.
Human beings aren’t just users of resources, sucking blood from the Earth. We also create resources. Were it not for human ingenuity, then coal, oil, uranium, iron, lead would all be mere objects devoid of any utility. And, far from facing mass famines as the population grows (as the Reverend Thomas Malthus predicted in the early nineteenth century and his many disciples, including Paul Ehrlich in the 1970s, have done since) an increased population has instead gone hand-in-hand with a greater division of labour and greater opportunities for human ingenuity. New ways of creating more resources and making better use of existing ones have been found. The oft-repeated assertion that we’d need three planets to continue living the way we do is based on the unfounded assumption that somehow our ability to continue to meet challenges and innovate has come to an abrupt and unexplained end.
While some have speculated that Harper’s middle name ‘Seven’ commemorates the number on David Beckham’s Manchester United shirt, in light of the miserable reactions to her birth it would be apt to see it as symbolising something else, too: the fantastic fact that there will very soon be seven billion people on the planet.
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