What is your beef with Malthus and friends?

A longtime Optimum Population Trust supporter struggles to understand spiked’s opposition to Malthusianism.

Adrian Stott

Topics Politics

After reading spiked’s latest article about population (The British prefer polite Malthusianism, by Nathalie Rothschild), I came away with the same puzzlement that previous spiked articles, and my debates with Brendan O’Neill and others, has produced. Where’s the rationale? What’s behind this strange, pro-breeding stance?

Let me explain the logic of the situation as I see it, and then put Rothschild’s article into that context.

Are we facing an existential environmental problem?

Yes. I hope we agree that the global environment is already in bad trouble, and getting worse. (If spiked is in denial over that, then there’s not much hope for this debate). The increasing rate of extinctions, the rising number of species suffering population declines in the order of 90 per cent (not just tigers, but sparrows and voles, too), the destruction of rainforests, the pollution of the oceans – the evidence is plain to see.

Is the root cause of the problem excessive human population?

Yes. It’s clear that the cause of all these negative impacts is humanity. We’re consuming natural resources in excess of their ability to replace themselves, in effect living off the ecological capital not its sustainable income, and we’re reducing that ability by destroying habitats.

Do we need to reverse population growth?

Yes. That impact is made up of the average individual impact multiplied by the number of people. So, to reduce it, one or both of those factors must be reduced. However, individual impact is strongly correlated with standard of living. The poorer parts of the world (China, India, etc) are doing their best to increase living standards, and we can’t expect them to stop. Because they outnumber us, even if all of us in the developed world were to reduce our impact drastically (which we aren’t willing to do), the global average would still to go up. Better technology is going to help, but it’s expensive to develop and spread and is very unlikely to do enough in time. Reducing individual impact is not going to do the trick. So, if we can’t reduce our individual impacts, we must reduce the number of people.

Can we do that both ethically and effectively?

Yes. All that’s needed is to reduce our fertility to below replacement (about 2.1 babies per woman) globally until the population has fallen to a sustainable level.

Fortunately, it turns out that many women are amenable to the idea of having fewer children. Voluntarily. All they need is the method, the knowledge, and the means. Contraception, education in how and why to use it, and perhaps some assistance to cope with the shift to the results of a small family, have proved to do the job from Iran to Thailand. No coercion is needed.

So which part of that does spiked disagree with?

Let’s look at Nathalie Rothschild’s article. The article is based on the news that an American mother is offering British drug addicts payment if they will accept long-term contraception. What’s wrong with such an offer? No one has to accept it. It’s just another option which may help someone with a serious problem.

Providing additional options is usually thought of as a good thing. But Rothschild has used her thesaurus overtime, describing the concept as ‘distasteful’, ‘bribery’, ‘deranged’, ‘blackmail’, ‘insidious’, ‘cruel’, etc – and the poor woman as ‘odious’. All, however, without ever justifying such adjectives. Apparently, the idea and its proponent are bad simply because Rothschild says they are.

Why is an approach that is very widely used and acceptable in our society – offering financial grants to encourage desired behaviour and to assist the disadvantaged – suddenly unacceptable here? We’re not told. Worse, Rothschild described, again without substantiation, overpopulation concern as ‘baseless fearmongering about fecundity’. Has she read none of the reports in the press detailing the research and dire forecasts about climate change and biodiversity?

The tag line of spiked’s campaign on this is opposition to ‘population control’. That’s simply intellectual dishonesty, a straw man. Population control, ie coercion, is not what’s proposed. It’s (voluntary) population reduction that’s the aim. However, spiked always seems to give that dog a bad name. Funny.

In fact, when it comes to population, spiked tends just to go into rant mode. Why? Why the vilification? Why the lack of logic? Why the denial? Why can’t we have a real debate on this?

When I’ve been faced with incomprehensible positions in the past, I’ve usually found those holding them were ignorant or ill-informed, or were covering something up. I’m certain Rothschild and company are not the former.

So, I have to ask: ‘What’s spiked’s hidden agenda here?’ And how can it possibly be more important than saving our ecosystem?

Adrian Stott is a former trustee of the Optimum Population Trust. Visit the OPT’s website here.

Read ‘The British elite prefers polite Malthusianism’, by Nathalie Rothschild, here and find out more about spiked’s arguments against neo-Malthusianism here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today