Ecopop lost, but its miserabilism lives on

Switzerland rejected green immigration proposals - now it needs to reject green principles.

Andrea Seaman

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Topics Politics

In a national referendum last weekend, the Swiss decisively rejected Ecopop, a proposal to cut net annual immigration to a maximum of 0.2 per cent of Switzerland’s population. If it had been successful, it would have limited the number of permitted immigrants to about 16,000 per year. To put this into perspective, 144,000 migrants entered Switzerland in 2012.

Advocates of Ecopop – a 40-year-old movement that links ecological betterment to population control – claimed that Switzerland’s ‘natural basis for living’ was being destroyed by too many humans. Hence they wanted to limit the number of people living in Switzerland, as well as providing free family planning, particularly in Africa, at the Swiss taxpayers’ behest.

In a video on the Ecopop website, poverty is blamed on there being too many people. So, according to the Ecopop logic, poverty can only be tackled by reducing the number of people living in it. Especially in Africa.

It was unsurprising, then, that throughout the campaign, Ecopop was accused of being racist. But its supporters vehemently rejected the charge, stating that, if the Earth is to be protected, its population needs reducing. Racism, they said, has nothing to do with it. And up to a point, I believe them. They find the whole of humanity appalling, not just Africans.

On Ecopop’s website, the politician Thomas Minder urged readers to ‘Say yes to nature’, and asked rhetorically: ‘40,000 new apartments, 50,000 additional cars and 410 square metres for every new immigrant, every year?’ Rather than seeing such things as causes for celebration, he laments them. Minder claims he is motivated by worries over our children’s futures. He argued that we have to stop what he calls the concreting over of nature in the present. And he talked about the ‘egotistical unfairness of taking away the chance of our descendants to grow by growing all we can grow now’.

But Minder does not really care about posterity. What he really wants to do is to avoid being part of the generation that uses up the last available resources. That dubious honour can then fall to a generation yet to be born. That’s generational fairness for you.

Another advocate of the Ecopop initiative, the ex-director of both the Swiss federal office of the environment and WWF Switzerland, Philippe Roch, accused the Swiss government of ‘clinging blindly to limitless growth in economics, population and housebuilding’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our government has accepted the green dogma of limits. It is using Roch-type assumptions to limit economic growth; it has closed borders; and it cleaves to tough planning laws that inhibit mass housebuilding.

That 74 per cent voted against Ecopop was not a surprise, however. Its opponents span the political spectrum. Even the Green Party distanced itself from the Ecopop initiative. It was simply too radical a proposal to be accepted by our existing parties. The main establishment parties warned Swiss voters about the dangers of saying yes to Ecopop. They rightly said that our bilateral agreements with Europe on trade, immigration, education and culture would be impossible to maintain. They correctly noted that our economy would be weakened by a reduction in immigration because we depend on foreigners to do most of the work Swiss people deem too menial to do themselves.

Yet, Ecopop’s opponents frequently used ecological arguments against it. They said it makes no difference in the fight against climate change whether a person emits CO2 in France or in Switzerland. Urs Leugger-Eggiman of Pro Natura, yet another organisation committed to saving nature from humanity, argued that Ecopop is picking up on an important problem in society called ‘growth compulsion’, before adding that reducing immigration is the wrong answer. The real solution, says Leugger-Eggiman, must involve tackling humanity itself. No amount of immigration-cutting is going to change man’s addiction to growth.

This is why Ecopop’s defeat is only half worth cheering. It seems that even Ecopop’s critics share its basic premise: that man is a problem and that economic growth and development need constraining. Ecopop’s advocates and its critics differ only on the best way to deal with the problem of humanity and its addiction to growth. Many renounced Ecopop while embracing its principles.

The referendum was a fight to replace one radical eco-policy with another more moderate one. As Tom Paine might say: A casual discontinuance of the practice of misanthropy is not a discontinuation of its principles.

Andrea Seaman is a school student in Switzerland.

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