Bernie Sanders and the Anti-People Crusade

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester, September 7, 2019. (Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)
Sanders’s interest in developing world population control is the latest instance of a rising anti-natalism on the left.

At least Bernie Sanders is an equal-opportunity misanthrope. He doesn’t like rich people, and it turns out he doesn’t necessarily like poor people, either.

At the CNN town hall on climate change, a questioner asked the socialist senator if he’d be “courageous” enough to endorse population control to save the planet. Sanders answered “yes,” and then, after referring to abortion rights, endorsed curtailing population growth, “especially in poor countries around the world where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies.”

He’s looking at you, sub-Saharan Africa.

The Sanders riff is the latest instance of a rising anti-natalism on the left, which has gone from arguing that carbon emissions are a problem to arguing that human beings are a problem. They release carbon emissions, don’t they? Q.E.D.

When a proposition has the support of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who questions the morality of having children, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, who has discussed punishing people for having children, it’s on the way to universal assent among a certain segment of soi-disant thoughtful progressives.

A headline in the New York Times even asked, “Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?” Thus proving that, whatever our other virtues, we are at times the most ridiculous and self-loathing species.

Undergirding the anti-natalist position is the belief that we are facing a global catastrophe, such that additional babies will tip the planet into uninhabitability for everyone. This goes beyond the best evidence, and discounts the human capacity for adaptation that is one of our chief attributes.

The view that human beings are an unsustainable drain on limited resources goes back to the 18th-century thinker Thomas Malthus and, more recently, the Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich. In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Ehrlich thunderously pronounced, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.”

In the event, we figured out how to make agriculture more efficient and have been feeding people just fine (when not prevented from doing so by wars and other man-made calamities). Nonetheless, Ehrlich hasn’t stopped predicting the explosion of his population bomb ever since, telling The Guardian recently that the collapse of civilization is “a near certainty.”

In his original work, Ehrlich put an emphasis on overly fertile Third World countries, just as Bernie Sanders did the other night. But if consumption and carbon emissions are the concern, it’s rich people in developed countries who are the bigger problem and should be dealt with accordingly (a task for which Sanders is dismayingly well-suited).

What are we to make of an agenda that seeks to diminish the number of human beings overall and to make those who enjoy material prosperity less wealthy?

Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute notes how rising incomes — considered an unalloyed good by anyone who experiences them — invariably increase energy consumption. Insofar as a sweeping anti-development, anti-consumption program like the Green New Deal is “diametrically opposed to the aspirations of nearly all individuals,” he writes, it is “antihuman.”

At a more fundamental level, the anti-natalists have a gross materialistic view of humanity. For them, we are a series of inputs and outputs, and if one particular output is considered undesirable (in this case, carbon emissions), it reduces the value of human beings altogether. No one who isn’t a cracked ideological extremist or perversely blinkered economist actually looks at people this way. It doesn’t account for relationships or for joy, for the wondrous distinctiveness of every person, no matter how poor or humble.

People aren’t a burden; they are a resource and a gift. Any movement that regards them any other way is profoundly misguided and deeply anti-humane. Build windmills if you must, but don’t try to scare people out of having children — or much worse, facilitate abortions — in your zeal to shave some fraction of a degree off the global temperature 80 years from now.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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