Planet Gore

OPT: Save the Planet by Preventing African Births

At my old Catholic school, religious do-gooders used to ask us for a penny to “sponsor a black baby.” Now eco-do-gooders want our pennies to prevent black babies from being born.
Rushing to the front of the race for the prize of Most Vomit-Inducing Environmental Initiative Ever Devised, the UK’s Optimum Population Trust — which counts such grandees as David Attenborough and Jonathon Porritt among its supporters — has just launched PopOffsets. This quirkily named campaign is actually deeply sinister: It invites well-off Westerners to offset their carbon emissions by paying for poor people in the Third World to stop procreating.
In short, if you feel bad about your CO2-emitting jaunt to Barbados, or the new Ferrari you just splurged on, then simply give some money to a charity which helps to “convince” Third World women not to have children, and — presto! — the carbon saved by having one less black child in the world will put your guilt-ridden mind at rest.
The Optimum Population Trust is a creepy Malthusian outfit made up of Lords, Ladies, and Sirs who all believe that the world’s problems are caused by “too many people.” It recently carried out a cost-benefit analysis of the best way to tackle global warming and “discovered” (I prefer the word “decided”) that every £4 spent on contraception saves one ton of CO2 from being added to the environment, whereas you would need to spend £8 on tree-planting, £15 on wind power, £31 on solar energy, and £56 on hybrid vehicle technology to realize the same carbon savings.
How can a mere £4 on condoms save one ton of carbon? Well, it prevents more people from being born, and in the eyes of the OPT, people are nothing more than carbon emitters and polluters — filthy, destructive, toxic beings. As its new PopOffsets website says, next to a picture of lots and lots of stick men and a counter telling you how many people were born while you were visiting the website (3,153 while I was there), “More people = more emissions. Rapid population growth is a major contributor to global warming.”
So you click on the PopOffsets Calculator, tell it how much carbon you have emitted and give your carbon emissions a title (something like “Summer Holiday 2009,” it suggests), and then it tells you how much money you must donate to baby-blocking initiatives overseas. For example, if you fly round-trip from London to Sydney — which emits ten tons of carbon — you must pay around £40 ($70) and help prevent the birth of one child in Kenya. Visa and Mastercard accepted!
This is how the value of human life is calculated by climate-change alarmists. A baby in Kenya is equal to ten tons of carbon, or one Londoner’s holiday in Australia. It has no more value than that, no intrinsic worth, no moral or cultural or human meaning; it is simply reduced to a bargaining chip in some wealthy Westerner’s desire to absolve himself of eco-guilt.
This odious campaign — and the relentless rise of neo-Malthusianism more broadly — has two devastating impacts. First it presents fixable social problems, such as poverty and global inequality, as demographic problems, problems of overpopulation. So in keeping with every population scaremonger from Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich, it shifts the blame from society, with its failure to eliminate hunger or to eradicate pollution, and heaps it instead on to people — and, in this instance, on to the poorest people.
The Guardian’s deeply sympathetic report on PopOffsets was illustrated with a picture of black babies, twelve of them, lying on a huge bed like the useless little beings that they allegedly are, symbolic of those who are apparently doing most to destroy this green and pleasant world of ours: the poor, the feckless, the fecund. The representation of social problems as problems of reproductive “irresponsibility” makes it harder to have an open, meaningful debate about how to take society forward; the focus becomes how to stop people from breeding rather than how to pursue progress.
And second, neo-Malthusianism has a seriously detrimental impact on Third World women’s freedom and autonomy. The most glaringly disingenuous thing about PopOffsets is the OPT’s claim that it is merely helping women to deal with unwanted pregnancies; it is simply providing much-needed reproductive services to the poor of the world. It even uses feminist-sounding lingo to justify its campaign, arguing that it wants to use “education and equal rights” to “empower women.”
In truth, when you promote condom use in the Third World in the most scaremongering terms imaginable, as the only sane and scientific way to prevent an apocalypse, as the only thing that can guarantee the safety of the planet and of future generations, then you are not promoting freedom and choice; you are using blackmail — emotional, political, and financial blackmail — to coerce women into doing the “right thing” as defined by the OPT and numerous other NGOs that problematize population growth. Those of us who do believe women should have unfettered autonomy in reproductive matters (and I am one of those people) should reject the OPT’s warped idea of “choice,” where women are strongarmed into making one “choice” only: the responsibly green, planet-saving one.
As Planet Gore’s resident Marxist, you will forgive me if I end by quoting Marx. In 1865 he described Thomas Malthus’s “Essay on the Principle of Population” as “a libel against the human race.” Nearly 150 years later, Malthusians are still libelling the human race, depicting it as toxic, poisonous, and something that should be preventing from “spreading.”

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of spiked and the author of Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas.