Sir David Attenborough’s views on population control

TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s programmes are usually fascinating and informative but when it comes to his views on population control, he is talking rubbish. Reactionary rubbish at that.

“Human beings are a plague on the earth,” Attenborough says in an interview with theRadio Times. If we don’t limit “the frightening explosion in human numbers, the natural world will do it for us”.

Attenborough (president of the Malthusian Optimum Population Trust) calls for urgent measures to cut population growth in developing countries:

“We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves…”

But Ethiopia is actually a classic example of why this is absolute nonsense. If the calories grown in Ethiopia stayed in Ethiopia then there would be no problem feeding the whole population. But the government’s economic plan is dependent on forcing its own citizens off the land and handing it over to global agribusiness to grow crops for export.

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Comment by Allan Wort on January 27, 2013 at 16:36

In reply to kenyasue Smart;

 

I’m sorry but the sort of unevidenced, fearful, ignorant and alarmist assertions made in that video and used in your post make it impossible for any sane member of society to take your points seriously.

 

If anyone takes the time to look at the link posted it shows from 2:30 onwards the most ridiculous assertion that Bill Gates has ‘let slip’ during a T.E.D. presentation the idea of inserting population controls into polio vaccines. Unless you can demonstrate its veracity you are knowingly peddling a despicable lie. Do you have the proof or should we safely ignore your frothing rant?

 

To magnify that lie into an assertion of conspiracy amongst W.H.O. and U.N. branches that you make on your post here;

 

‘the elite are instrumenting vaccination on children & planned parenting programmes in the developing countries. These operations are causing the re-emergence of polio and deaths of women, the world health organisation and other international Health organisations are involved.’

 

puts you firmly beyond the fringes of reasonable company.

Comment by kenyasue Smart on January 27, 2013 at 16:14

The agenda Is quite clear this video below states "Operation Planned Parenting"

www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vzFeiKH1jQ

Why are we not questioning the specific population that the 5% want to control. While the colonisation of Africa continues in an effort to quire the natural resource to fuel the technology that the west so desperately wants, at the exspence of the indigenous population needs. The interview just exposes Attenborough as part of this regime. Under the auspices of philanthropy the elite are instrumenting vaccination on children & planned parenting programmes in the developing countries. These operations are causing the re-emergence of polio and deaths of women, the world health organisation and other international Health organisations are involved. These impacts should be the cause for concern as the developing countries have enough resources to feed the world, however the chosen few are controlling all the natural resources its a travesty when are so desensitized pictures of African children dying or dead cause no re-action as its standardised

Comment by Allan Wort on January 27, 2013 at 14:35

Re; ‘I don't think there is a conscious decision by the capitalists to increase population.’

 

GG; ‘What then should we make of the decisions taken by many governments in the wake of the first and second world wars to introduce family allowances as part of the solution to declining populations?’

 

Me; We should start to ‘make of it’ that these decisions were taken by governments not capitalists or do you think the terms are synonymous?

 

We might even ‘make of’ your next comments about Gross what you make of them, that they are ‘not a proposal to increase population’. I agree they appear not to be.

 

As for the point you quote Gross on (because presumably you agree with it) about debt playing a substitute role for ‘lack of population growth’ since the Seventies then unless you show exactly HOW (the mechanism through which) a lack of population growth led directly to any increases in debt then you will have failed to make any causative link between the two factors. They would remain merely two out of a myriad of social conditions that change constantly over time without necessarily having any direct connection whatsoever but which happen to move in the same direction. You have seen the examples of spurious correlations, haven’t you? They’re rather funny as examples of ‘correlation is not causation’ mistakes.

 

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/2012/1...

 

Comment by Gerry Gold on January 27, 2013 at 13:41

Andrew says 

But I don't think there is a conscious decision by the capitalists to increase population.

What then should we make of the decisions taken by many governments in the wake of the first and second world wars to introduce family allowances as part of the solution to declining populations? 

And here below in an extract from a website calling itself 'the polycapitalist', (though not a proposal to increase population), we can read one of the world's most influential capitalists talking openly last July, about the relationship between falling population and capitalism, and the attempt to overcome the systemic problem it introduced by the vast growth of credit and debt.

Bill Gross to Government: Quit "Flushing Money Down the Toilet"

PIMCO's Bill Gross, often referred to as "The Bond King", today published his August investment outlook which outlines the economic headwinds (past, present and future) due to slowing population growth.

For anyone not familiar with Gross, he and his colleagues at PIMCO run the world's largest private bond fund with over $1 trillion in assets under management. The U.S. Government sells bonds to finance its deficits, and Gross and PIMCO are big (maybe the biggest?) buyers of those bonds. Put simply, when Gross/PIMCO talk government listens. But don't just take my word for it. Ask Clinton campaign manager James Carville, who had the following to say:

"I used to think if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the President or the Pope or a .400 baseball hitter. But now I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everyone."

Deep Demographic Doo-Doo

Recent demographic forecasts suggest that world population growth will continue to slow and level off around 2050 and then begin to decline.


Should this occur it would be difficult to overstate the implications. As Gross puts it"capitalism itself may be in part dependent on a growing population".

Some countries, such as Japan, Russia and Italy, are already experiencing a decline in population. Depopulation can occur for many reasons (i.e., famine, war, government dictum like China's "one child" policy). There also appears to be a pattern where population growth slows in countries which achieve a higher level of industrialization and development. However, declining population due to a lower indigenous birth rate can be mitigated through immigration.

Gross draws a link in the timing of 1970s slowing population growth and the ensuing credit bubble:

"The fact is that since the 1970s we have never really experienced a secular period during which the private market could effectively run on its own engine without artificial asset price stimulation. The lack of population growth was likely a significant factor in the leveraging of the developed world’s financial systems and the ballooning of total government and private debt as a percentage of GDP from 150% to over 300% in the United States."
What Gross is basically saying is that economic gains over the past four decades were largely driven not by fundamentals (e.g., productivity) but by debt. Debt was used to inflate the economy and assets prices (e.g., houses).
Comment by Allan Wort on January 27, 2013 at 10:24

I’m willing to be persuaded by the strength of argument that no sort of population controls should be attempted or would be morally based (which I presume was the starting point for Penny’s article) so I was eager to read it. I was disappointed. It seemed to me to fall at its first self-selected hurdle.

 

Penny Cole; ‘If the calories grown in Ethiopia stayed in Ethiopia then there would be no problem feeding the whole population. But the government’s economic plan is dependent on forcing its own citizens off the land and handing it over to global agribusiness to grow crops for export.’

 

If, as you say, the cause of the problems you use as the only example to illustrate your argument is the Ethiopian governments’ decision then how can you ascribe it to the fault of ‘capitalism’?

 

Penny Cole; ‘People are not the problem, Sir David, global capitalism and its relentless drive for “growth” is.’

 

But you have blamed the Ethiopian government for the many problems you describe; I’m no expert but I don’t think the Ethiopian government counts as a global capitalist organisation.

 

Please don’t trot out the stale canard of ‘but what else are they to do to help their people but be bought by the enticements of rich, greedy capitalists?’ That would be a transparently patronising and infantilising stance to take; at least the avaricious capitalists treat the members of the Ethiopian government as adults rather than children unable to stop themselves snatching candy from an outstretched hand. You don’t really think the members of the Ethiopian government are incapable of autonomous decision making, do you? That they are unable to stop themselves being bribed, that they are mere puppets dancing to the tune played by agribusinesses? I thought that kind of benevolent dictatorship Empire-mindedness had thankfully disappeared but maybe not.

 

If I’ve misunderstood the nuances of the point Penny is making I’m happy to be corrected but in the absence of an argument more substantial than ‘greedy global capitalists are bad!’ I’ll refrain from offering my support and encouragement. I prefer a little more reason, hard logic and convincing data than we’ve been served here by Penny, I’m sorry to say.

 

‘Population control’ as a response to global resource utilisation pressures smacks to me in everything I’ve read about it as a far too simplistic response to a complex and changing issue. The old ‘chainsaw to swat a fly’ mistake. Attenborough may be coming at it from this direction in which case he should be met with barbed questions and cogent counter arguments. ‘Who would you kill, allow to die or forcibly sterilise, Sir David?’ ‘Over what timescale would you suggest we aim for a reduction in population, Sir David?’ and ‘Are you quite sure you’ve factored in recent developments in permaculture, hydroponics, micro-culture and nutritional analysis when deciding the Earth cannot sustain this growing population, Sir David?’. And so on.

 

There are too many gaps in the chain of reasoning Penny presents that require leaps of fancy to bridge them for my liking. I’ll happily be persuaded though, my mind is not closed, it’s just that it takes more than banner-waving rhetoric to convince me.

Comment by Helen Kirsopp on January 27, 2013 at 10:07

Well he is wrong and he is right, it depends on whether you think humans have a right to dominate the world at the expense of everything else or not.  I personally think it unethical in this day and age to do more than replace yourself biologically ie no more than two children per couple.  He is right in that nature will probably control us eventually. A major epidemic with fatal results is long overdue.  All populations are regulated by nature in the end, including us, no matter how we try and cheat death.

Comment by Gerry Gold on January 26, 2013 at 23:30

It's late at night, but it's clear that we'll need to delve deeper into the dynamics of population growth if we're to reach the best possible understanding. The first part of this analysis from the Oil Drum is worth looking at: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/866 It shows that Andrew's contribution on life expectancy is partial - leaving out many factors which affect population size.

More tomorrow.

 

Comment by Roger Alexander on January 26, 2013 at 22:35

Chima explained it to me ... in times of famine it pays to have a big family that can kill small families and eat their food.  He also explained that it did not make sense to develop his land in his village as the local chief would kill his whole family if it became a threat to his own family control.  The same applies to villages, paramount villages and tribes in his part of the world.

Triballism is rife throughout the world and is part of British social structure.  The spread of information is ridding humanity of this stupidity but celebrities who feed off 'the natural world' are trying to present it as a wonderful paradise that we should preserve.  It is in fact a cruel existance for the organisms that manage to survive.

If it was that good then why do the 'natives' I work with all want to go to civilised countries and live in comfort?  Maybe it is because that way they do not have to breed 'slaves' to survive, as they do in 'developing nations'.  (yes the old Biafrans fought the British attempt to stop slavery in their country.... it still goes on.... Chima said 'why kill your prisoners of war when you can sell them?)

I'm sorry if this comment brings the topic below the level of economics and high politics but it is reality.

Comment by Andrew Rossall on January 26, 2013 at 22:04

Between th 1800 and 2011, life expectancy went from 25 (India)-40 (UK) to 48 (DR Congo) to 83 (Japan).  This is the main reason for the massive explosion seen in Gerry's diagram.  Doubling life expectancy doesn't just double the population - the life expectancy increased in part because of lower infant mortality rates, and fewer people dying in childbirth - more women could have more children, and more of the children survived to have children of their own.
Global capitalism plays a part - it exploits the larger workforce, it creates armies to fight over more scarce resources.  But I don't think there is a conscious decision by the capitalists to increase population.

Comment by Gerry Gold on January 26, 2013 at 15:57

The graph of the growth of population over the last 2000 years (below) shows the marked acceleration which began towards the end of the 18th century, coinciding with the scientific and technological revolutions, factory production, and the new social relations of employment based upon the accumulation of capital which replaced those of the feudal landowner and tenant at that time.  

This is how it works: when in a phase of growth, the underlying laws of capitalist accumulation demand an increasing population, both as additions to the labour market and as consumers of the seemingly ever-increasing flood of commodities; but when, as now, growth gives way to contraction, the enlarged population becomes not just superfluous - as in the mounting levels of unemployment which have so far reached 25% overall/60% for the young in Spain and Greece - but unsupportable.

Hence the increasing prominence now given to those who argue that there are too many of us.  

As Roger points out, when WWII's massive destruction of productive resources had done its work of eliminating surplus capacity including 10s of millions of people, the rebuilding of capitalist production demanded more workers, so families were once again encouraged to increase their rate of reproduction.

Now it has become time to replace capitalist social relations with new ones that will enable us decide how we can organize ourselves so that we and future generations can continue to live well on the earth.

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