Over-population control is a popular topic for some climate activists because it is basically the only plausible cause of climate change that can be blamed on the poor and not the rich. It is the only issue that doesn’t force us to face up to our own privileges and address the rampant consumerism and gross inequality that created this catastrophe in the first place. It puts the responsibility onto the very people that are being forced out of their homes by climate change: poor people of colour in the Global South.
Climate change isn’t about population, it’s about consumption. On average, people in the UK have small family sizes but contribute hugely to carbon emissions; far more than, for example, Bangladesh, which is becoming less habitable because of increased flooding. In a world where eight billionaire men own as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people combined it is nonsense to point at population as the cause of this crisis. As climate justice activists we should be calling out this hypocrisy and challenging the obscene levels of inequality in this world.
Climate change is a product of an extractivist colonialism going back centuries that has always exploited the people that had least and viewed people of colour as expendable in the quest for greater riches. It is the same attitude that we see today that allows people to die in the Mediterranean and blames the poorest people for the devastation that has been inflicted upon them. We do not have a crisis of population, we have a crisis of inequality, and instead of trying to control family size we should be asking how we can share the resources we have in a way that enables everybody to live a good life.
There is much on Population Matters’s website that I agree with. Ensuring women universally have sexual and reproductive health and rights is absolutely crucial. It is shameful that over 200 million women do not have access to contraception, and far more are unable to access free, safe abortions. We should be demanding these things urgently because they are right. Whether or not to have children and how many to have should be a choice for the individuals involved and nobody else. When governments or organisations try to control this, we end up with laws such as the UK government’s grotesque rape clause.
Climate justice demands that we call out the classist, racist, sexist system that created the climate crisis. It is time we stopped blaming poor people for the problems that rich people created.