By Jesse Sanes
In the run up to the global population reaching the 7 billion mark last week, many groups are voicing in on the supposed connections between population and the environment. Not only is focusing on reducing population size as a way to address environmental problems a red herring when it comes to climate change, it has also been used by anti-immigrant groups including Tanton Network groups like Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) and NumbersUSA as a pretense to push for regressive immigration policy.
However, even as groups come forward with calls for reducing women’s fertility as a way to slow greenhouse gas emissions, some have tried to circumvent criticism by tossing around phrases like “human rights,” “environmental health” and “reproductive justice”. But, do social justice advocates really have anything to gain by entertaining the myth of overpopulation? According to a recent convening held by the Political Economy Research Institute and longtime reproductive justice organizations Sister Song and the Population and Development Program, the answer was decidedly “NO.”
In fact, a few weeks ago a report published by one of the host organizations warned us about the mounting trend of Malthusian, population control advocates co-opting the language of reproductive and environmental justice movements. This prompted me to look into some of the rhetoric over the last week’s #7billion craze linking “population” and “justice.”
One such group that has emerged with this very facade of “population justice” is Global Population Speak Out. The theme of politically regressive groups using deceptive language to lure support from the left and center is very familiar to Imagine 2050 readers who have watched the launch and lingering failure of the Tanton network’s anti-immigrant liberal front group, PFIR. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that all three of former PFIR president William Ryerson’s current organizations co-sponsor Global Population Speak Out (GPSO), the newest attempt for Ryerson to apply progressive spin to Malthusian politics.
The Global Population Speak Out website states on its feature page “the world population milestone that is sparking a global discussion on today’s most pressing environmental, health, and justice issues.” They are right, but this is not the discussion any other reproductive justice groups want to have, namely blaming the world’s poorest and most disenfranchised, those with the highest fertility rates, for global warming and broken economic systems.
In an email soliciting attendees for a web chat on the issue, Ryerson states the conversation will include and “analyze the many strains of opposition to population stabilization – e.g. from religious dogmas, pro-growth vested interests.” However one main brand of criticism Ryerson neglects to mention is the reproductive justice movements! Population issues can distract from real examinations of who is responsible for over-consuming natural resources. For supposed environmentalists like Ryerson, advocating for reproductive freedoms can be merely a pretense for aiming population discussions at those most vulnerable to environmental degradation in the first place.
On blog comments, GPSO claims that the site provides a forum for those “who want to approach the population subject while keeping the principles of reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice for women at the heart of their approach,” but then why does the overpopulation platform seem to stand in direct opposition to groups who fought hard to shifting the focus of the international family-planning movement away from population control lenses to ones advocating for universal access to reproductive health services, women’s rights and empowerment.
Advocating for reproductive justice as a means to achieve global reduction in population is not advocating for reproductive justice. True, lasting, sexual and reproductive rights are crucial and admirable goals in and of themselves. Rallying around population reduction removes the goal of making family planning and sexual health care accessible from advancing human rights and turns it into a top-down imperative to control the number of children women should have.
Rallying support under the banner of social justice with solutions to global warming that let the fossil fuel industries off the hook by placing the responsibility of curbing global warming on women of color is extremely destructive. Real visions for environmental sustainability and real solutions should not exclude or discriminate against immigrants and women.