Our VoiceNews & Politics

William Ryerson Still Perpetuating the “Overpopulation” Myth


Guest Blogger • Dec 21, 2011

photo taken from fotopedia

by Jesse Sanes

As the UN’s 17th international climate summit comes to a close with little in the way of substantive plans to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, the echoes of alarms sounded for a global population reaching 7 billion still ring out over the Internet.

The world is growing closer and closer to irreversible, serious damage to our environment due to mounting concentrations of green house gas. Now is the time for decisive, real, lasting action on climate change, but there are still so many distractions coming from supposed advocates for change. Global warming will adversely affect the world’s poorest, the global south, women, and people of color most harshly. Addressing global warming will take major social changes at the roots of issues that underscore the inequalities suffered by these populations.

So then why do groups supposedly working for reproductive rights, environmental protection, and new economic models continue to be blindsided by the idea that the source of problems in our societies somehow stem from pregnant women in the global south.

There are real culprits behind the social problems that movements like climate justice advocates and the Occupy movement seek to address. They are the powerful actors in society in control of tar sands extraction, off shore drilling, mountain top removal, and the rest of the extraction industry. Why not single out those groups in these times when change is so urgently called for, as opposed to rallying around the myth ofover population?”

Examining the positions of one such advocate of population reduction might lead us to some kind of explanation. Whether in or out of the Tanton Network, William Ryerson has been all over the Internet crying fire at a world population of 7 billion.  In an interview he gave around Halloween, Ryerson said:

“Some biologists feel that after oil and fossil fuels are gone, the planet could sustain 2 billion people in a Western European lifestyle. At the Ethiopian lifestyle, we could maybe sustain 10 billion people. The question is which kind of life we want.”

So which is it Ryerson? So much for his facade of caring about reproductive and sexual health and rights. Those goals are fundamentally different than what is happening here: scrambling for the remaining resources to sustain the current lifestyles of people in the global elite.

As Betsy Hartmann writes on the phenomenal discursive gymnastics at play in arguments like Ryerson’s, which supposedly combine the preservation of class and global power interests (and imply racial ones, as well) with reproductive rights:

“The assumption is that we live in a win-win world where there’s no fundamental contradiction between placing disproportionate blame for the world’s problems on poor women’s fertility and advocating for reproductive rights and health.”

What is particularly offensive is the way these arguments are further bastardized to encompass anti-immigrant politics. In fact William Ryerson’s former home at Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) has even called for an immigration moratorium, a policy that is patently far-right, and would adversely affect thousands of families here in the United States.

In Ryersons own “7 billionop-ed he talks about “morally failing the women of the world” if the population isn’t curbed by increased family planning. The real problem lies in the argument Ryerson and others are making: one that uses ideas of “overpopulation” as a reason to advocate for the advancement of women’s rights and sexual heath. Not only does it let energy companies and large financial interests off the hook, it blames those least responsible for and the most vulnerable to the problems of climate change. And, aren’t family planning, sexual health, and reproductive freedoms important in their own right?

It is completely untrue that a global economy built on fossil fuels would magically blossom into an ecologically sound, poverty free society if population was dramatically reduced. The population of Florida could’ve been halved on April 19, 2010, but the next day BP would still have begun to dump over 200 million gallons of oil in to the Gulf of Mexico.

If nothing else, the Occupy movement has illuminated that these fundamental human rights have been compromised by tearing resources away from the 6.93 billion and concentrating them at the 1%. There is absolutely no room for pointing the finger at anyone less responsible than these powerful actors themselves. These problems coupled with global warming will not be solved by blaming immigrants or by shaking down women in developing countries for lower fertility rates.

It’s a moral failure on behalf of the 99%, men and women, to distract from the real problems on hand and to use backward logic to diagnose corporate greed as a symptom of human reproduction in the developing world.

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