Chris Packham, ‘wildlife expert’ (Photo: Paul Grover)
Any minute now I’m going to lay off blogging for a while, for health reasons. But I can’t pretend I’m going to find going cold turkey easy, especially not when there are stories like this around.
It concerns “wildlife expert” Chris Packham – presenter of some of the BBC’s most popular nature programmes including Springwatch and a new series called The Animal’s Guide To British Wildlife – and some deeply unpleasant remarks he made in the course of an interview with the Radio Times.
“There’s no point bleating about the future of pandas, polar bears and tigers when we’re not addressing the one single factor that’s putting more pressure on the ecosystem than any other – namely the ever-increasing size of the world’s population. I read the other day that, by 2020, there are going to be 70 million people in Britain. Let’s face it, that’s too many.”
So what does he suggest we do about it? Get people to stop having children?
“Yes. Absolutely. I wouldn’t actually penalise people for having too many children, as I think the carrot always works better than the stick. But what I would offer them tax breaks for having small families: say, 10 per cent off your tax bill if you decide to stick with just one child. And an even bigger financial incentive if you choose not to have a family at all.”
What frightens me almost more than these remarks – whose loathsomeness I shall gloss in a moment – is the response of the Daily Mail’s readership. All right, perhaps the Mail’s online audience is not representative of the entire country, but I do think they’re probably close to embodying what the reasonable other person from Middle England thinks, and in this case what they seem to think is frankly bloody terrifying.
All right, so I don’t imagine many of us here would quibble with the most popular comment so far, with 1300 plus positive votes:
How about offering people nothing for not having children as well as not giving them anything when they have ten children? Let them pay for their offspring with their own money for a change. That might make a few people consider the population even if it’s the one in their own home.
This is in line with the very sensible remarks that once got Howard Flight into such trouble. And of course the Tory peer was quite right: it’s absurd to have a situation where the most feckless, unproductive sector of the economy is subsidised by the state to have children they would otherwise be unable to afford.
But here are the second and third most popular comments, with well over 1000 positive votes each:
He is quite right you know, the most eco friendly thing you can do is not breed.
Well done Chris I couldn’t have said it better myself. That is the main problem with this planet — too many people. We require a massive birth control programme, never mind growing more food and building more houses — cut back on breeding is the only answer.
There are so many things wrong with this attitude I don’t know where to begin. But why not let’s start with the plight of only children? Almost everyone I know who was brought up without a brother or sister wishes it could have been otherwise. I myself grew up in a family of seven, and while it’s true that I have never quite forgiven one of them for voting for Caroline Lucas in the last election I count the friendship and kinship of my wonderful brothers and sisters one of the greatest joys of my existence. I know there are many in China who feel much the same way: the tyrannical one-child policy, it is now being recognised, has not only led to much unnecessary unhappiness but is also leading to potentially disastrous economic consequences (especially in its battle for economic supremacy with India, where no such restrictions have applied).
Yet such is the misery that Chris Packham wishes to import to Britain. And to be fair, he is far from the only high profile figure who thinks this way. Very much of the same view is that famously nice, caring natural history TV presenter David Attenborough, concerned environmentalist the Hon Sir Jonathon Porritt, actress Susan Hampshire, Gaia theory inventor James Lovelock, ex UN apparatchik Sir Crispin Tickell (the man who – briefly – persuaded Margaret Thatcher of the imminent perils of Man Made Global Warming) and chimp expert Jane Goodall. All of these luminaries are – with Packham – patrons of the Optimum Population Trust, an organisation which believes that the world’s growing population is “unsustainable” and which is dedicated to finding ways of reducing it.
The problem with the Optimum Population Trust – one of them anyway – is that its very existence is predicated on a vilely misanthropic view of the human species: that there are too many of us, that we do more harm than good.
And yes, superficially, this view of the world makes a kind of sense. It’s what I call an “I reckon” argument: the sort of argument you’d make in a pub, after a few beers, based on information you’ve established from a gut feeling so strong it doesn’t need any awkward details like facts getting in the way of your opinion. I mean obviously more people means less space, and more demand on “scarce resources”, so the more people there are the more trouble we’re in. Stands to reason dunnit?
This is exactly the kind of wrong thinking I address in my new book Watermelons. You’ll forgive me if I don’t come up with all the counterarguments here. (Read the bloody book!). But in a nutshell, it’s that this Neo-Malthusian pessimism – as warped and wrongheaded today as it was in the era of doom-monger Thomas Malthus (1766 to 1834) – is based on fundamental misconceptions about the ingenuity of the human species and about the nature of economic growth.
Sure if all populations did as they grew and grew was use up more finite “stuff”, then we would indeed have cause to worry. But they don’t: as populations increase in size, so they learn to specialise and adapt and find ever more ingenious ways of making more with less. That’s why, for example, the mass starvation predicted by Paul Ehrlich in his Sixties bestseller The Population Bomb never happened: because thanks to Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution, crop yields dramatically increased while the area of land under cultivation remained unchanged. If you want to read more about this, I recommend not just my book, but also Matt Ridley’s superb The Rational Optimist or anything by Julian Simon (known as the Doomslayer because of the way he constantly confounded Neo Malthusian pessimism and junk science).
The reason I have become so obsessed with “global warming” in the last few years is not because I’m particularly interested in the “how many drowning polar bears can dance on the head of a pin” non-argument which hysterical sites like RealClimate and bloggers like Joe Romm are striving so desperately to keep on a life support machine. It’s because unlike some I’ve read widely enough to see the bigger picture.
One thing I’ve learned in this wide reading is how obsessed so many of the key thinkers in the green movement are with the notion of “overpopulation.” As one of their favourite think tanks, the Club of Rome, puts it: “Earth has a cancer and the cancer is man.” This belief explains, inter alia, why the “science” behind AGW is so dodgy: because the science didn’t come first. What came first was the notion that mankind was a problem and was doing harm to the planet. The “science” was then simply tortured until it fitted in with this notion.
I do not share this view. Indeed, though I believe that while people like Chris Packham (and Prince Charles; George Monbiot; Al Gore; David Attenborough; Robert Redford; Mikhail Gorbachev; Ted Turner; et al) may believe what they do for the noblest of reasons, their ecological philosophy is fundamentally evil. And I do mean evil. Any philosophy which has, as its core tenet, the belief that mankind is the problem not the solution cannot possibly be one that pertains to good, can it?
This is why I have been fighting this Climate War so hard for so long. And why I have no compunction whatsoever in calling the people who promote that repellant philosophy by the names they deserve. The ideological struggle that is being fought now over the issue of “Climate Change” (and related, quasi-Marxist weasel concepts such as Sustainability) may not yet involve the bloodshed caused in the wars against Nazism and Stalinism, but the threat it poses to individual freedom and economic security is every bit as great. But there aren’t enough of us fighting this war on the right side – and I’m knackered.
I want to leave the last words here to one of my favourite commenters, Tayles, who brilliantly explained the other day why there is moral equivalence between the green/liberal fascist side of the argument, and the one libertarian, empirical one for which I’m so frequently vilified by some of the posters below this blog. It really should be a separate post but that might confuse commenters as to where to go.
Just one more thing before I pass you over to Tayles. While of course I value the rich panoply of varied opinions I’m seeing appear below this blogged, I’m disturbed by the number which seem to determined to conflate “immigration” with “overpopulation”. These are entirely separate issues. It’s quite possible to believe, as I do, that unchecked immigration (encouraged as a deliberate policy under Blair) has been a disaster for Britain, especially when allied with the pernicious philosophy of multiculturalism which encourages division and separatism, while yet disagreeing violently with the loathsome Neo-Malthusianism of Chris Packham and his ilk. Do not confuse the two issues. Many – indeed the majority – of Britons are rightly concerned about how the character of their country has been changed and the infrastructure swamped by deliberately poor border controls. But this is a separate topic for discussion.
So, here he is: Tayles on why James Delingpole is right:
Such an approach is the one Delingpole adopts. Why do you never have a go at him for “cherry picking internet sources”? – Endeavour
That’s a fair question. There is a straightforward answer, which is that the Left’s evidence is normally one-eyed, misleading or downright dishonest. That extends to the AGW sham, which is propped up by a bunch of cobblers, peddled by scientists and politicians with much to gain from the spread of their dogma.
There’s a more philosophical answer too, which I’ll indulge you with if you’ve got a minute. The fundamental condition of mankind is one of liberty – which is to say, freedom from the constraints imposed by higher authorities. The only real ‘rights’ are those that exist in the absence of other people’s intervention, such as freedom of speech and property rights. Taxes, laws and so-called positive rights are man-made constructs that require the enforcement of a higher power, such as a government. Clearly they are no more naturally-occurring than iPods or Ford Fiestas.
When some new constraint is scrawled onto the blank page of freedom, it must be justified. The onus is on the person who wants to enforce that constraint to justify the need for it, rather than on those who must suffer its effects to explain why they should be spared. Just as a person is innocent until proved guilty, and the burden of proof is always on the True Believer, so the defenders of freedom should not really have to defend their position.
For this reason, the benefit of the doubt must be always be given to those looking to protect our freedoms, while those who wish to take them away should be required to be especially thorough and honest, and deserve to be treated with suspicion. The consequences and trade-offs of what they intend to impose should be weighed and analysed. We should be especially concerned if they try to brush aside the concerns of their opponents or ignore contrary evidence.
I think that the arguments put forward by AGW zealots should be a lot more convincing than they are. And I think that the defence of our freedoms advanced by James Delingpole are perfectly good enough. There is more at stake here than our climate.