Mixing with Malthusians
Brendan O’Neill - 1 April 2009
Now I know what Greg Dyke, former boss of the BBC, meant by the phrase ‘hideously white’. At the Optimum Population Trust’s invitation-only conference at the end of last week, ‘Environmentally Sustainable Populations’, there was a sea of white faces, grey hair, purple-tinted rinses and blue blazers, as men and women of a certain hue, age and class gathered to discuss the ‘problem’ of population growth. In plummy voices – and in between House-of-Lords-style catnaps, perhaps taken to re-energise their prejudicial streaks – the attendees spoke darkly of ‘decimation’, ‘apocalypse’ and ‘tipping points’ (which is enviro-speak for apocalypse) in a world plagued by ‘too many people’.
There is something unavoidably spooky about people who spend their waking hours fretting about overpopulation, and who hand out leaflets saying ‘How many is too many?’ illustrated with a picture of an innocent-looking schoolgirl (white, of course) doing population sums on a blackboard (black, of course). In a Frequently Asked Questions section – frequently asked by whom? Benito Mussolini? – the leaflet informs us that there is a severe shortage of water and land on this ‘beautiful planet’ of ours and then ponders: ‘What’s the problem?’ The answer, in case you hadn’t worked it out from looking at the programme of talks on everything from ‘Scientific solutions in contraception’ to ‘Population policies for the UK’, is us: ‘Sadly, we are. Humans. Every year around 75million of us – a population nearly as big as Germany’s – are added to the Earth’s surface. That’s another Birmingham every five days.’ And God knows, one Birmingham is enough.