Achieving a fair, just, green society, requires upholding those principles
Population Matters’ vision is of a future in which our population co-exists in harmony with nature and prospers on a healthy planet, to the benefit of all. To achieve that future, we believe that it’s vital to address the impact that the sheer number of human beings on the planet has on our lives, on the struggle for global justice and equity, and on the natural systems on which we depend (and which are of value in their own right). We know that the solutions to this challenge are positive and empowering, providing people with the freedom, opportunity, means and desire to freely choose small families. Those solutions improve lives and make our world better: eradicating poverty, ensuring everyone is able to use effective modern family planning, empowering women and girls, providing good quality education for all, and providing people with the information they need to want to make that choice. We’re proud to stand for that vision, those values and to work for those solutions.
The open letter published in Bright Green in March was disturbing for many reasons: firstly, because it entirely misrepresented the values, aims and motivations of Population Matters; secondly, because it contained very serious accusations that were unfounded and untrue; and finally, sadly, because so many people were willing to sign it so readily.
Let’s start by saying, we understand why people have concerns about raising the population issue. There have been some dark episodes and dark motivations in the history of population concern and population action, from forced sterilisations in India and Puerto Rico, to China’s one-child policy, and a disturbing crossover in the past with eugenics, colonialism, racism and the control of women’s bodies. While Population Matters has always stood resolutely against these abominations, we’ve made our mistakes in the past too (although those are sometimes misrepresented or misunderstood, including in the letter). We understand, therefore, that many people’s concerns about this agenda come from the good place of wanting to defend the vulnerable, confront the repulsive, and secure justice. But the fight for justice isn’t enhanced by living in the past, holding onto ideological preconceptions, and assuming that all those with whom you disagree have sinister agendas and malign motivations.
As the Editor’s Note now published above the letter all too belatedly recognises, far from being complicit in or motivated by repugnant ideologies, Population Matters actively promotes humane and progressive values and confronts and condemns the repellent right wing agenda which is sometimes falsely associated with our concerns. Far from blaming people in the Global South for climate change, we explicitly hold overconsumption in the North responsible. We call actively for a more just and equitable global system, and for people here to recognise the responsibility on them to change, and to seek change. Far from seeking to control women’s bodies, the part of our work which makes all of us who work for PM most proud is where we have helped empower women to take control of their own lives. The evidence of all of this is laid out in our comprehensive rebuttal document here – from the tweets in which we condemn anti-immigrant sentiment, to the graphs showing grotesque imbalance in CO2 emissions, to the emphatic and passionate assertions of women’s rights.
Such a document should never have been needed. Any open-minded person acquainting themselves with our website, our social media, or us as human beings, can see and learn that we represent and are driven by the progressive, compassionate, pro-human values which motivate members of the Green Party of England and Wales and, we’ve no doubt, the vast majority of people associated with Bright Green.
Hundreds, however, didn’t. Instead, they took as a given that the things they’d heard and the willingness of their peers to join in, were sufficient reason to endorse grotesque accusations and allegations which are simply untrue. Many went far further, with our two staff members (I was one) in the virtual Green Party of England and Wales Conference “chat room” subjected to an intense verbal assault, and what felt like a witch-hunt on Twitter, in which accusations of “ecofascism”, “deep racism” and the contemptuous dismissal of respectful and reasoned responses (“fuck off ecofash”) were all too prevalent. Even the interventions of my colleague, a former Ugandan TV journalist – who, in contrast to most of those making accusations, has authentic personal knowledge and experience of the reality of restricted choice for people in the Global South – did nothing to stem the tide of hostility and judgment.
In these pages in 2016, rebutting accusations made against him, Peter Tatchell described his fears about a new Left-wing McCarthyism, describing “a bigger, wider problem that is infecting and damaging left and green politics: the decline in civility and honesty, and the rise in sectarian attacks on other activists.” We understand that some people on the Left and in the Green movement may not see us as part of their community – and as a charity, we are non-political – but we belong firmly in the community of those who seek justice, equity, respect for all and a secure future for all people, in harmony with the planet we live on and the other living beings we share it with.
Be in no doubt: if those of us who seek those things do not recognise the importance of achieving a sustainable human population – among much else we must collectively do – the chance of humankind overcoming our environmental crisis are vanishingly small. To find out why, explore our website, evaluate the evidence and judge for yourselves. This article doesn’t seek to make that case. The case it does make is that unless what we all do is informed by principles of fairness, respect, reason, critical thinking and scepticism of conventional wisdom, our chance of securing the future we all seek are vanishingly small too.
Alistair Currie is head of campaigns and communications at Population Matters. This article is in response to an open letter published in Bright Green on 21 March 2020, which objected to Population Matters being given a stall at the Green Party of England and Wales Spring Conference in 2020.