Seeing people as a plague on the planet

The Optimum Population Trust’s claim that having a large family is an eco-crime exposes the anti-human streak in green politics.

James Heartfield

Topics Science & Tech

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Having large families is an eco-crime according to the Optimum Population Trust (OPT).

‘The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet is have one less child’, the Trust says (1). It is actually modest compared to the more extreme versions of environmentalist hostility to humankind. ‘Wildlife has more right to live on the earth than humans do’, according to one group, which goes on to say: ‘Humans are too great a threat to life on earth: they should be phased out.’ At least that is the view of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which hopes our will be the last generation of humans (2). Then there is the Church of Euthanasia, with its snappy slogan: Save the Planet, Kill Yourself.

Moderate environmentalists might object that the deep ecologists are on the fringes, and not typical of the movement. But if the Church of Euthanasia is off in the sidelines, egging on lonely teenagers to top themselves while it trolls suicide websites, the OPT’s message that we are the problem is mainstream. The OPT’s trustees include the Green Party veterans Jonathan Porritt and Sara Parkin, the climate change diplomacy veteran Sir Crispin Tickell as well as the actress Susan Hampshire.

As the chattering classes’ preoccupation with climate change reaches fever pitch, the extremists feel more confident to draw conclusions that others baulk from. That is because the extremists are only drawing out the underlying philosophy of environmentalism to make it more explicit. Indeed, the deep ecologists pre-date the more contemporary environmentalists. The current philosophy of ‘sustainable development’ was framed precisely because it was thought that the original aim of zero growth was too much for people to get their heads around.

The underlying philosophy is that mankind is the pathological species, the scourge of the planet. Since James Lovelock coined the deeply mystical concept of Gaia – of a natural balance – mankind has been cast in the role of the disturber of the balance. At its most extreme, the misanthropism of a John Gray or a Jared Diamond looks forward to ‘nature’s revenge’, the point where the laws of nature reassert themselves in the mass extinction of the human race.

Lots of lazily left-wing people think that they can reconcile their ambition to improve the lot of the poor with the goal of carbon reduction. South African academic and activist Patrick Bond thinks of himself as an environmentalist – though in his commitment to social redress he imagines that we can reduce world greenhouse gas emissions and get electricity supply to two billion people who currently do not get it (apparently there are some savings to be made in aluminium smelting which will help). Even American leftists imagine that they can rally to the cause of the working class and still cut greenhouse gas emissions. Most environmentalists do not agree, thinking that any answer must involve ‘horrendous costs to American industry and lifestyle’ (3).

There is a default to extremism that is written into environmentalism. And that is not surprising. If you hold that human life is worth less than the natural order, then you will have less respect for its sanctity. The ecological outlook is an expression of middle-class rage at the masses, which from time to time becomes explicit.

One example is Jon Ablewhite, currently serving time at Her Majesty’s Prison Lowdham Grange for disinterring the corpse of Gladys Hammond, whose son-in-law owned Darley Oaks Farm where guinea pigs were bred. Ablewhite and his friends’ six-year long hate campaign knew few restraints because the animal rights activists started with the assumption that people’s interests were inferior. ‘Jon is driven by the desire to right a wrong’, said his mother, widow to a vicar and missionary (4). Unabomber Ted Kaczynski campaigned for years against the technocratic society, posting bombs to electronics companies, while hiding out in a shack in the woods until he was arrested in the late 1990s.

Environmentalism, like all political discourses that take shortage as their starting point, will tend towards misanthropic solutions. Any movement that begins with the view that mankind must be curtailed to reduce the pressure on the environment will have to start thinking how it will select those who must make sacrifices.

James Heartfield is a writer based in London. Visit his website here.

Previously on spiked

Rob Lyons asked if there were too many people. Frank Furedi confronted the new misanthropy and was unafraid of the population bomb. Daniel Ben-Ami disputed the over-crowded world of ‘Safe Sachs’. Or read more at: spiked issue Environment.

(1) OPT press release, 7 May 2007

(2) See the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement website

(3) ‘America is killing itself’, Matthew Engle, Guardian, 24 October 2003

(4) Sunday Telegraph, 6 May 2007

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Science & Tech


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