The greens showing their true colours

The far-right-sounding ideas of Swiss greens EcoPop display the misanthropy of Malthusian thought.

Patrick Hayes

Topics Politics

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For greens, the ends will always justify the means when it comes to saving the planet. In the UK, they have opportunistically latched themselves on to left-wing movements to try to gain purchase with a broader public. But, as Swiss campaign group Ecology and Population (EcoPop) has demonstrated, in an attempt to pursue their Malthusian goals, greens can be equally happy tapping into the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the far right.

In a stunt last week, members of EcoPop carried dozens of cardboard boxes into the Swiss chancellery which contained 120,700 certified signatures calling for immigration into Switzerland to be capped at 0.2 per cent of the resident population. Under Swiss law, this means that a referendum will now be held on the proposal. Such a move trumps even the efforts of the far-right Swiss People’s Party, which has long lobbied for greater immigration controls.

But these greens aren’t mobilising for an immigration clampdown with banners claiming ‘keep the darkies out’ as right-wing groups have done in the past. Nor are they using dodgy, discredited scientific arguments to justify racial superiority, wielding books like Madison Grant’s The Passing of The Great Race for evidence.

No, instead EcoPop delivers its demands for immigration curbs carrying a banner asking: ‘How many people can the Earth tolerate?’ The group’s members use the (equally dodgy and discredited) Malthusian science of population growth and babble on about our ‘finite planet’. And they have reportedly been strongly influenced by the theories of US Malthusian Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb.

EcoPop bends over backwards to claim that it is not singling out particular races when advocating its policies. According to the BBC, it claims to be ‘opposed to all forms of xenophobia and racism’. But, the group says, ‘Switzerland must limit immigration to avoid urbanisation and to preserve agricultural land’.

You could almost believe that EcoPop is just a bunch of backward-thinking NIMBYish Luddites wanting to stop a flood of immigrants from destroying what it sees as a rural idyll – until you see what the group has tacked on to its proposed referendum for immigration caps. EcoPop slipped an additional clause into the referendum calling for a tenth of all foreign aid to be used ‘for birth-control measures abroad’. (It’s highly questionable how many people would have signed a petition for that alone.)

So it’s not enough to keep foreigners out of Switzerland, then, it’s also necessary to keep them from breeding too much in their own countries as well. And the fact that most of the aid will go towards stopping poor black and brown families from breeding too much suggests that if they’re not intentionally being racist, then EcoPop’s members should really think very hard about how they come across.

However, while many Malthusians may well prefer a sparsely populated world largely filled with civilised white people, it’s true that it is not the ‘lesser races’ that Malthusians single out for contempt. Rather, it’s the human race as a whole.

Listen, for example, to EcoPop describe how mankind is the harbinger of ‘global catastrophe’: ‘The entire biosphere constitutes a delicately balanced ecosystem. If this equilibrium should become unbalanced because a plant or animal species starts to grow out of all proportion, natural processes will normally stop such a development. Mankind, however, has managed to evade these mechanisms by means of science and technology. As a consequence, global catastrophe becomes unavoidable unless the growth of the human population can be stopped.’

In the eyes of EcoPop, then, man’s ability to innovate, using science and technology to ward off famine, disasters and to live happier, healthier, longer lives is not something to be celebrated. Instead, the fact that more of us aren’t having our lives cut short by ‘natural processes’ is problematic as it is upsetting the balance of our ecosystem. You wonder if these people cheered when the tsunami hit Japan, or had a party after hearing news of the earthquake in Haiti. Hooray, nature’s balance is being restored!

It’s important to remember that such sick misanthropes don’t just reside in Switzerland. While they prefer mixing in elite circles than pandering to the far-right British National Party’s (ever-shrinking) base, and gaining 100,000 signatures would be a distant dream, the UK’s Optimum Population Trust (OPT) – now rebranded as the less sinister-sounding Population Matters – is an equally nasty bunch of Malthusians. This is the outfit that, while others were celebrating a new bundle of joy, condemned celeb couple David and Victoria Beckham as ‘irresponsible’ for bringing a third child into the world. The group’s patron, Jonathon Porritt, commended China’s one-child policy because without it ‘there would now have been 400million additional Chinese citizens’. The OPT’s celebrity patron, wildlife documentary maker David Attenborough, is becoming more Malthusian by the day, and once claimed: ‘I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.’

And who – with echoes of EcoPop’s aid policy – donated £5,000 in 2010 to promote birth control in Madagascar as part of its ‘carbon offset’ project? Roger Martin, chair of the OPT, justified the decision at the time as follows: ‘While OPT is very aware that the CO2 output of a typical Madagascan is many times lower than a UK citizen, we have chosen this project to emphasise the wider environmental benefits of our carbon-offset programme compared to all others – no other carbon-offset scheme can claim to reduce carbon emissions and, for example, protect fish stocks and coral reefs as a beneficial spin off.’

So not only would there be fewer African babies born in one of the poorest countries in the world, but fish stocks and coral reefs would benefit too. Clearly, it’s a ‘no-brainer’.

Equally the OPT has called for a massive reduction in immigration – it has proposed annual immigration numbers should be ‘limited to no more than the number of people emigrating’ – that is, net immigration of no more than zero. In 2010, just 339,000 people emigrated from the UK, which has a population of over 62.5million. This would mean an immigration cap of just 0.5 per cent, almost as draconian as the limit suggested by EcoPop. In a 2008 paper on ‘Unsustainable migration’, an OPT supporter complained that debate about immigration controls ‘has been stifled by unfounded accusations of xenophobia and support for far-right politics… [despite a] mounting body of evidence against the benefits of mass immigration’ and that no political party had ‘addressed the issue of the environmental impacts of UK population growth or the potential benefits of gradual decrease to a sustainable level’. Could it be only a matter of time before the OPT begins mobilising for public support for a referendum on tougher immigration controls in the UK?

Imagine if Malthusians formed a political party. Championing one-child policies, almost-completely closed borders, strict birth-control measures, aid packages to stop families in poor African countries from breeding as much, cutting back on our consumption levels, highly critical of urbanisation or technology, prioritising the welfare of the planet over people. That’s a political programme that’s far worse than any far-right party has to offer.

Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.

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Topics Politics


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