From email@example.com Fri Feb 21 11:00:17 2003
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 08:45:57 -0600 (CST)
Mark Graffis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The greening of hate
The poor are to blame for environmental decline because they have been
putting their own ecosystems under intolerable population
pressure. That’s the hidden ideology of far too many
environmentalists in the US who really should know better, says Betsy
Hartmann, a radical feminist and academic. So much for the
the outside, red on the inside label that’s often hung round
eco-campaigners; some conservationists, she told Fred Pearce recently,
are the new conservatives
What do you think is going on among environmentalists? Is the right wing taking over?
I first realised that the right wing was attempting to penetrate the mainstream environment movement when I sat on a panel at an environmental meeting in the University of Oregon in 1994. Beside me was a professor and environmentalist, Virginia Abernethy of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. She seemed to me to blame immigrants for overpopulating our country and destroying our environment. Some of the audience liked her ideas but I thought they were racist.
I started to investigate and found she wasn’t alone among conservationists. She was a leader of the group called the Carrying Capacity Network, which sounds like a benign environmental organisation but its main campaign is to halt what it calls mass migration to the US. They blame migrants for destroying pristine America. For instance, they blame Mexican migrants for starting fires in national forests near the border. This group has prominent environmental scientists on its advisory board. People like biologist Tom Lovejoy, the green economist Herman Daly and the ecologist David Pimental. I call this the greening of hate.
It sounds like a conspiracy theory
Well, it seems to me that the anti-immigration movement in the US has
a strong green wing. For instance, they formed a group within the
Sierra Club—a prominent nature protection
organisation—trying to push it into a policy of immigration
restriction and population reduction. Abernethy has spoken at
conferences of the right wing Council of Conservative Citizens. And
some of these people are getting funding from groups such as the
Pioneer Fund, whose aims, as set out in its charter, are to fund
research into genetics and study into
the problems of human race
Aren’t these just political games?
It’s more than that. There is an academic journal called Population and Environment, published by Kluwer, which is edited by Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist who writes about a Jewish plot to liberalise immigration policies. In 1999, MacDonald appeared in court in Britain to defend the historian and holocaust denier David Irving. The journal’s advisory editorial board includes famous environmental scientists such as Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb, Pimental again, and Vaclav Smil, a professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada. Sitting beside them on the board is J. Philippe Rushton, a psychology professor from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, who has a theory about how black people have small brains, low IQ, large sex organs and high aggression. What are environmental scholars doing getting mixed up with these kinds of people?
So how did you get involved in all this?
I was a feminist as a student. I got into development issues, learned Bengali and lived in a village in Bangladesh for a while in the 1970s. That was about the time when Henry Kissinger was calling the country a basket case, and international agencies like the World Bank were coming in and saying that population growth was the biggest problem. They were promoting coercive population control policies such as pressuring women to be sterilised. But I saw how poor people weren’t the main problem. In terms of environmental conservation, the peasants were the best practitioners. But government policies were stacked against them. In the village where I lived, the largest landlord in the area was the person who got the World Bank aid money. I got involved in the politics of reproductive rights through that experience. I’ve been fighting for over 20 years against population-control programmes, but from a feminist, pro-choice perspective.
How can you be pro-choice and anti-population control?
A lot of people find this hard to understand. But for me, family planning is about human rights and women’s health—not population control. It is about freeing women to have the number of children they want, not blaming them for a whole host of social problems.
As well as your academic work, you’ve written novels?
Yes, I wrote one recently called The Truth about Fire, which is about the far right and its links to neo-Nazism in Germany. A close colleague of mine, who works on abortion rights, got harassed in the US by right-wing anti-abortion extremists. I got to know some people who investigate the right, and I thought it would make a good story. I went to eastern Germany and there was a lot of neo-Nazi activity there. The terrorist right in the US doesn’t get enough attention.
Where did the environment come into your thinking on population?
I got concerned that conflicts over resources such as forests and land were being framed so that population pressure was seen as the main culprit. A variety of groups, including foundations that fund population work, were linking population and environment issues directly to national security. This seemed like a dangerous mix, especially when it got tied up with the growing anti-immigrant movement in the US, and maybe now in Europe, too.
But isn’t population pressure a real environmental issue?
It’s more than an issue, it’s an ideology. Ever since colonial times, Westerners have had what I call a degradation narrative. It says that poor peasants having too many children causes population pressures that degrade the environment and cause more poverty. It is the basic story that many Western environmentalists still tell. And it is now being extended to explain not just the loss of rainforests and species, but also migration and violent conflicts round the world.
You say that this degradation narrative is being used to explain foreign policy disasters. How?
>From Afghanistan to Gaza to El Salvador to Indonesia to Somalia, some prominent environmentalists have blamed disorder on resource depletion and environmental decay. And foreign policy people have gone along with it. When the slaughter happened in Rwanda in 1994 and the rest of the world stood by and did nothing, we heard a lot about how it was inevitable because of the high population density that was causing land shortages and poverty. Even Timothy Wirth, Clinton’s undersecretary of state for global affairs and widely seen as an environmental good-guy, said it. But even some of the theorists behind these ideas, such as Thomas Homer-Dixon, a writer on environmental and security issues, have acknowledged it wasn’t really like that. The massacres started where population pressure was least. It was about state-instigated racism, not environmental degradation. It’s not that population is always irrelevant, it is just that it gets overemphasised. Blaming poor peasants for deforestation is like blaming conscripts for wars.
Did this happen in the US?
Yes. In the US we had a great panic in the 1990s about Haitian boat people arriving on our beaches. The degradation story blamed their flight on population pressure that had destroyed their forests and dried up their wells and eroded their soils. I don’t deny that Haiti suffers from widespread environmental problems. But there were a lot of political issues that got conveniently lost, such as the decades of dictatorial rule by the Duvalier family, who were supported by the US, and an immense gap between rich and poor.
But even so, isn’t it obvious that more people will cause more environmental damage?
Not necessarily. In Brazil, it’s often the least populated areas that get trashed—by miners and loggers and cattle ranchers. And in certain contexts population pressure spurs innovation and better farming methods. The economist Julian Simon had a point when he said it provides more brains to think and hands to work as well as more mouths to feed.
As a feminist, you don’t sound like a natural supporter of Simon. Ronald Reagan used his ideas to justify his policies against abortion and birth control in the 1980s, didn’t he?
Yes, I’m not a supporter of Simon. I disagree with his unbridled faith in the free market. But he was not against birth control. He was just a libertarian. People like Simon on the libertarian right have often had better positions on population control than the liberal population establishment, who were often afraid to speak out against coercion and sometimes actively supported it.
Do average Americans buy these ideas?
I find even well-educated and well-meaning acquaintances have alarming
responses on population issues. They believe the poor create their own
problems by breeding, and it absolves the rest of us from
responsibility. Even some committed feminists will scapegoat poor
women’s fertility for the planet’s evils. It is a kind of
ideological schizophrenia. Phrases like the population bomb and the
population explosion breed racism. Few Americans know that, on
average, woman round the world have less than three children
each. They don’t breed like rabbits. And by 2050 a majority of
the world’s population will be likely to live in countries with
fertility levels below what demographers regard as replacement
levels. It all avoids looking at the real issues on our own
doorstep—of over-consumption, for instance. On climate change,
we hype up fears of rising emissions in
rather than looking at our own consumption patterns. Better a
one-child policy there than a one-car policy here. We don’t
understand that communities all over the world can and do live in
sustainable relationships with their environments.
You’ve claimed that the military is also taking up
environmentalism. After the cold war, people were looking for a new
political agenda, maybe a new enemy. Along came Robert Kaplan, who
wrote a long and influential article called
The coming anarchy
in Atlantic Monthly. It painted a really frightening picture of
overpopulation and environmental degradation causing violence and a
breakdown of order in Africa. It was to me very racially charged, but
it captured the imagination of the liberal establishment. Some of the
influential people in the environment movement in the US just loved
Kaplan’s work. They saw it could raise environmental issues into
the high politics of national security. And they were flattered when
in 1996 the US National Security Strategy said that
environmental degradation, exacerbated by rapid population growth,
threatens to undermine political stability in many countries. But
they were engaging in all sorts of scaremongering images of the Third
World. It makes the victims of the modern world into its villains, and
encourages policies that attack them and their livelihoods.
At the height of the Zapatista rebellion in the Chiapas region of Mexico in the late 1990s, some environment and security people argued that population pressure was causing deforestation and this environmental decay was in turn the cause of the conflict there. Of course it was much more complex. You might equally argue that Mexican land policies forced the poor to farm in the forests because there was no effective land reform or other economic alternatives. Recently, it has been alleged that that a US-based conservation group working in the region colluded with the Mexican military, helping them identify communities in the forest so they could be removed. How did that happen?
Many environment groups in the US have very little knowledge of international development issues. They buy into things like Chiapas because they don’t know any differently. And the imagery is very seductive. Several friends and I have been looking at the imagery used, often subconsciously, to create fear about particular threats, especially in the environment movement. For instance, look at how the Ebola virus encapsulates a lot of fears about Africa and migration. And how the ideas of ecologists about invasive species—alien species as they are often called—sound so similar to anti-immigration rhetoric. Green themes like scarcity and purity and invasion and protection all have right-wing echoes. Hitler’s ideas about environmentalism came out of purity, after all.
So the bottom line is you don’t see population issues and birth control as important?
No, I believe access to birth control and safe abortion is fundamental to women’s rights and health. But I am against population control.