Jeremy Irons blame the poor for destroying the planet
Quote:A green myth is on the march again. It wants to blame the world's overbreeding poor people for the planet's peril. It smells to me like green fascism.
Actor Jeremy Irons has announced plans to make an Al Gore-style movie about the population problem.
The screen idol with a 'social conscience' - who famously has seven homes, including a pink castle in Ireland - says his inconvenient truth is that 'there are just too many of us'.
Overpopulation is driving global warming, mass starvation and accumulating pollution, making the planet uninhabitable. Irons thinks a new plague, such as the Black Death 700 years ago, will be nature's way of solving the problem.
He is far from alone in thinking that efforts to save the world are doomed unless we 'do something' about population growth. Environmentalists Jonathon Porritt and David Attenborough have recently attacked the politically correct for ignoring the population bomb.
Both are patrons of the Optimum Population Trust, which has warned that 'compulsory limits on births may become unavoidable'. But this is nonsense. Worse still, it is dangerous nonsense.
For a start, the population bomb that I remember being scared by as a child 40 years ago is being defused fast.
Back then, most women around the world had five or six children. Today's women have an average of 2.6. Not just in the rich world, but almost everywhere.
This is getting close to the longterm 'replacement level' which, allowing for girls who do not make it to adulthood, is about 2.3 children.
Women are doing it not because governments tell them to, but for their own good and the good of their families. If it helps the planet too, then so much the better.
This is a stunning change in just one generation. Why don't we hear more about it? Because it doesn't fit the doomsday agenda.
Half the world now has fewer than the replacement level of children. That includes Europe, North America, the Caribbean, most of the Far East and the Middle East, including Iran. Yes, Iran.
Women in Tehran today have fewer children than their sisters in New York - and a quarter as many as their mothers had. The mullahs may not like it, but those guys don't count for much in the bedroom.
Family planning experts used to say that women only started having fewer children when they became educated or escaped poverty. But tell that to the women of Bangadesh.
Recently I met Aisha, Miriam and Akhi, who work in a sweatshop in the capital, Dhaka. Together, they had 22 brothers and sisters but they told me they planned to have only six children between them. That was the global reproductive revolution summed up in one shack.
Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations. Its girls are among the least educated in the world, and mostly marry as teenagers. Yet they have on average just three children each now.
India's average is even lower at 2.8. In Brazil, hotbed of Catholicism, most women have two children. And nothing the priests say can stop millions getting sterilised. The joke is that women prefer being sterilised to other methods of contraception because you only have to confess once.
Women are having smaller families because, for the first time in history, they can. Because we have eradicated the diseases that used to mean most children died before growing up, mothers no longer need to have five or six children to ensure the next generation.
There are exceptions, of course. In parts of rural Africa, women still have five or more children. But even here they are being rational - they need the children to look after the animals and work in the fields.
But most of the world now lives in cities. And in cities children are an economic burden. You have to get them educated before they can get a job. And by then they are ready to leave home.
The big story is that rich or poor, socialist or capitalist, Muslim or Catholic, secular or devout, most countries tell the same story: small families are the new norm. However, women still need help to achieve their ambitions of small families.
They need governments or charities to distribute contraceptives. But this is now about rights for women, not 'population control'.
It is also true that population growth has not ceased yet. There are 6.8 billion people on Earth, and we may end up with another two billion before the population bomb is finally defused.
But this is mainly because of a time-lag while the huge numbers of young women born during the baby boom years of the 20th Century remain fertile.
With half the world already with below replacement birth rates, and rates still falling, the world's population will probably be shrinking within a generation - for the first time since the Black Death.
This is good news for the environment, for sure, but don't put out the flags. Why? Because another myth from the population doom-mongers is that it is all those extra people who are wrecking the planet. It isn't, Mr Irons. Not any more.
Rising consumption today is a far bigger threat to the environment than a rising headcount. And most of that extra consumption is still happening in rich countries that have long since given up growing their populations.
David Attenborough recently asked us to give money to buy condoms for people in poor countries as a method of carbon offsetting to fight climate change. Stop a baby and prevent some pollution.
But he's got the wrong target. Virtually all of the remaining population growth is in the poor world, and the poor half of the planet is only responsible for seven per cent of carbon emissions.
The carbon emissions of one American today are equivalent to those of around four Chinese, 20 Indians, 40 Nigerians or 250 Ethiopians. How dare rich world greens blame the poor for the planet's perils?
How dare a man with seven homes point the finger at poor overbreeders? Some greens need to take a long hard look at themselves. They should remember where some of their ideas came from.
The grandfather of demographic doomsters was Bob Malthus, a Surrey vicar who became famous by warning 200 years ago about population growth. Like Irons today, he believed that the world's population would keep increasing until it was cut down by disease or famine.
Irons is a Malthusian. But he would be horrified to learn that, during the Industrial Revolution, his hero was a favourite of the evil mill owners and a scourge of anyone with a social conscience.
Malthus hated Victorian charities because he said they were keeping poor people alive to breed - better that they die, he said. He believed workhouses were too lenient and campaigned successfully for a get-tough law known at the time as Malthus's Law.
Charles Dickens, a social reformer, attacked Malthus in his books. When Oliver Twist asked for more gruel, that was a satire on Malthus's Law. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was a caricature of Malthus.
In Hard Times, Thomas Gradgrind, the unfeeling headmaster, had a son called Malthus. I think Karl Marx was spot-on when he called Malthusian ideas 'a libel on the human race'.
And we are seeing the truth of that today as, around the world, women are voluntarily cutting their family sizes. No compulsion needed. No green fascism is necessary.
The population bomb is being defused right now by the world's poor women. Sadly, the consumption bomb is still primed and ever more dangerous. Now that would be a proper target for Mr Seven Houses.
The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. - Che Guevara
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