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Is the Climate Change population growth argument inherently racist?

We have heard it too many times that it has graduated from dogma to undisputed fact. Population growth is at heart of the climate change crisis. There are too many people and the planet cannot cope. But is that really the case? What other subliminal messaging could be lurking in such thinking?

Michael Moore's "documentary", Planet of The Humans, tried to expose (and rightly so) what he saw as the issues with renewable energy in the fight against climate change. In the documentary, most people who spoke on the topic (clearly selected to represent a certain viewpoint, if I may say) reached the conclusion that renewable energy is no better than fossil fuel. Their bleak conclusion was that, as as a planet, we are screwed. But, yes there is a but, the only thing that could save the planet is a mass die-off. Of humans! Yes you heard that right - a mass die-off. of humans. To be fair, they never advocated or proposed a plan for such a mass die-off, but nonetheless, they floated the idea out there as the only possible solution. Some time after the Morore documentary, Bill Gates weighed in with similar suggestions - and ominously hinted on a method (vaccines) without fully explaining or accounting for his words.

What we can gather from all the talk on climate change is that "the experts" agreed that the problem with climate change was not consumption or how we use energy but rather people. To put it bluntly, they agreed there is too many people in the world and that population growth is the biggest problem. Conjectures though they are, such assertions are often accepted as objective facts. To the casual viewer, they make perfect sense. They are all sound observations. No harm done here.

But wait a minute, the pundit in me want to scream. Are you kidding me? Is population growth really the biggest issue? And a mass die off the only feasible solution? I am not a by any stretch of imagination a conspiracy theorist, but the subliminal message herein hidden in such ideas is scary. And yet I don't see any panic or mass pushback. That is how the world slide into Nazi-style, existential oblivion without so much as a wink.

Before we go further, let's state some truths, shall we?

  1. Population growth is highest in developing i.e black and brown countries. Even in the west, minority cultures tend to have more children on average than the majority caucasions. But the population growth generally referred to in Moore's film and by Bill Gates is that of developing countries.

  2. Regardless on whether you believe humans are causing climate change or not, our consumption and way of life has the biggest impact on earth resources and systems.

  3. The rich world consumes 5 times more energy than developing countries. Some estimate that a single westerner can us more energy in a day than an entire amazon tribe uses in a year. USA makes up 5% of the world population and yet it consumes 25% of the palnet's resources.

So now let's revisit that assertion about population growth being the biggest threat to climate change. First, I must admit that population growth cannot and should not be ignored when discussing climate change. The math is simple, more people means more mouths to feed which means more pressure on resources. If people in developing countries raised their energy usage to the same levels as people in the developed world (i.e. have a better quality of life than the utter squalor and poverty they live in), the world will be screwed!

But at this point in time, people in developing countries are not using anywhere near the same levels of energy as those in developed world and yet climate change has not slowed down. It (climate change) had changed from the problem of the future to the problem of right now. And right now, the problem is consumption, not population. Western consumption to be precise. Our way of life in the developed world is killing the planet.

Black and brown people are many but they consume far less.

The point of this article is that I truly believe the public discourse on population control as means to halt climate change can, if we are not careful, straddle into dangerous racism and bigotry territory. Here is why. First, let me ask one obvious question. Who makes up the majority of people in developed countries? White people! And who lives in poor developing countries? Mostly black and brown people.

Who consumes the most and therefore have caused more damage to the planet? It’s people in developed countries, mostly white. But what and who does white men like Michael Moore and Bill Gates blame for the impending environmental catastrophe? They blame population growth. And yes, they have not blamed black or brown people. They also acknowledge that the consequences of climate change will be felt more acutely in poorer, developing countries. But their insistence on population growth as the main issue points directly at black and brown people in those developing countries who continue to reproduce at much higher rates than people in developed economies. We could go into possible reasons why that is so, why some countries remain poor despite being endowed by vast natural resources, but that is not the point of this article.

If we follow the Michael Moore's line of thought from his film, it may sound something like this. Climate doom is coming. Renewable energy will not save us. The biggest problem is the black and brown people who are having too many children. The only solution will be a mass die off.

And to be clear people who talk about population control, or a mass die-off have never put forward black or brown people. Of course, they couldn’t do that. That would blatant racism and politically and socially inexpedient. But let’s pose that question here. If there is to be a mass die off or population control, who would be the ideal candidate to die in this hypothetical die-off? People in developed economies (white) whose population is declining or those in developing countries (black and brown) who are multiplying like rabbits? You see where this is going, where this has always gone in the past. Similar lines of thought were adopted by the eugenics movement, by Nazi Germany, by slavery, by...

Accepting that population growth is the biggest challenge we face when it comes to climate change, without accepting the hidden ramifications and implications, is a dangerous, catastrophic slippery slope. What's even more worrying is that subliminal massaging like this, even from activists who claim to be on the side of black and brown people, goes largely unnoticed and unchallenged. That is a real concern and one we must address urgently.

Climate change is real. Its causes are plenty and varied, and so should be the solutions. But we need solutions that don’t harm certain groups of people disproportionately. We all must sacrifice something – consumption in the developed economies, and perhaps family size in developing countries. But governments and corporations must provide the necessary support to make that happen. And we must desist from the idea that people dying is a good solution. It is not. We must take care of humans that are already here and not with them death only to save a few that are "privileged".


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