The words of Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population published in 1798 gained prominence since the world population grew exponentially. He claimed uncontrolled population growth will eventually lead to economic and social collapse, asserting the planet’s capacity for human existence is limited; essentially, overpopulation is disastrous to this planet.
Malthus’ fallacious mathematics are taught in educational settings, and later consolidated by media and ‘scientific reports’. While they hold some truth, it is deliberately misconstrued to create an erroneous and dangerous narrative: one of eugenics and eco-fascism.
In reference to pop culture, Marvel villain Thanos is an immaculate embodiment of what eco-fascists stand for. It places the blame for environmental degradation on human existence. They believe all of humanity must suffer, although our acts against the planet are unequal.
The younger generation seems vulnerable to this ideology, and so are the far-right. Both believe overpopulation is the primary cause of climate change, and reducing the population drastically will mitigate the crisis. Does the concern loom as to who must be sacrificed? The population is 8 billion; that is the present reality. This is where treacherous ideologies come into play.
For years, the Malthusian myth has been disproved by various scientists, yet his ‘theory’ stands reputed, and the group which flourishes in the discussion are the far-right white supremacists. Several terrorist attacks in the Western World by white supremacists have claimed overpopulation as one of the motives, including the Texas shooting & Christchurch shooting in 2019.
In the eyes of the far-right, human overpopulation is not a concern but it is the overpopulation of non-whites ‘destroying’ the western ‘natural order’. They leverage Malthusianism to support their ostensible postulations. ‘Overpopulation’ is an issue in the Global South. By maintaining Malthusian claims, the poorest of the world are scapegoated and vindicated for climate change, while the richest corporations and countries are exonerated for their contributions.
It is not just white supremacists who spout eco-fascist ideas. There are liberals who place the fault on ordinary people – the ‘humans are the virus’ community – and well-known environmentalists (David Attenborough, Jane Goodall) who depreciate the human population. The concern is, regardless of their intent, they indirectly arrive at promoting eugenics – against poor people, against religious minorities, against ethnic and racial minorities, and more.
Poverty is one of the factors contributing to having more children. When eco-fascists suggest placing a limit on the number of children a family can have, they are targeting the poorest of society. In different countries, the poorer population often comprise minorities. For instance, in the USA, black people are most susceptible to poverty, and disallowing them to have children will reduce their population, escalating the risks of hate crimes and further systemic discrimination.
Similarly, the country expected to overtake China as the world’s most populated country also has a religious minority population vulnerable to poverty: Muslims. Muslims of India are most prone to poverty and thus are stereotyped as having multiple children. While the Indian government pushes toward implementing nationwide family limitation policies, the far-right Hindu-nationalist administration will weaponize it to target the minority Muslim population. Gender equality in the country will further deteriorate as the sex ratio gap will widen, also placing women’s rights and safety at risk.
As of right now, only one country has attempted to control their population growth: China. While they succeeded in stumping population growth, the long-term effects are sabotaging their economy and society (ironic to Malthus’ affirmations). China’s one-child policy has reduced human labour resources, restraining their economic growth, and the slim population of young adults are burdened with the task of caring for an ageing population double theirs. The one-child policy also permitted sex-selective abortions, which augmented the sex ratio gap. The disproportion between the male and female population affected marriage as the existing women preferred to remain single and independent in their careers, while men resorted to bride trafficking. The policy was implemented through undemocratic means of forced abortions, forcing parents to give up their children, or sterilization. As mentioned, in diverse countries, these methods will be weaponized to limit the population growth of minority groups by far-rights.
Scientists have indicated overpopulation is a natural phenomenon in developing countries as their advancements in healthcare lowers mortality rates and increases life expectancy, but their society is yet to progress to support women’s employment and education. On the other hand, in developed countries, the majority of the women are working women and are often discouraged to have children as it threatens their career growth or because they are not compelled to depend on a man anymore.
Eco-fascists fail to consider other factors aggravating the climate crisis. Reducing the human population will not solve the climate crisis if, for instance, all the overpopulated countries of the global south become extinct, pollution and environmental destruction for human wants will remain at an all-time high maintained by the Global North and their corporations.
Is the world more populated than during past generations? Undeniably so. Is this population explosion overburdening the planet’s capacity? Earth’s current resources are infinite for humanity’s needs, but for their wants and greed, they are finite and exhausting rapidly.
The truth is there is no acceptable way to regulate the population without violating human rights and the nature of humanity. We must instead address the root problem of the climate crisis, and it is not humanity’s existence exacerbating the crisis but their unmitigated actions.
When eco-fascism is normalized across all ideologies and beliefs, it normalizes far-right hate crimes and terrorist attacks, normalizes racism, and allows pillaging of women and minority rights and their safety. And it further attributes the cause of the climate crisis to the ones least responsible.
Sources Macklin, G. & Farrell-Molloy, J. (2022) ‘Ted Kaczynski, Anti-Technology Radicalism and Eco-Fascism’, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism [online] available from <https://icct.nl/publication/ted-kaczynski-anti-technology-radicalism-and-eco-fascism/> Cercone, J. (2022) ‘No, Jane Goodall’s Population Comments Didn’t Spark Pandemic’, Politifact [online] available from <https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2022/jul/27/instagram-posts/no-jane-goodalls-population-comments-didnt-spark-p/> Kilcoyne, M. (2019) ‘Let’s Stand Up to David Attenborough and the Neo-Malthusians who want to Control our Lives’, The Telegraph [online] available from <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/environment/2019/07/10/stand-david-attenborough-neo-malthusians-want-control-lives/>
Macklin, G. & Farrell-Molloy, J. (2022) ‘Ted Kaczynski, Anti-Technology Radicalism and Eco-Fascism’, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism [online] available from <https://icct.nl/publication/ted-kaczynski-anti-technology-radicalism-and-eco-fascism/>
Cercone, J. (2022) ‘No, Jane Goodall’s Population Comments Didn’t Spark Pandemic’, Politifact [online] available from <https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2022/jul/27/instagram-posts/no-jane-goodalls-population-comments-didnt-spark-p/>
Kilcoyne, M. (2019) ‘Let’s Stand Up to David Attenborough and the Neo-Malthusians who want to Control our Lives’, The Telegraph [online] available from <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/environment/2019/07/10/stand-david-attenborough-neo-malthusians-want-control-lives/>