Racism in the Environmental Movement

The second of two articles I wrote in 2009, upon leaving The Greens.

See also, Part 1: Why I left The Greens.

Population Policy: An Invitation to Racism

The Australian Greens Victoria are currently debating a population policy. There are those who passionately argue that there are “too many people” and “something must be done”, and others who recognize the racism that come with any call to restrict population.

our environmental impact is determined by the combined effect of population numbers and the way that people live – Vic Greens draft Population Policy

In a world of six billion people, surely this is common sense? Maybe, but it’s wrong. The false assumption is that our level of resource consumption as a species is a simple result of lifestyle multiplied by number of people.

But: The vast majority of people on this planet consume next to nothing. The 5.15 billion people who earn less than $10 a day (80% of global population) have a negligible effect on carbon emissions and natural resource depletion.

The poorest Africans and Asians produce 0.1 tonnes of CO2 each a year, compared with 20 tonnes for each American. – The Economist

Most proponents of the population policy perspective within the Greens will acknowledge this. The implicit racism comes into effect when they say things like:

“If everyone in China wanted to drink a beer a day, we’re all screwed” – John Doyle, to a public lecture at Latrobe University, Wodonga campus, 2008.

What does that really mean?

It means that in order to protect our privilege, the rest of the world must be kept poor, for the “common good”?

Should we build walls around western society, to protect the privilege of those within? Yes would seem to be the answer of those within the Greens calling for “zero population growth”.

People who support a population perspective would attack me at this point. They would say the above is a strawman, and that the draft policy states:

Victoria has the ability to reach zero population growth, and better fulfil its global ethical obligation for humanitarian migration, by shifting the emphasis on skills importation to skills creation.

Of course, the above statement is bullshit. Population growth in the west only exists because of immigration. Any call for zero population growth is necessarily a call to halt immigration.

One person I often chat with about population within the Greens raises the objection that immigrants:

“soon take on the carbon profile of their host country”.

The immigrant is the problem! If they come here, they will want to consume as much as we do! BAD!!

Soo, our consumption is the problem is it? The proponents of a population perspective, like the vast majority of the Australian Greens, will, when asked about the cause of the environmental crisis, identify “consumerism”. Clive Hamilton, author of Afluenza, really is a perfect fit for the inner city Greens.

This also, is bullsh-t. Earlier I highlighted the base assumption of the population perspective:

It is not just the “population” part of the “population multiplied by lifestyle equals environmental crisis” equation that is a load of crap.

There can be no doubt, that western societies consume a lot. This consumption is not a product of “lifestyle” (which, btw is basically code for “greed”). It is not the greed of the working class that caused the levels of resource consumption that we see in western society.

The consumption is a product of the production, the ‘greed’ was generated to clear the marketplace.

Capitalism is predicated in growth, because capitalists (be they individuals or corporations) must sell even more product at lower prices, or be squeezed out of the market by competing capitalists.

In times past, capitalism sought out new markets abroad, until capitalism embraced the entire globe. There being no new rich markets to tap, the only way to sell even more is to generate new demand in existing markets.

To give an example, the greedy ‘consumer’ did not create the ipod. Did you, sitting back with your walkman, ever ‘demand’ the ipod?

The ipod was developed by a company trying to sell electronic product into a market place already flooded with walkmans. The idea was developed and marketed by a company engaged in competition with the sellers of portable tape and CD players. The marketing worked, and surprise surprise, that evil worker demanded the ipod over the walkman!

So, this environmental crisis we’ve got, is it a product of “lifestyle times population”? Clearly not.

The entire premise of the proposed Population Policy is bullshit. Worse than bullshit, it gives voice to the closet racists. Why would the Greens ever consider adopting a policy that clashes with it’s commitment to social justice so fundamentally?

Several reasons:

1. The Greens are too scared to mention capitalism. They’ll say things like “growth is bad”, but because they do not criticize the economic system that prioritizes growth over human need, they are left with criticizing those consume the product.

2. The Greens, whilst having a sound ideal (environmental and social justice), lack a clearly stating analysis of the underlying causes of the environmental problem. This effectively extends an open invitation to all and sundry (and often contradictory) “environmental” ideas.

3. The consensus system leads to a tendency toward compromise among contradictory ideas. A process to overtly rejecting something as bullshit is nigh on impossible.


When women reach a certain basic level of health, well being, economic power and access to birth control, fertility declines. It happened in the Western World, and it’s happening in the developing world.

World population will peak at 9 billion in 2050, and then it will slowly decline.

Given the choice and the reasonable assurance of their child’s survival, most women, irrespective of the society, will have around two children. A stable population is achieved at an average of 2.1.

The Economist has a an excellent feature on declining world fertility.

I have to agree with this sentiment:

forcing poor people to have fewer children than they want because the rich consume too many of the world’s resources would be immoral.

And disagree with this one:

the human race will have to rely on technology and governance to shift the world’s economy towards cleaner growth.

What is really needed is a total change in economic and political power structures.

More: John Passant writes about Clive Hamilton and the Greens:

Clive’s book Affluenza blames working people for wanting a few consumer goodies. For him over-consumption rather than overproduction is the problem. Hamilton fears the masses.

Read more at The Greens and Clive Hamilton.

Post Script:

In 2011 Ian Angus and Simon Butler published Too Many People?: Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis, I wish I’d had a copy back in 2009!

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Simon Butler at last week’s Renegade Activists Conference in Melbourne, hopefully the audio will be online soon.

Until then, check out this talk by Ian Angus on the politics of population politics at Socialism 2012, Too Many People? The Return of the Population Bombers.

Be sure to check out Part 1: Why I left The Greens.


  1. When the moral manipulator is losing the intellectual debate. he plays the race card. All that was missing was a mention of Hanson.

    On the positive side:
    1. A denialist moral manipulator is out of The Greens, helping the party to get back to its conservation roots.
    2. The Vic Greens are coming to their senses.

  2. Human overpopulation is a global problem. Population growth is accelerating worldwide. The arguments against Australia’s ongoing population growth have little to do with “racism”. The immigration nations of USA, Canada, Australia and the UK aren’t the world’s economic powers, and high population growth rates are usually correlated with declining living standards and lower per capita GDP. It’s more about “white guilt”.
    The Greens, by not having a viable population policy, are exposing themselves as being shallow, and trying to appease everyone. This can’t be done. The biggest threat to the environment, native species, ecological damage, greenhouse gas emissions, is human population growth. Ignoring it is about being politically correct, and in the effort, a non-force. The wealthiest nations are those with small and stable populations. We don’t have to be a “immigration nation”, and the amount of immigration to Australia should be equivalent to the numbers who emigrate. It’s not about race, but numbers.

  3. Ralph BennettAugust 6, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Hi Kieran,

    In a related piece, The Grattan Institute’s report on housing and cities, intimated to the effect that :

    ” the wealth generated by the growth of mega cities can somehow out way the damage, this growth model causes”.

    This does not stand scrutiny as:

    it destroys ancient forests by the need to feed and maintain the increased population, living in these massive high rise cities .

    Comment: this cannot be replaced by dollars and leads to the direct vandalism of habitat, by our species .

    Below is a context outline of how megacity and growth models need to be assessed .

    1. the demand side of the housing ( population growth) must be questioned

    2. that the direct financial incentive of growth promotion by financial services and infrastructure providers, should be articulated

    3. that the destruction of our unappreciated ancient forests (Sydney bushland) is not brushed aside as NIMBY’ism

    4. that the paving over of our finest farmland on the outskirts of Sydney is also not ignored as NIMBY’ism

    5. that a generous and caring *** Australia can have full, vibrant employment and stable housing costs…………………..without economic growth…….if we stabilise our population numbers .

    *** appropriate, culturally sensitive, foreign aid

    What is missing is a discussion of the Opportunity Cost of population growth.

    For example, it is a “no brainer” that it is better to spend $4 billion on universities, research and export manufacture, rather than spend $4 billion on a road upgrade caused by population growth.

    It is also a “no brainer” to train our thousands of unemployed 15-25 year olds for the mining jobs, rather than bring in overseas workers. It doesn’t matter if mining projects are delayed 2-5 years.

    They will still go ahead, but on terms set to benefit all Australians.

    It is going to take some time for business types to digest the reality, that endless growth is not possible.

    Full employment is possible with stable economic output, if you don’t increase population numbers.

    No, it is not the end of progress. New products will be developed within a stable population scenario.

    It is not the end of immigration. If 70,000 leave, then bring in 70,000 which is balanced migration. In addition , our birthrate is double our death rate ( ABS data ), so abolish the baby bonus.

    Best regards,

    Ralph ( Bennett )

  4. Jonathan PAugust 7, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Unfortunately Kieran because your roots are in socialism/anarchy, your desire to attack capitalism (which has many problems I would agree) in any manner possible comes at the cost of reason and logic. Your flimsy argument about ipods somehow negating population as a factor reveals this. Any environmentalist worth their salt knows that population IS the great multiplier. There is nothing racist about saying “if everyone in China wants a beer we’re all in trouble”. This highlights that the Chinese are aspirational and rightly so desire to increase their prosperity. However the world’s resources ARE limited and no amount of social activism/well-wishing will change that. In many parts of the world they consume far less than us however we all eat food and much of that is a product of the modern agricultural system of which oil is a key part. When we hit 9 billion, on top of that climate change, depleted soils and water tables, expensive fertilizers from scarcer oil and let’s see if you can still bleat about capitalism being the reason why people are starving.


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